Crafty Women is a new series dedicated to highlighting women within the beer industry. From hop picking to brewing to selling to writing, the world of beer is more accessible to women than it ever was before and we are killing it.
I first met Nikki Rowe on a trip down to Badger earlier this year and her passion for beer and brewing was just infectious. In June 2017 I popped down to Poole to attend the Hall & Woodhouse Dorset Beer Festival and managed to get along to one of her tasting sessions; I was so impressed by her dedication, spirit and wealth of knowledge that it was the catalyst I needed to start this series.
Nikki is the Beer Sommelier at one of the oldest breweries in the UK, Hall & Woodhouse. At 43 years old, she is married with two boys aged 12 and 15, and has built her career around all things beer, after graduating with a 1st in Chemistry & Food Science from Reading University.
Starting out in the quality control lab at Budweiser’s Stag Brewery, in Mortlake, she’s moved through nearly all the aspects of production, from microbiology to packaging, eventually becoming the first woman to work in their brew house. It was here that she started studying for her Brewing Diploma, which she passed in 1999.
Nikki has now worked at Badger for five years. During this time she decided to further her knowledge, by undertaking the massive task of training to be a beer sommelier – officially gaining the title 18 months ago. As Dorset’s first accredited beer sommelier, her day-to-day is split between running the lab, to make sure that all Badger Ales taste incredible; and getting involved with presentations and events on beer & food matching, her focus always being to educate, enthuse and excite even more people about beer.
And even with all of the above on the go, she still managed to find the time to answer a few questions:
How did you decide science was the route for you?
I was always interested in science because my Dad worked in Quality Control. When I was little, he would often take me into work with him on a Saturday morning, where I used to spend hours watching him carry out the different tests. Maths and Chemistry became my favourite subjects at school and I ultimately ended up studying Chemistry and Food Science at Reading University.
Just 13% of women work in STEM industries – did you find this challenging and how could it be improved?
No not really. I went to an all girls’ school so never really encountered the girl vs boy thing. Some of us were good at science, others were good at languages and we were lucky in that we were all encouraged to do our best in our particular areas of interest. I think schools and colleges these days are trying to do the same by organising talks and work experience, for those who would like to get into STEM industries. At Hall and Woodhouse we certainly try to accommodate work experience students in the lab when we can, and I would say more often than not they are female.
How did you start working at Hall & Woodhouse?
Five years ago I saw an ad in the local paper, for the Microbiologist position at the brewery. I was actually taking the paper outside to recycle and decided to flick through the job ads before I binned it! The job could have been written for me, but it was full time and I had two young boys, so was in two minds as to whether or not to apply. Later that evening my mum rang to ask if I’d seen the ad. She told me to go for it and that she would help out if I got it. I applied and the rest is history – I think it was fate.
Have you encountered any difficulties in the beer industry as a woman and how has this developed over the years?
I’ve now worked in the brewing industry for 20 years and honestly wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Looking back now to the very early stages of my career (late 90’s) I think there were a couple times where I think I had to work harder than my male colleagues to achieve what I wanted but that’s what prompted me to study for my Brewing Diploma so it did me a favour really. I certainly have never encountered anything like that since, the industry has changed and women are playing an important role in all aspects of it.
How do you feel about the rise of “craft” beer and how has this impacted you?
It’s really exciting and has been a positive thing both for brewing and beer lovers everywhere. We are living in very exciting times where there is an abundance of choice for the consumer and masses of innovation and experimentation going on within the industry. Personally it’s had a huge impact on me – 5 years ago I mainly drank white wine and lager and now I’m a Beer Sommelier!
What has been your proudest achievement in your career?
I’ve got two! The first was when I managed to pass my entire Brewing Diploma in only a year – normally it takes 2-3years. The second was becoming an accredited Beer Sommelier.
What is your favourite Badger beer?
American Venture – Badger’s take on an IPA. It combines the 6% strength of a traditional English IPA with the hop character of the more modern American style.
What is your favourite beer of all time?
Difficult as I have had lots of great beers over the last few years and continues to change as I’m always trying new ones! I really love Belgian Quads with Guldan Draak probably being top of my list but as far as memorable beer and food experiences go it would have to be a toss-up between Buxton’s Yellow Belly (a Peanut Butter stout) which I had with salted caramel cheesecake or Magic Rock’s Grand Marnier Bearded Lady which I drank with several chocolate orange Lindor truffles!
A big thanks to Nikki for being the very first of my Crafty Women. Keep watching for the next instalment!