Owen Ashmore discusses his five year journey from mechanical engineer to shift brewer at Rye River Brewing Company.
My interest in brewing was piqued during a trip to Vegas, when I tried a high quality craft beer for the first time. After drinking Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, I realised that the world of beer had so much more to offer. There was a massive range of beers from breweries all over the world that I had never even heard of, let alone tasted.
At the time I was working as a mechanical engineer and I decided to do an introductory home brewer’s course which I purchased from one of those deals websites. It was basic enough but really enlightening. From there I began experimenting with my own brews. I bought a brewing kit, consisting of some tins of hopped extract which I mixed with water, then threw some yeast in and allowed it to ferment.
The resulting beer wasn’t great to be honest, or at least I didn’t think so but some mates tried it and liked it, so I gave it away. By this stage I was drinking more and more craft beer and had a specific taste in mind that I was hoping to achieve, so I bought a number of books and did some research online to broaden my knowledge.
I was very fortunate when a friend’s father, who had been home brewing for years, gave me my first brew kettle, which was essentially a large plastic barrel encased in wood with a large immersion element. Once I had that, I bought all the other equipment to go with it, such as a mash tun, bottling bucket amongst other things and started brewing all grain.
The more my brewing skills improved, the more I started thinking about the possibility of doing it for a living. I wasn’t particularly satisfied with a career in engineering so I began to properly explore the idea of becoming a full time brewer. From the outset I knew I only wanted to work with craft beer, not at one of the major breweries.
It didn’t feel like the appropriate time to try going out on my own as a self-employed brewer, so I decided to further hone my skill-set. While continuing to work as an engineer, I started studying the Diploma in Brewing at the Institute of Brewers and Distillers.
I noticed that they were hiring here at Rye River, so I applied for the position of shift brewer, and six months later I got the job. I’ve been working here full-time since last September and have enjoyed every minute of it!
While I don’t miss my old job, the skills I acquired as an engineer crossover usefully to brewing. I was a consultancy engineer and much of what I did involved gas work and pipes, so that has helped me get my head around the pipe systems in the brewery.
There’s also plenty of physics applied here on a daily basis so my background has proven extremely helpful.
As far as my day-to-day work goes, things are rarely boring. We all work in eight hour shifts, during which we must perform a variety of tasks. For instance, first thing on a Monday morning I’ll head over to the grain store in the raw materials area and collect all the ingredients I’ll need for the day’s first brew. There is a great sensory satisfaction to be had every day when you breathe in the smell of a freshly opened bag of malt or hops.
Even though we make large quantities of beer in Rye River, there is still plenty of creativity and trial and error involved, just like when you first start home brewing. We are constantly experimenting on our pilot kit and are always looking to tweak our recipes for the best possible flavour so the personal touch is never lost.