As told by Amber Dernulc BottleShop's Purchasing & Wholesale Co-ordinator
I set my alarm for 5am, then another for 5.15am, then another for 5.30am the night before IWD just to make sure I was up in time to go to the International Women's Day Collaboration Brew at Burnt Mill Brewery in Suffolk. Obviously knowing I had to be up so early to make a train prevented me from sleeping properly, waking every hour to check that I hadn't slept in!
March 8th began as a gloriously sunny day; dressed in my most practical and warm clothing I trekked across London to meet my colleague and friend; Jodie Kennedy at Stratford; fuelling up on a very important Pret breakfast.
Our train journey out to Stowmarket was peaceful and beautiful; the rolling hills passing by as we chatted about our day ahead. We were met at the station by Charles O'Reilly; founder of Burnt Mill Brewery. After spending years researching and talking to breweries, he set up Burnt Mill last year on a picturesque farm in the Suffolk countryside. He brought on Sophie De Ronde as the Head Brewer in July last year, and as the founder of the International Women's Day Collaboration Brew (IWDCB) it was an honour to be invited here for the day.
The brewery sits in countryside; in the midst of barns and fields where Swifty the horse hangs out. The glorious blue sky did nothing to enhance the bitter cold.
Sophie is allergic to gluten; so has developed Steel Cut, and oat based pale ale, completely free of barley and wheat. We used this as our base for the IWDCB beer; which had the theme of "Unite Exotic". The exotic element came from the hops; Nelson Sauvin and the later addition of grape juice from the Pinot Grigio grape.
The first step was to mash in, and Jodie and I were up first to help pour in the bags of oats and stir the mash. This was hard work; the steam and heat coming off the mash as I was leaning over stirring it with the paddle was intense; it made my hair curl!
We took turns with the other groups to mash in; those who weren't in the warmth of the mash tun huddling together with cups of coffee against the bitter cold. After the mashing in; there were various bits to be done with Sophie explaining the brewing process to us along the way including the weighing out of hops and chemicals.
As we hung out over lunch we shared stories of being women in the industry. Re-energised by Sean's amazing barbecue, we had the task of digging out the mash tun. Jodie and I got really involved in this; the steam rising off the spent grain made the whole brewery look like an 80's music video. This was great fun, until I realised my leather boots were ankle deep in porridge and it probably wasn't the wisest choice I made.
When ready, the beer would be dry hopped with the Nelson Sauvin and the Pinot juice; and fermented with Champagne yeast to really bring that wine element into play. It was a great opportunity to spend time with such an influencial and awesome woman as Sophie de Ronde; her years in the industry combined with her wisdom and sense of humour meant that the whole day felt really special, even more so knowing that there were teams of women in the beer industry all over the world coming together on International Women's Day to create their version of #UniteExotic.