Paola Leather was born and grew up in the Colombian capital of Bogata. Now she’s one of the leading female brewers in the country and heads up the brewing team at Skinner’s Brewery.
So how does a city girl from South America wind up in Cornwall brewing beer? What’s it like being a woman in what’s traditionally been a male-dominated industry? And what are the best and worst parts of her job?
We met Paola to find out more…
Q: Hi Paola, great to meet you. We’re really intrigued to find out how life has led you to working for Skinner’s.
A: I finished my degree in Food Science in Colombia and then moved to London to learn English. I met my husband, Stuart, there and he’s a Cornishman. I did my postgrad in Business in London then
We decided to move to Cornwall and I started working for St Austell brewery. I spent 8 years there as a technical brewer and I learnt a lot.
Then we moved to Surrey and I worked at Camden Bri – a beer institute where all the big brewers have a research facility for brewing. We moved there with my little girl but we missed the sea so we decided to come back. Then when I came back I had my second baby.
When I returned to work I started doing consultancy and Skinner’s was one of the companies I worked for. Then luckily we talked and they started to say why are you not working for Skinner’s? So this is how I ended up here!
And what do you love about Cornwall?
When I am winding down I spend time in the area near Lostwithiel where I live – beautiful places like Fowey and Charlestown. My kids are small so we’re always going for walks and to the beach. We moved back here for the kids to have fun relaxing time for them and it is very good for that.
You’ve worked for chocolate and coffee companies in the past. Do you have a well-developed sense of taste?
Yes, I do. In Colombia I worked for a chocolate company doing all the tasting. No fun, believe me. I don’t have chocolate any more. And I worked with a coffee federation doing the tasting as well. They’re all chemical processes that bring out the best flavour and to make beer is all about flavour. I always liked the tastes of things.
Did you always know you wanted to work for a beer company?
My grandfather used to work in a brewery and I remember we would always have beer lorries coming to the house so always in my life I wanted to work with beer. I applied in Colombia but I didn’t get it but always in my life I wanted to work in a brewery. So when I did get the job I was very happy. My husband says I am lucky that I knew what I wanted to do and I am very happy so far to have achieved that!
Is beer your favourite flavour? And what is your favourite beer?
Coffee is probably my favourite flavour. I am from Colombia. I love coffee. But beer is fun. It is different. The process is fun – it’s nice because you can change something and in the final product you will notice every change you are doing.
My favourite beers are Belgian beers because they are full of flavour, full of body – it’s a journey to drink a Belgian beer. The style is good. They are first high in alcohol so all the body and flavours come together. They don’t use much hops but they use a lot of yeast – sometimes three different yeasts. The flavours that come out are amazing. I also like the style or the way they drink it because they are maybe 12% so they don’t have a pint they have a little glass. So you drink it nicely, slowly. I love that. I also like American beers and I have been trying some Japanese beers – they are doing really good. And trying them is lots of fun because I can also call it work!
What makes Cornish beer special?
I think Cornish beers are great because they remind you of the beach and of holiday- it transports you there – they’re all refreshing and light – they’re not a heavy beer. Northern beers tend to be heavier.
How do you find it being a female brewer in the industry?
When I started it was hard but now it is better. Some people struggle with you being the boss and some suppliers struggle but I love the challenge and it has put women in the picture because there are amazing female brewers at the moment in the UK and abroad. I remember in the meetings there used to be one or two women but now you can find 10 or more. So we are in there and it’s recognised that we’re good and strong – that we can run big teams and we can make good beer. It’s a job and anybody can do it and now we’re recognised on our merit not because we are male or female. You just have to be good at what you do.
What is the most challenging part of your job as Head Brewer at Skinner’s?
It’s important that each batch of our beer is the same because as a customer when you drink a beer you want to have the beer that you like. It’s a control process and if you control the raw materials and take care of the process you will have the same outcome. So I want to bring that. The most unpredictable part is the yeast. We call it like a woman because she does what she wants to do but we try to create the conditions for the yeast the same so she will do what she needs to do! If we control the temperature and pH of the water she should do the same thing but you have to check on her!
And what part of your job is the most fun?
Friday. Beer-tasting day. That is when I really think ‘I like this job!’ When you have seen the hard work the guys have been doing in the week it is great to taste the final product and know you have a nice beer. And also when you create a new product and the product is good. That is satisfaction. That is great.
Want to hear more stories like this?
Stay in the loop with the latest beer news and stories, delivered straight to your inbox. Join our mailing list and receive special offers, plus exclusive first access to exciting beer competitions. Sign up to our newsletter today.