Naked beer in a woman’s world

Sarah Webster, brewer and pub owner outside The Corner Pin in Westwood.
Sarah Webster, brewer and pub owner outside The Corner Pin in Westwood.

“It’s definitely a man’s world,” explains landlady Sarah Webster, as she gets her hands dirty helping to bring in a delivery of coal to keep her pub fires burning through the winter.

While the 36-year-old owner of The Corner Pin in Westwood is hardly unique as female pub manager, she does belong to a minority group of female master brewers.

And it’s an even more exclusive club she’s a member of as a master brewer who also runs her own pub.

Disillusioned with life working under breweries, she not only bought the village pub to run as a freehold six years ago, but three years later went a huge step further and opened up a micro brewery at the back of the pub, to serve her beer to the customers. With its title ‘The Naked Brewer’, it hardly a demure name, but it’s more of a nod to the view of the brew house through the windows of the pub’s function room than any sultry suggestion.

Sarah admits her involvement in beer making continues to raise a few eyebrows among other industry stalwarts and the beer-drinking traditionalists.

She said: “Everybody phones up about it wanting to speak to my husband, but what would he know!

“There are women who do this but its negligible to the number of men.

“It was traditionally women that made beer anyway when men went down the pit.

“I do everything myself, it’s long hours and hard work but its worthwhile, and I’ve got it down to some kind of fine art!

“Some people make it out to be rocket science but it’s not- it’s like making liquid bread!”

But it wasn’t always like this.

Sarah admits to knowing nothing about beer making when starting out, and spent two years on what she described as an ‘apprenticeship’ at Amber Ales in Ripley, learning the intricate methods through weekly sessions.

She ran several pubs in the area before making the decision to go on her own, ploughing her own money into the premises, and then the brewery.

Although she did not want to say exactly how much the venture cost, money set aside to buy a house was spent on getting the brewery up and running, which give you a rough idea of the figures involved.

The mother-of-two had grown unhappy with the way breweries were treating tenants, what she saw an ever-receding amount of real beers on offer, and a lack of communication with those that really matter- the customers.

She added: “We want to sell traditional beers, but didn’t have a great idea about what was out there, so we asked the customers to tell us what they liked, and that got the ball rolling. From day one the customer have been involved.”

Her motivation stems from her unwavering belief in the village pub, which she still regards as the hub of any community.

As market research for her beer-making venture, she even got her regulars involved in tasting to find out what they wanted.

Many pubs have turned to food in a bid to boost falling beer sales, you won’t find a menu at The Corner Pin because she feels serving food can often dilute the atmosphere.

For Sarah it’s all about the beer, and she expects her staff to know what they are serving as well by encouraging them to get involved with taste tests, to provide a service which Sarah says is ‘genuine and real’.

“A lot of pubs have a description of the beer on the back of the pump, so the bar staff can tell the customer what each beer is like, but you won’t find that here,” she says.

“The pub is still a main part of the community, I 100 per cent believe in the local pub, that’s why I don’t do food because it kills conversation.

“People want to go the pub and chat, and we’re losing that.”

Brewing up to 90 gallons at a time, and depending on the season, she produces anything from pale ales to golden ales, bitters to ruby beer and porters, with as many ingredients sourced locally as much as possible.

She’s also a regular on the beer festival circuit, and often trades barrels of beer with other micro breweries to offer more choice behind her bar.

But having to run the pub and brew the beer herself, it all comes down to time.

“Lots of people show interest in the beer, but I just don’t have the chance to do it,” she explains.

“I don’t get a minute to myself but I’m not the kind to sit down and do nothing anyway!”