November 10, 2021, by Postgraduate Placements Nottingham
Free Beer! (OK, not really…)
Amy Flinn reflects on her Researcher Academy placement.
You could easily argue that before I undertook a postgraduate placement with Murphy & Son, my interest in beer was largely superficial. I had a vague idea of the different types of beer, but my choices would always be heavily influenced by can art or funny names (best to date: Willy Tonka). Little did I know at the start just how much work goes into producing every beer, and not only that, ensuring that each beer remains consistent between batches.
Murphy & Son are a 130 year old brewery supplier, with one of their areas of expertise relating to water quality. Did you know that historically, the natural water of Burton-upon-Trent was considered the ultimate water for beer brewing? It was said to have the perfect ratios of minerals to produce smooth tasting Bitters and Milds. As consumer tastes have shifted, Burton-ised water is no longer the ideal choice. Want a crisp, dry New England IPA? You might want to look at bumping up your sulphate levels a little. How about a fuller mouthfeel to your Pastry Stout? Chloride levels in the water can impact how the beer ‘feels’ on your tongue as well as emphasising sweet and malty flavours.
While I had zero brewing experience, I am a Chemist. This placement gave me the exciting opportunity to apply my knowledge to a completely new area – compiling and calculating how to modify different tap waters from around the UK to an ideal brewing profile. It was challenging at times and could often require thinking outside the box – for example, chloride levels can be boosted by adding regular table salt to your water. Yet at what point will the consumer taste the beer as salty, and is that always a bad thing? Salted beers do exist, particularly in porter and stout styles.
In a different vein, scheduling and time management could also be demanding. I started this placement during my final year, while writing up my PhD and working full-time. Keeping on top of deadlines and maintaining communication lines was always top priority, and the fact I found the work so interesting helped it feel far more like a hobby. At the time, I was concerned I’d bitten off more than I could chew – but now that the placement has finished, I’m proud of what I have achieved. I have more confidence in my ability to adapt to new challenges and ultimately, it inspired me to shift my career plans to pursue roles that require me to push myself out of my comfort zone.
I definitely recommend giving a postgraduate placement a go with anything that seems interesting to you. I never would have been able to expand my technical knowledge of beer brewing like this without committing to several years of home-brewing to learn by trial-and-error (which, let’s face it, is probably also on the cards).