Beer scientist is the kind of made-up job you'd expect a bratty 17-year-old boy to pitch to his Year 12 careers counsellor, but it's how Birgitte Skadhauge has been making a living for the past 25 years.

Skadhauge, 51, is the head of Danish beer brand Carlsberg's Research Laboratory, in charge of science, innovation and research.

She studied biotechnology, genetics and biochemistry at the University of Copenhagen and has a PhD in genetics and biochemistry, reports News.com.au.

Her job is to make beer better - for consumers, for the business and for the environment.
She spoke to News.com.au from Copenhagen, where Carlsberg's headquarters and factory are based, about what her job actually entails.

Advertisement

How would you describe what you do?
"I'm in charge of Carlsberg's science and research activities and that's within the entire Carlsberg group (As well as the flagship Carlsberg beer, the company produces Somersby cider, Tuborg, Kronenbourg, Russia's best-selling beer Baltika and more than 500 local beers).

"We develop new scientific solutions that can be applied across the whole brewing industry - anything from fermentation to raw materials and new technologies.

Birgitte Skadhauge and a colleague at the Carlsberg factory in Copenhagen. Photo / Carlsberg
Birgitte Skadhauge and a colleague at the Carlsberg factory in Copenhagen. Photo / Carlsberg

"We work very closely with product development and the commercial parts of the business and we collaborate a lot with universities on scientific projects and publishing scientific results in journals."

How often do you drink beer?
"At least a few times a week. That's a good part of the job. You have to keep track of what's new on the market. That's a very pleasant part of my job, you have an obligation to do that."

How do people, particularly men, react when you tell them you make and taste beer for a living?
"They think it's pretty cool. I think they say 'That's really a fantastic job' or 'That's my dream job' and 'I wish I could have your job everyday'. It's also my dream job too, it's great."

Innovation is a big part of what you do. What new products are you working on?
"The brewing community is very conservative. They like the good old beer that they've been drinking for years and think it should stay the same.

"But there's also a big trend now where people want to have new types of beer. In Europe and Australia and us there's a whole movement with craft brewing. People want to see locally produced beer. They want to have a new beer experience.

"We're doing a lot in the craft beer sector and also non-alcoholic beers and other types of non alcoholic beverages. People want to consume less alcohol but they still want to have a drink."

Inside the Carlsberg factory's production line. Photo / Carlsberg
Inside the Carlsberg factory's production line. Photo / Carlsberg

Are you close to creating a non-alcoholic beer that still tastes like beer?

"That's a very big ambition. Yes, that's the goal and it's not easy.

"Because in order to not have any alcohol, you have to do certain things to the beer ... evaporate it or use other technologies and that's slightly changing the flavour.

"We are really close and the non-alcoholic beers now are outstanding just compared to five years ago. We have come a long way. That whole segment is growing.

"We're also looking more beverages with fewer calories, sugar and alcohol but also having beverages where we use botanicals and other types of healthy ingredients. Flavour-wise it's very exciting."

What are some other projects you're working on?
"We are very focused on sustainability at the moment, we're working a lot on that.

"We want to reduce our carbon footprint and our water waste. It's playing into the different areas that we are researching, because it impacts everything, from the raw materials, when the farmer is growing barley on the field ... Can we develop a new barley grain that requires less water? "Can we create a more efficient breeding program? Can we create a new fermentation process with less energy?

Carlsberg's headquarters is in Copenhagen. Photo / Carlsberg
Carlsberg's headquarters is in Copenhagen. Photo / Carlsberg

"We try to map out every single aspect in the whole chain and see if there are scientific solutions to where we could improve on our sustainability.

"It's very important because we would like to produce our beer in the most sustainable and most efficient way without having a big impact on the climate and environment.

"So when you drink one of our beers, you can say this was produced in the most sustainable way possible."

The alcohol industry is famous for being male dominated. What it's like being a woman in that world?
"I think it's getting in many ways it's getting easier and easier. It's more recognised that women are sitting in these roles. It's nice to see more women coming up in the brewing sector.

"If you're good at your work and you know what you're talking about ... if you are credible then you can do whatever you want and your work speaks for itself."

Carlsberg is currently celebrating its 170th birthday. Find out more here.