17 May 2020

It all began at UEA when fermentation was covered on my BSc and MSc syllabi

Luke Browning Samples BeerLuke Browning completed a BSc in Biochemistry and then an MSc in Biotechnology at UEA, graduating finally in 2013. Luke spoke to us recently and told us how his time in the lab inspired him to set up his own brewery business, Biochemist Brewery. He also gives his top tips for anyone looking to start a business. 

The course content of my BSc and MSc massively fast-tracked my ability as a brewer. 

Tell us how the COVID-19 pandemic inspired you to start up a brewery

When COVID-19 hit I had finished my research contract at Cambridge and was applying for jobs in industry. When the seriousness of the virus became apparent and when the first lockdown began, I used the time to convert my garage into the nanobrewery. It felt like a now-or-never moment, knowing that the conversions would be difficult when I resumed full-time work. 

And how has the business developed?

The business was operational just before Christmas 2020. Every weekend I make the deliveries to local customers and we are regular traders at two farmer’s markets in Suffolk. Now that lockdown measures are easing, we are looking to fill the calendar with other events, such as beer & food festivals.

When did you first take an interest in brewing?

It all began at UEA when fermentation was covered on my BSc and MSc syllabi. We had two awesome ‘field trips’ to a couple of Norfolk breweries during the Masters’ course to put the theory into context. As a student, I started with simple homebrew kits and grew from there. Fast forward several years and I met a brewer, Alan of St Botolph’s Brewery, who was upscaling and selling his 100-litre beer kit. I purchased the kit and jumped into all-grain brewing.

What are your ambitions for your business?

To become the envy of Brewdog – ha! Just kidding. Keeping up with demand is already challenging and I am considering upscaling within my existing space. My ambition is to brew excellent beer, have fun and grow the business organically. 

So…Is brewing beer like being back in the lab?

There are a lot of similarities! I make detailed notes, stay organised, clean, get side-tracked, think on the next experiment, clean some more, curse when I forget something and, did I say, clean?

Luke Browning 2010, playing guitar
Luke during his time at UEA, 2010

What are your fondest memories of studying at UEA?

Meeting a few friends that are still very close today. The quality of teaching at UEA was outstanding and I miss the buzz of learning new material. I wish I could have my time all over again because I know I’d be a much more engaged student! 

Did you learn any skills while studying that helped with running a business?

The course content of my BSc and MSc massively fast-tracked my ability as a brewer. While I was a student at UEA, I worked part-time as a guitar instructor at a local youth centre. Teaching guitar to kids and adults boosted my professionalism and an understanding of pricing and customer expectations. 

What advice would you give to any students or recent graduates looking to start-up a business in today’s world?

Understand your overheads and get real about profit margins. Think through your plan – make a spreadsheet and itemise costs. There isn’t a lot of money in beer, but at the right scale it’s worth it. Don’t delay too long – life only gets busier with partners, kids, pets, promotions, mortgage etc!

Luke studied BSc Biochemistry and MSc Biotechnology for a Sutainable Future at UEA.