First woman to complete Level 4 Brewer Apprenticeship named

By Rod Addy

- Last updated on GMT

McErlean digging out spent grain
McErlean digging out spent grain

Related tags Training & recruitment Drinks

Caitlin McErlean has become the first woman in the UK to successfully complete a Level 4 Brewer Apprenticeship.

Not only that, but 26 year-old McErlean, from Milton Keynes, has also been awarded the highest grade possible by her end-point assessment (EPA) organisation, FDQ – a Distinction. She is FDQ’s 1000th​ apprentice to undertake EPA.  

Her passion for making beer began at university in Durham, while working at a local pub which specialised in craft beers. Soon, her interest in learning Chinese (she has a degree in Chinese Studies) waned and by her second year she knew that brewing was the career for her. She assumed she would need a science-based degree, so decided to work in the hospitality sector to see if she could find another way in.

Fast forward a couple of years and she joined Brewhouse and Kitchen, a brewery chain with more than 20 ‘Brewpubs’. After succeeding in their internal Beer Specialist training course, she was then sponsored by the company to begin the L4 Brewer apprenticeship. The standard was developed by a group of some 27 beer industry employers, ranging from micro-brewers to household name, multi-national breweries.

'Dream job'

Unexpectedly, 18 months into the apprenticeship, an opportunity came up at Cloudwater Brewery in Manchester, which McErlean described as, ‘my dream job, in my dream location’. As apprenticeships today are fully portable, not only could she transfer her apprenticeship to Cloudwater, but she was also able to continue the ‘off the job’ apprenticeship training with her training provider.  

In addition to working with her trainer, as part of the brewing apprenticeship she also attended six two-day workshops at the International Centre for Brewing Science at the University of Nottingham. Here, she learned about the scientific and technical aspects of brewing, via a lectures and practical sessions run by beer industry experts. It was this element of the apprenticeship that she says she enjoyed the most.

“The mix of science and creativity was challenging, but really stimulating. It was also a great opportunity to meet other apprentice brewers. Brewing is a really kind, sociable industry – everyone was happy to share their experience and help each other out.”

End-point assessment day

Just over two years after starting her apprenticeship McErlean was ready for her brewer EPA. 

“It was an intense, long day but I really enjoyed it. I was assessed whilst performing typical brewery tasks, then I completed an hour-long knowledge test and finally had a one-to-one Q&A type discussion with my examiner."

FDQ EPA manager, Kevin Meades, who attended on the day said: “End-point Assessment is challenging – the L4 Brewer EPA involves a knowledge test, practical brewing assessment and a professional discussion with the examiner. It’s vital to prepare well, which Caitlin clearly had. Her passion for brewing was also clear from the outset. She thoroughly deserved her Distinction, and we wish her every success in the future.”

'I cried'

On discovering she’d passed with flying colours and was also the first female brewing apprentice to pass her apprenticeship, McErlean said: “Honestly I cried! It felt so wonderful because it’s something I care about so much.”

She now works ‘hot-side’ as a full-time brewer with Cloudwater, which involves managing the brewing process from raw ingredients up to fermentation stage. “As well as working with great people, I just love the feeling of producing a beer that I know people are going to enjoy,”​ she said.

Having completed the apprenticeship, Caitlin isn’t ruling out further study. Having the Level 4 Brewer Apprenticeship under her belt means she could now look towards gaining professional qualifications in Brewing or even studying for a Masters in Brewing Science.

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