Thursday 19 September 2019

'I'd caution people about taking early retirement... we have so much to give back' - brewer at 5 Lamps Brewery

William Harvey (63) is a brewer at 5 Lamps Brewery. After 27 years working in Guinness, he retired at 53. Later, he went back to work. He lives in Ranelagh, with his wife, Bernadette, and their children - Alexander (25) and Amelia (23)

William Harvey. Credit: William Meara
William Harvey. Credit: William Meara

I'm up and out of the scratcher by 7am. I find it easy to get up. I live in Ranelagh, with my wife, Bernadette. She's a psychotherapist, and she works afternoons and evenings. Our daughter Amelia lives with us. She has just finished a degree in zoology, and our son Alexander has just spent the summer in New York. He was living like a rock star on my euros.

I have a light breakfast, and then I head into work. Usually, I drive. Work is the 5 Lamps Brewery. It's difficult to explain our location to Dublin people. They associate it with the North Strand, where the Five Lamps [decorative lampost] is, but we're actually in the Liberties. I tell people that we are the pimple on the elephant's arse - we're right behind Guinness. I get into work at 8am.

Our brewery, 5 Lamps, is a very small micro-brewery, and we brew a variety of beers - pale ale, red ale, a stout and a lager. They are the standard beers, but on top of that, we do seasonal beers: a winter beer; and we had a special summer one called Up the Dubs in light of them being in - and, of course, recently winning - the All-Ireland Final. It's an apricot-infused wheat beer. A lot of brewers do India pale ales with alcohol levels of 9pc, but ours are under 5pc. They are designed to be accessible to people. I would argue that if you're going to drink beer that is stronger than 10pc, you have to be at home with your hair in curlers.

The night before brewing, I will have weighed out all the materials that I need. I will have my hot liquor tank set to the right temperature. Then I'll start mixing the milled malt with the hot water in a vessel called the mash tun. I mix in the grain with a big wooden paddle.

Essentially, if you can visualise what 500 kilos of porridge looks like, that's what I'm mixing. It's very physical. The science behind it is that if the mash sits there for an hour at 68 degrees Celsius, it converts the starch and the malt into sugar. While that is happening, I have my coffee and read a book. At the moment, it's a crime thriller by Peter May. He tells a good story.

The solution that we run out of the mash tun is very sweet. We wash that bed of grain with more hot water until we are sure that we have all the sugars out of the mash, and all of the liquid into the kettle. Then we boil the kettle for an hour and a half. That sterilises the lot of it, and we add in our first tranche of hops, which puts a baseline of bitterness into the beer. We'll boil that for an hour and a half, and then we'll add a second tranche of hops, which is more for flavour and aroma.

Once the boil is over, we cool that down, pump it into a fermenter, and then we add the yeast. We lock the tank up for a week, and the yeast does all the work. Once the fermentation is finished, I cool the beer down to zero and let it condition for another four days. Then we bottle it, or keg it. From start to finish, it takes about 14 days to make a beer.

Ireland is way behind the whole craft-brewing explosion, which started in America in the early 1980s. Craft means small and local, and everything we do is hand-done.

From one brew, we would package 650 litres. My working day starts at 8am, and I lock up in the brewery at 6pm. It's a long day, but it's gentle enough. I love it. In fact, I came out of retirement to do it.

I did a food-science degree in Cork, and then I came to Dublin and got a job with Guinness in the research lab. That was the last time I did any small-scale brewing. Guinness was a fantastic organisation for me. When I was in the research lab, I did a master's degree, and they paid for that. And years later, I did an MBA and they paid for that, too. There was a lot of fun, but there was also a lot of hard work. It changed in the latter years with Diageo, but all organisations go through those changes.

When I was 30, we went out to the States, and I worked for Guinness over there for five years. It was a huge growing-up experience. We went on holidays to places like Arizona and the Grand Canyon. While in the US, I realised that I had some competitive bones in my body. Years later, there was a retirement package on the table, with an immediate pension. I was 53, and I thought that it would be a good idea to leave and do something else.

For four years, I had a blast. I took over the cooking at home and I did a lot of running, but I found myself getting bored. When I got a call from Brian Fagan, who set up 5 Lamps, asking me if I'd like to brew a couple of days a week, I nearly snapped his hand off. It was the perfect role, and I was ready for it.

I would caution people about taking early retirement. There will be a lot of time on your hands, and unless you have a plan in place to deal with it, it's not a good idea.

Besides, I think that people of my age have so much to give, and to give back. It's a shame that people are written off at 65. While I might look 63, I certainly don't feel it. I see myself as somewhere in my late 30s. Being a beer-drinker is part of the job. I'm turning into Gambrinus. He was a 16th-Century Flemish king who was an enthusiastic brewer. He is the archetypal brewer that you see - moustachioed, big belly and a leather apron.

When I get home in the evening, I'll cook dinner. Then Bernadette comes in from work, we eat together and we have a chat.

What's it like being married to a psychotherapist? The trick is not to make eye contact! I keep telling her that I'm a work in progress.

In conversation with Ciara Dwyer    

Sunday Independent

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