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Stories from UOW

The engineering student who is brewing up a storm.

W ater, malt, hops and yeast – Tim Howard started experimenting with these four simple ingredients to brew beer at home with friends when he was just 18.

When most people start home brewing they use a concentrate from a tin, add some water and yeast, and hope for the best, the results of which vary wildly. Tim, ever the engineer, wanted to remove luck from the equation. He skipped this beginner’s step and built himself an all-grain brewing setup in his garage at home to ensure he had more control over the final product.

“Given I had interests in science and engineering at school it was natural for me to take things to that next level so early and use my skills to create a system that would produce something I’d actually enjoy drinking,” Tim says.

This all-grain setup, while on a much smaller scale, wasn’t significantly different in principle to the professional set-up he now helps operate as a brewer at Illawarra Brewing Company.

Tim Howard – Illawarra Brewing Company - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Small batch brewing

Under the guidance of head brewer Dave McGrath, the two make around 20,000 litres of beer a month, with the majority (for now) being served in glasses at their on-site tasting bar, the nearby Illawarra Brewery and small bars around Wollongong. While the styles vary from an easy-drinking summer ale to limited edition small batches like their pumpkin ale for Halloween, the diligence to maintaining control and quality remains the same.

“You have to be able to learn pretty quickly and on your feet. Especially in a micro-sized brewery where valves and hoses are all hand operated. You can’t afford to leave a valve open or have a hose wrongly connected,” Tim says.

The hands-on nature of working at a smaller brewery over one of the heavy-hitters, such as Lion Nathan or Carlton & United Breweries, means Tim is getting experience in every aspect of a brewery.

“Engineers in those big breweries have very specific roles. Being part of a smaller operation means my job is a lot more encompassing – from ordering stock to pulling the beer and educating customers,” he says.

Studying your craft

When he’s not mashing at the brew house, Tim is at uni studying his final year of mechanical engineering at UOW, and finds his two passions complement each other well.

“There’s a lot of cross over between brewing and engineering, whether it’s the fluid mechanics associated with the plumbing or the heat transfer between the beer and the refrigerant running through the plates of the heat exchanger. My degree is helping me understand system design and specifications, which are crucial to the brewery running efficiently,” he says. “Project management knowledge is also a huge advantage. Managing the stock flow versus raw materials and processing times are so important.”

Tim sees it as a two-way street with his degree helping him on the job as much as his job helps with his studies.

“I had one exam on heat exchange efficiencies and my experience applying thermodynamic equations in my day-to-day work at the brewery helped enormously.”

From grain to the glass

With consumers becoming more open to trying different styles of beer, Tim believes the scope for creating new beers is limitless, and he relishes the chance to create something from scratch.

“There’s so much scope for experimenting in a craft brewery, which means that not only do we get to be more creative on a day-to-day basis, our customers get to try new and exciting beers every time they visit,” he says. “I enjoy that craft brewing is a mix of art and science – a sensory stimulation of taste, touch and feel as well as the cause and effect of control during the process. A craft beer that is designed and created from grain to the glass within one plant, by one or two brewers appeals to me so much more than something that is mass produced.”

Craft beer country

A recent industry report shows that while per capita beer consumption in Australia has declined sharply over the last five years, the boutique beer segment has grown strongly over the same period, with more than 290 craft and boutique breweries expected to be in operation across Australia in 2016-17. This number is only expected to grow over the next five years as consumer preferences continue to shift from quantity to quality

“You only have to look abroad at how the United States craft beer industry grew through the late ‘90s to see where Australia is likely to find itself in the near future,” Tim says.

With more and more craft breweries starting up to meet local demand, along with more beer festivals and events, it’s a transformation that Tim believes will be relatively smooth.

“We won’t have to necessarily tackle every obstacle – like small-scale packaging – because other more mature craft-beer-drinking countries have solved these issues for us,” he says. “That’s not to say we won’t have our own difficulties with government legislation and taxation, but it’s definitely an exciting time to be a microbrewer.”

I can’t speak for everyone, but I enjoy using my hands and my head simultaneously.

Tim Howard

One for the road

The increase in microbreweries has created a shortage of qualified brewers, but as consumer tastes continue to change, it won’t be long until others follow Tim in combining their qualifications with their passion for craft beer.

“I can’t speak for everyone, but I enjoy using my hands and my head simultaneously. People want to do jobs they enjoy more than ever. I’m fortunate that I’ve found something I can do for long hours and still enjoy every minute.”

Cheers to that.

This story the second instalment in a Meet The Makers series profiling UOW people who are rejecting the mass made and getting their hands dirty making real things.

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