When Kim Buckenauer was a fifteen-year-old living in Berlin, she heard a radio interview about careers in brewing beer. From that moment, she knew what she wanted to do.
Fast-forward to today – and Kim is now living her teenage dream, as a shift brewer at St Austell Brewery in Cornwall. Her recent creations include a Berliner Weisse beer in 2016, followed this year by a pale ale called Relax.
Kim began her journey from Berlin to St Austell with an internship in a small German brewery, before learning her trade through an apprenticeship. Remarkably, three of the four students in her class were female – “That’s very rare,” she says. A holiday in Cornwall convinced her that St Austell was where she wanted to be, and in early 2016 – having qualified as a brewer in Germany – she came back to England to join the company.
While Kim’s enthusiasm for her work shines through, she’s most energised by the opportunities it brings her to innovate. “For many brewers, innovation is limited because they focus just on producing and selling beer,” she explains. “That is a problem of being a successful brewer but we also have our small batch brewery where we can experiment and try different ingredients and styles.”
Clearly, most people think of brewing as a male-dominated world – so has being a woman been a challenge? Aside from sometimes needing help lifting heavy containers, Kim says her gender makes no difference whatsoever. And at the annual St Austell Brewery Celtic Beer Festival – the biggest party of the year for ale lovers across the country – she gets a great response when she presents her latest brewing innovation.
“When I say ‘I’m a brewer and I brewed this beer’, people are just very happy and want to hear how I did it,” she says. “Perhaps I’m a bit of a novelty. But people think brewers are special anyway – and maybe they think I’m a bit more special because I’m a woman.”
Kim is just one of several women making headway at St Austell. Another is Louisa Fitzpatrick, head buyer with the brewery’s wine subsidiary. Having starting her career in the wine trade in London in the early 2000s, Louisa says she’s seen the number of women in the industry rise dramatically since then. She adds that the opportunities for women are now growing fast – as underlined by initiatives like the Australian Women in Wine Awards and the opening up of various wine societies for women in the UK.
In an uncanny mirror image of Kim’s career, Louisa’s love of wine blossomed in Germany, when she spent a year in one of the country’s wine-growing regions during her degree course in international management. Having decided to write her dissertation on the wine trade, she quickly realised it was the only industry she wanted to work in.
Like Kim, Louisa feels being female makes not an iota of difference to her career. “Frankly, I’ve never felt being a woman has been either a hindrance or help,” she explains. “Away from wine I work in a sales team that’s mostly men, and there’s a lot of male bravado that goes on. You soon adapt to that – and it’s changing anyway as more women join. But most of all I just love the challenge of the job.”
So, what advice would Kim and Louisa give to young women looking to follow them into their chosen careers? Their responses boil down to one phrase: go for it!
A bit about St Austell Brewery: Founded in 1851 by Cornishman Walter Hicks, today St Austell Brewery remains 100% independent and family owned.
In September 2017, St Austell Brewary were announced as the West of England Business of the Year. The video below, filmed for the awards, explains more about their brands, people and history.
“Just do what you want to do. Don’t be afraid of working with men – they’re just human anyway. Beer is a great product, so brewing it is a great career.” Kim Buckenauer (pictured above)
Louise Fitzpatrick (pictured below) agrees (pictured below) “If working in the wine trade is what you want to do, then follow your dreams and you’ll achieve it. You need to be aware that it can involve long hours and evening working. But it’s a fantastic industry to work in – whether you’re a man or a woman.”