Toby Heasman is head brewer at Hall & Woodhouse

Toby Heasman is head brewer at Hall & Woodhouse

This week, we speak to the head brewer at Badger Ales brewer Hall & Woodhouse, and just-drinks subscriber, Toby Heasman.

  • How long have you been working in the drinks industry?

I’ve been in the industry for 20 years. I started working for a micro-brewery in the US called Williamsville Brewing Co based on an island off the coast of Florida, before I graduated from Heriot Watt with a degree in brewing and distilling. After I graduated, Bass recruited me and I worked in a myriad of roles from maltster, brewer, packaging team leader, raw materials quality auditor and buyer. Bass put me through my Master Brewer and were really good at training head brewers. I worked for them for nine years then came down to Hall & Woodhouse in 2006, starting as brewery manager and then becoming head brewer, which is a position I have held for the past six years.

  • Who was your mentor when you started? What did they teach you?

I have had a few, but those that really stand out are Brian Webster from Williamsville, who taught me a lot, both in terms of being hands on but also how to be a good technical brewer. Stuart Noble and John MacDonald at Bass are probably the best two brewers I have ever worked. Former head brewer at Hall & Woodhouse, Tim Morris, is also fantastic and one of the best at developing new beers. Outside of brewing, my current boss David French is brilliant at making work collaborative and has taught me a thing or two about brands.

  • How has the industry changed during your time in it?

When I started it was all about volume and who was the biggest. Now, it is about quality and brewing great beers. As a brewer, that is really exciting.

  • What do you like most/least about your job?

I love my team, between us I believe we can solve any challenge in the brewery. The job at Hall & Woodhouse enables us to develop new beers, whilst being close to our sales and marketing colleagues. The company and David French give me the freedom to run the brewery. There are no real bits I don’t enjoy. But, there was a wily old bird that used to be my malt supplier who once told me that, when it’s going well, being a head brewer is the best job in the world. But, when it is going badly, it is the worst job in the world. May the good times keep rolling on….

  • What are the main challenges facing the industry today? How would you combat them?

The role of the public house in the community is a big problem. My advice is to listen and understand what people want, the old style boozer has had its day. Establish a premium for quality beers, brew great beers and develop them as a brand. Global supply and demand of aroma hops, plant more of the hop varieties the brewers want.

  • What do you think has been the most exciting innovation in the industry?

It is not an innovation but a subtle change: Brewers and consumers have started to fall in love with hops again, which is making for some very exciting beers. Brewers are starting to be innovative with how hops can be used to maximise their beautiful flavours and aromas in beer.

  • Which drinks company (apart from the one you are employed by) do you most admire?

Timothy Taylors. They are a brewery that has built a great brand in Landlord by brewing good beer and always sticking to their guns.

  • Who or what has been the greatest influence on your career in the industry?

Many great dreams start with a beer in a public house. A man called Jim Prior. I have only met him once in my life, in a pub (The Vaults in Uppingham) when I was in the sixth form at school. He had been the production director at Ruddles brewery, he encouraged me to go to Heriot Watt and do the brewing & distilling degree. Later he remembered me and sent a fax to the university, getting me the job in Florida at Williamsville Brewing Co. I have not seen him since that beer 22 years ago.

  • What's your favourite drink?

Beer, of course. Leaping Legend, one of our own beers.

  • And your favourite drink that is not in your company's portfolio?

Timothy Taylors Landlord and Tribute from St Austell are beers I admire.

  • What has been the most peculiar situation that your job has put you in?

Fifteen metres up in the air, on top of an effluent treatment plant, just outside of Warsaw. Need I say more?

  • Where do you see yourself in ten years time?

At Hall & Woodhouse. Why would I want to brew anywhere else?