The history of Brewlab
Brewlab began in 1986 – a year when relatively few small breweries existed. Those which did were often established by enthusiastic amateurs taking a risky plunge into a difficult commercial world – or commercial brewers retiring from the larger or family breweries.
Brewlab began by providing laboratory services to breweries with no skills or resources to deal with problems – generally contaminations due to poor yeast management but also general testing to determine the features of routine production. Requests for general brewing courses developed into a portfolio of Start Up and Quality workshops which helped numerous ambitious brewers develop knowledge and understanding. Practical experience was provided by the nearby Pitfield Brewery but by 2001 this had moved out of London and Brewlab sought an alternative location.
A relocation to Sunderland would perhaps be thought a poor business choice after a busy London site but the unique character of Brewlab’s services and courses brought increasing trade. Staff were engaged from the nearby Vaux brewery and courses expanded to include a three week practical brewing programme which attracted increasing numbers of overseas recruits.
For a number of years the company was based in laboratories at the University of Sunderland and in 1995 established the Darwin Brewery with a 100 litre brew kit primarily for demonstration. However, the beers produced soon developed a commercial following and the brewery purchased the Hodges brewery in Crook to increase production. Darwin later established a site in Sunderland with kit from the Butterknowle producing 1500 litres per brew – a significant increase on the initial production with beers increasingly recognised in the North East with a range of national awards.
The commercial development of Darwin Brewery allowed Brewlab to provide more substantial commercial experience to students who could see and experience brewing from production stages to pulling pints in the local pubs. Business elements became a major feature of courses which now included a nine week diploma course in British Brewing Technology. In 2011 Brewlab moved into purpose designed premises accommodating the Darwin Brewery alongside the course provision with a dedicated training room and teaching laboratory. Laboratory services were initially sited with the teaching provision but with expansion are now located at the nearby Business Innovation Centre providing dedicated services to the increasingly busy industry.
Brewlab still retains links with the University of Sunderland through collaborative projects and also with other institutions including Newcastle University and the John Innes Centre and universities abroad. Links are also maintained with a large alumni of students and breweries established after Brewlab courses. These provide updates of progress and increasingly feed back into an international community of brewers to enhance the provision for future recruits to the brewing industry.