Edition 38: Friends of Warminster Maltings

Edition 38: Friends of Warminster Maltings

Happy New Year!

As we look forward to the next 12 months, it is perhaps worth looking back on the last 12. At Warminster Maltings we have done a little bit better than just keeping the company afloat, we have continued to invest in the longer-term prospects for the business. I would like, in particular, to highlight the following:

Malt Quality:

Our standout achievement – more flavour, even higher extracts!

This is partly down to something I have referred to before, namely, a study of the ‘floor malting’ process back in the 1920’s, when this discipline was at its peak of production and peak of perfection. We uncovered two or three procedures, long lost, but now incorporated into our own:​

-1-

Leaving the lights on at night on the germination floors: this stimulates an improved daily rate of modification in the germinating barley. All the floors have been fitted with carefully selected new LED lights which give off minimal heat. The lack of heat is most important, particularly in the summer months.

-2-

‘Folding the floors’ on Day 5: we do this during the winter months only, when on the fifth night on the germination floors, we double the thickness of the ‘green malt’ by shovelling one half on top of the other. It helps to make absolutely sure of the last two per cent of modification (maximum extract).

-3-

Spraying the ‘green malt’ onto the kiln: our new kiln spinner delivers a whole new dimension to the curing process of our malts. When loading the kiln, instead of 3 maltsters tramping all over the ‘green malt’ (compressing it) in order to create a level bed on the wedge wire floor, our new kiln spinner, with its variable speed motor, does it for us. It now only requires one maltster to trim the corners of the kiln space at the outset of loading, and the kiln spinner does the rest.

 I am so proud of 3.) above. We had no drawings, no photographs, just the requirement for our ‘green malt’ to land gently on the kiln floor and to remain in this almost ‘fluffy’ state.

It involved the fabrication of x3 prototype spinners before we got it right, finally re-fabricating the third prototype in stainless steel prior to fitting. This feature is a great tribute to the ingenuity and skill of our long term engineers, Trevor Nash Installations, who only had my ‘concept’ as a brief to work with. Where would we be without Trevor?


But I must add, along with these additional techniques, undoubtedly the maltsters themselves have also raised their game. I can see that for myself, that they are more protective of each batch of malt, and particularly jubilant when the finished malt delivers an especially high specification.

New Customers:

We have continued to add them to our portfolio.

Because of all the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, from the outset in 2020 we had to forget all about chasing after new business, albeit it we needed to expand our output. So, instead, we had to rely on our website, social media, and advertising, to generate new enquiries. And they did! We are hugely indebted to Jasper Williams of Juice Factory who created and manages all this for us. Where would we be without Jasper?

And the new enquiries continued to come in throughout 2021, and with the same conversion rate. In fact across the last two years we have managed to grow the business by 35%, both customers and volume. Now, with more new projects in the offing, and when ‘hospitality’ returns to its full potential, we could very quickly find ourselves at the limit of our production capacity.

But we are not complacent – I have always had an abiding rule for business: when you think you are ahead, you change up a gear!

New Laboratory:

Back in the Spring we decided it was time to refurbish our laboratory.

This facility was originally established in early 2004, following our very first restoration project creating our offices and reception. Of course, it has had a lot of use since then, and it started to look very tired. As well as a coat of paint, it needed new work tops, some new equipment, and a new floor. We gave Andy Gardner, our valuable lab technician, an open brief – it is his space, and it needs to be right for him.

The new floor had to be laid first, and it was ordered, to be fitted in August. It arrived in November! Or, at least, four fifths of it did, the last stretch was laid just before Christmas.

We are now all up and running again. We have a brand new ‘mashing in’ bar, which came from Germany, complete with installation instructions all written in German!

Our laboratory is very much on display to our customers, because, despite, our very traditional method of making malt, the process still commands the most sophisticated support. All our malt products have to be underscored by strict specifications set by the brewing, distilling and malting industries, and what is more, many established in the light of all-new technology.

New Build:

At long last, our final Restoration Project has begun.

It was due to begin in April 2020! Our current Planning Permission is to re-instate the original ‘pyramid roofs’ on Kilns 3 and 4, and, regardless, our final deadline for beginning the work was before December 7th, 2021.

These roofs were originally ‘pyramid’ but were transformed into ordinary pitched roofs following a major fire back in November 1924. The then proprietor, Dr. E.S. Beaven, chose to create his own new design for the replacement kilns. The traditional ‘pyramid’, necessary to establish enough draught for the furnace, was partly replaced by a motorised extractor fan set in the outer wall of each kiln, backed up by a simple slatted vent along the apex of a conventional pitched roof. Perfectly practical, probably more efficient, but architecturally dull.

The spaces under these two kiln roofs are just that, spaces, quite empty spaces. The current work includes a new access to these spaces via an outer staircase, modelled on those staircases which are such a feature of the famous Snape Maltings, in Suffolk.

When we have completed this work, the ‘spaces’ will still be empty, because they offer no practical purpose, as they stand, at least as far as the production of malt is concerned. So, we are currently engaged in a feasibility study to see if we could convert them into a viable Visitor Centre. It is all part of what I continue to see as my responsibility, to try and share this valuable heritage site with a wider public.

No doubt, as this final restoration project progresses, the opportunity it will present to us will become a lot more visible and measurable. Watch this space!

Unchanged Team:

The Warminster team remain the same, undaunted,& even more determined.

Their commitment, determination, dedication, and overall appreciation of our Maltings all combine to underwrite our place in both the U.K. and wider malt markets, our unique position in the UK’s brewing heritage, our contribution to the town, and, most important, our long-term future. I do my best to continuously express my gratitude.

Finally, Football!

The ‘Maltmen’ are enjoying a spectacular season!

Warminster Town’s footballers, otherwise known as ‘The Maltmen’, are enjoying a spectacular season to date, as I write, unbeaten in the last 12 games. Currently, they are a very strong 2nd in Division 1 of the Toolstation Western League, having steadily closed down an early established lead by Welton Rovers. The gap is now down to just 3 points!

Boxing Day witnessed a very particular local derby, Warminster’s Maltmen away to Devizes (the brewers), a match that is now firmly dubbed “el maltico” (after “el clasico” – e.g. Real Madrid v. Barcelona), not just by the fans, but also by the media. I am reliably informed that “el maltico” was all over Wiltshire Radio in the run up to the match. And Warminster won! And they won again on Saturday (January 3rd).

I have referred to this before, the unforeseen consequences of our sponsorship deal with Warminster Town Football Club. We thought it was enough to create the beer brand ‘Maltings Gold’, precipitating both the badge for the football shirts, and, equally important, a source of refreshment from the clubhouse bar on Weymouth Street.

But to have the fans then label the team “The Maltmen”, and then acclaim the Devizes derby as “el maltico”, has been quite beyond anything we could have ever imagined at the outset.

It has truly turned out to be a marketing triumph (who needs the likes of Saatchi & Saatchi?). And now we have a potential league champion, to boot! I can only hope this is an omen for our fortunes from the production of malt itself.

Onwards and Upwards!

So, we begin 2022 with much more optimism than one year ago. But I will say no more than that, because prediction is a hostage to fortune these days. We will, for the time being, continue to take each day, and each week as it comes, ensuring that, at the very least, here at Warminster Maltings the coming year will be another one of yet further achievement.

Wishing all our Friends a Very Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year.

Robin Appel

Edition 37: Friends of Warminster Maltings

Edition 37: Friends of Warminster Maltings

The Price of Good Cheer.

Despite the announcement of a 3 pence cut in the price of a pint of beer, made last week by Rishi Sunak in his Autumn Statement, I suspect the cost of a pint is actually only set to increase. But only along with everything else. However, as far as beer is concerned, not all of the blame is to do with Brexit and Covid, although both are, of course, implicated.

From our perspective at the Maltings, one particular feature of any price increase is the price of barley, up more than £100 per tonne on last year. When you turn that into malt, that straight away becomes £125 per tonne (1 tonne of barley makes 800kgs of malt). That is roughly equivalent to  cancelling one of those pennies offered to Rishi Sunak’s rhetorical pint!

This year’s price of barley is not so much a feature of our harvest, which was good, but a feature of poor barley harvests in France and Denmark, and in particular in Canada, normally a major source of malting barley for the international market. This has come at a time when international stocks of malting barley are low, and global demand for malt is now careering up!

But the price of barley is just one element we are having to factor into our new Price List for 2022. We have to also take on board the price of energy (gas and electricity) – we use a lot of gas – the increased cost of freight, together with rising wages precipitated by soaring vacancies in the Jobs Market. As if all of that is not enough, we also have to cost in the introduction of a Plastics Tax early next year!

Our malt sacks, manufactured in India, are plastics based. To avoid the new Tax, we have to demonstrate that our sacks are made of at least 30% recycled plastic. The problem is that plain recycled plastic is just not strong enough to incorporate into our sacks, and, currently, the cost of modifying it for purpose would be greater than the Tax. No doubt this Tax will provide the incentive for change in due course, but meanwhile we will just have to pay up!

Of course, all this extra cost above is just the first part of the brewing process. At the brewery, our customers are also impacted by more of the same – energy, freight and wages – and, I understand, sourcing both glass, and aluminium for cans, is proving challenging, quite apart from carbon dioxide which we all know about.

But, dare I suggest, after all we have had to put up with this last 18 months, a few pence on a pint of beer should surely be the least of our problems. After queuing for an hour for petrol, then adjusting the grocery shopping around empty shelves in the supermarket, surely the absolute “last straw” would be to get home and find the pub has no beer!

Heritage Malt – “Beaven’s Plumage Archer”

“Beaven’s Plumage Archer” barley, the first ‘genetically true’ variety of barley in the world, first bred by Dr Beaven here at Warminster in 1905, has produced some particularly good-looking samples this year. I would go as far as to say, a parcel grown at Lower Swell on the Cotswolds, is one of the finest samples of malting barley I have seen for a very long time. It is a positive joy to behold!

Today, the variety Plumage Archer is referred to as a “heritage variety”, as is, by some, Maris Otter (bred in 1965). Both barley varieties deliver pronounced flavour, something which is common across most heritage varieties of both barleys and wheats, and something which, sadly, is noticeably absent from almost all modern varieties. There is a very good reason for this.

Modern varieties of cereals and corn (maize) in particular are all bred for farmers first and foremost. That means firstly they are bred for yield, followed by disease resistance, earliness of ripening, stiff straw, and, of course, their ability to respond to the high input of nitrogen fertiliser. That in Britain, since 1965, all Plant Royalties payable on new varieties are paid by farmers, only  serves to underline the plant breeders focus (Maris Otter was in front of this). The outcome of this, for over 50 years, suitability for malting or flour milling has largely been achieved by default.

Heritage varieties, on the other hand, were always selected for pronounced flavour, because they were destined to be food, and back in the day when food was unadulterated by technology, that really did matter. I have understood this for a very long time, but I am delighted to be reminded of it all in a book I am currently reading, ‘The Third Plate’, written by Dan Barber, a celebrity chef from the USA.

Dan’s book, published in 2014, is an in-depth pursuit of what delivers flavour in wheat and maize in particular, and while he reaffirms my own view on heritage versus modern varieties, he also makes another very valid observation. Any flavour in cereals is really best experienced when the grain is grown naturally (no artificial fertilisers and pesticides) on healthy soils rich in micronutrients. So, in most cases, not all, what we are talking about here is Organic!

Well, coming back to the beginning, all our “Beaven’s Plumage Archer” has been grown Organically, so it ticks all the boxes that should deliver outstanding flavour. We do not have a lot, and it is quite expensive because the economics of growing this barley commands that. But, the good news is, the farmers who grow for us are all set to plant again next year. This will give us continuity of availability, which I am sure we all agree is important.

(P.S. We also have available Organic Maris Otter from a core of Organic growers who, too, are committed to year-on-year production).

Craft Matters!

I make no apologies for “climbing on the bandwagon” of the ‘leader’ article in Country Life magazine on October 13th, in the wake of the latest London Craft Week (4th – 10th October). It makes the point that it is possible to make “a real and distinctive connection” with products made by hand, as opposed to “the anonymity of the mass produced”!

The article goes on to explain that the wider appreciation of ‘craft’ today, is, perhaps understandably, surprised to learn that “a great deal of modern craft combines highly skilled manual techniques, with computer aided manufacture.” It goes on to point out “The use of electronic devices allows craftspeople to delegate stages in the production process to machines, as they focus their skill, time and energy where it matters most”.

All of this, of course, is exactly what happens at Warminster Maltings. The focus of the maltsters’ “skill, time and energy” is on the germination floors, over 5 days, and is the key to the superior quality of our malts. When we have got that right, our modern ‘state of the art’ kiln can be very easily pre-programmed to do its job, mostly overnight, and in the morning we have another batch of finest quality malt.

The Country Life editorial sets out to highlight the growing and wider interest in Craft, which, of course, we witness every day. I monitor our customers and sales at the end of every week, and I am persistently adding names to my spreadsheet. I also note that we are benefiting from organic growth (as well as growth in Organics). As I write, there is no question we, and I get the impression our customers too, have all come out of the pandemic a little bit better than we went in. But, that said, I should add, I am not “counting my chickens” just yet!

Warminster Town Football Club.

It is a long time since I mentioned them, so it is high time I made amends. We have maintained our sponsorship throughout the pandemic, and are very happy to continue our support for what I like to  regard as a first class community project.

The first team are playing particularly well this year, and commanding good support at home matches. That is, until positive Covid tests amongst the players interferes, and games have to be cancelled! However, from the outset of the season, they have been continually vying with the top 5 teams in the Toolstation Southern League and following last Saturday’s 1 – 0 win against Longwell Green (from Bristol) they are currently in joint 2nd place, with one game in hand.

So well done ‘the Maltmen’, keep up the good work. We draw inspiration from your success, as we too, down at the Maltings, continue to raise our game. We all need to defy everything that has sought to upend our lives these past 2 years, and to also demonstrate whether ‘Maltsters’ or ‘Maltmen’, we are quite definitely a force to be reckoned with!

Keep on drinking…responsibly, of course.

Robin Appel

Edition 36: Friends of Warminster Maltings

Edition 36: Friends of Warminster Maltings

Contributing to History

Britain’s oldest and most original Maltings, not surprisingly, attracts both historians and projects seeking to understand and/or re-create history. A current research project in which we have been invited to participate is the re-creation of an authentic Tudor Beer.

This project is driven by FoodCult, Trinity College, Dublin, and when it was put together it was very quickly pointed out that an authentic Tudor Beer could not be brewed in stainless steel vessels! If they were going to get it absolutely right, firstly they needed to build an authentic Tudor Brewery. That has been constructed of oak, hand beaten copper, and on-site forged metalwork at the Weald & Downland Museum at Singleton, in West Sussex.

The Amazingly Authentic Tudor Brewery, Mash Tun to the left, Fermenting Vessels to the right.

Next, it is all about the ingredients – barley malt (our contribution), water, yeast and hops. For the barley, a very ancient variety called Bere, was chosen. Bere, variously put at 1,000 years old, possibly 6,000 years old, is still grown on the ‘whisky coast’ of west Scotland, on the Isle of Islay, so was almost certainly around in the Tudor period. A small parcel of Bere barley was dispatched to us at Warminster to be made into brewing malt.

Our very traditional method of malting is as authentic as it can be – we know this thanks to the dialogue we have with the archaeologists excavating up to four 1200-year-old Anglo-Saxon malthouses on a single site at Sedgeford, Nr King’s Lynn, Norfolk.

At Sedgeford there is clear evidence of an in-line process comprising a steeping trough adjacent to a clay (tiled) germination floor, and then a (wood fired) kiln, in that order. Just like us at Warminster (1855), and therefore almost certainly the same in the Tudor period (1485-1603).

Ladling the ‘Brewers Wash’ into the Copper (approx.1 gallon at a time).

We delivered the Bere malt to Singleton on Friday 3rd September so that the Tudor brewing team could start working over the weekend. I was invited to visit the following Monday (6th).

The brewery is housed in the Winkhurst Tudor Kitchen, set at the western end of the park, and I was met by Marc Meltonville, a notable food and drinks historian (on both sides of the Atlantic) who is the project manager at this stage. I arrived as they were (effectively) ‘sparjing the grist’ – after ‘mashing in’, running a second volume of hot water through the brewers grist. This particular grist was 50% Bere barley malt and 50% Oat malt, also supplied by Warminster Maltings.

The team were very happy with the extraction of the “brewers wash”, as it is referred to, a clear and distinctly flavoursome liquid. I did venture a taste, and I was able to determine that with the addition of hops, in the copper (kettle), followed by yeast in the fermenting vessels, there was definitely potential for something interesting.

Although the yield of “brewers wash” was satisfactory, as far as Marc was concerned, he was not entirely happy with the “brewers grist”. He felt that their grinding procedure through “the quern” was producing too much flour. I pointed out that our standard milling process at the Maltings produces a ‘20/70/10 grist’: 20% husk; 70% grits; 10% flour. With a little adjustment to “the quern” we appeared to achieve something a lot closer to the 20/70/10 standard!

Not surprisingly, I questioned what was the objective of this research. The answer: to try and discover “the diet of the Irish people before the arrival of, and ultimate dependence on, the potato in the 17th century”. I was told that much of what we know about the food and drink of our earliest ancestors is purely from the written word. It is all very well documented, but there is not very much practical evidence or experience of whether the chronicles are accurate records. The only way to find out, of course, is to actually try and replicate that which is recorded, and to sample the produce. And that is what the Tudor Beer is all about.

After the research chemists have received all their samples, there should be in the order of 160 gallons of beer left over. I have put Marc in touch with a local brewer to see whether this can be bottled. This will only happen if the beer is good to drink. But the beer can never be sold, because it will not/cannot completely comply with modern food standards. But, if I should get to sample it, I will let you know!

FoodCult is funded by the European Research Council and it is hosted by Trinity College Dublin. The Principal investigator is Susan Flavin. foodcult.eu

Adrian hand milling the malt with “the quern”.

Harvest Review

The cool, often wet, weather, that was a tedious feature that seemed to prevail through June, July and into early August, delayed the ripening of the barley crops, but it certainly did not impair the quality. So we have barns full of top quality malting barley to meet our requirements for the next 12/18 months.

Maris Otter barley, completing it’s 56th harvest, again demonstrated what a resilient variety of barley it is. The freezing cold April, and lack of sun in both June and July, did nothing to help this barley’s full potential, but it still managed to deliver, producing fine skinned, low nitrogen grains, which we all look for in this premium malt.

Then, our other mainstay, Laureate Spring barley, has done exceptionally well, out-yielding its rival variety Planet, contrary to all data published. We prefer Laureate to Planet, because Laureate is suitable for both brewing and distilling, whereas Planet is an out and out brewing barley.

I should mention, we also have some very good results from the Organic farmers. Amongst others, we have successfully harvested x3 crops of Organic Maris Otter, and x2 crops of Plumage Archer, providing us with more stock than we have had in previous years of these much sought after malts. These successes have persuaded each of these Organic farmers to all plant again, thus ensuring continuity, if not expansion!

Barley in store at Robin Appel Ltd’s storage and processing complex just outside Warminster.

The success we have enjoyed with our U.K. harvest has, unfortunately, not been mirrored on the Continent. In particular, the Danish malting barley harvest has delivered low yields, and the French and German crops of malting barley, having been pounded by the rains, are quite fragile, with some commentators saying if the French harvest is not converted into malt by Christmas it will quickly deteriorate from malting specification. Of course, there is not the malting capacity in France to address this!

Inevitably, the outcome of all this is that the price of malting barley is rather more expensive than last year. More expensive enough that when our ‘old crop’ purchases of barley eventually run dry, normally by November, we will have to address this.

But the increase in the barley price will not be the only challenge we face. The well publicised lorry driver shortfall, put at as many as 100,000 drivers, is already inflating freight costs, and the overall labour market where there are supposed to be 1 million vacancies more than there are applicants, only serves to further fuel the flames of inflation across our production costs.

But perhaps there is a silver lining? My advisers in the City insist we are, in Britain, heading for an economic boom! I hope they are right, but to me it looks like a fairly bumpy road before we get there.

Just As All Is Safely Gathered In…

…we begin the barley production cycle all over again!

Maris Otter barley prefers to be sown in the third week of September, so as to establish a robust crop of seedlings before the first winter frosts. This barley has its roots in the ground for a whole 10 months (Spring barleys just 6 months), which, I like to think, partly contributes to its enhanced flavour profile. This is the barley that delivers ‘terroir’ with a capital ‘T’, along with everything else!

But before we get too excited about the beginning of the next cycle, let us first join in this year’s Harvest Thanksgivings wherever you are. In which case, by way of an alternative to “We plough the fields and scatter”, I end as I began, by stepping back in time…

New Maris Otter seed, packed in 1 tonne bags,
awaiting delivery to farm.

Ode to Barley

“Barley, which any fool can eat,

but for which the good Lord

intended a more divine

means of consumption;

let us give thanks, and praise

his bounty, by brewing beer!”

 

Friar Tuck, 1196 AD.

Keep safe and keep on drinking.

Robin Appel