Dry January? Rain Free Summer!

At Warminster Maltings we have had an amazing start to the year. Despite the widely reported 8% drop in “drinks sales” in January, our malt sales have been off the chart! I want to say it is a great credit to our customers that they are continuing to sell their products, when others around apparently cannot!

It is not just our home market, either. According to our Agents in Ohio, our sales across North America were up by 8% in January, and this is in the face of a continuing decline across the US Craft Beer sector as a whole!

So what is going on? I suggest, it is what we read about all the time. People are becoming more demanding of the quality of their food and drink. The “ultra processed” horror story of so much of our food offerings, in particular, is, at last, starting to get through. A distrust of global brands, based on the sheer scale of production, and the constant drive to contain prices, by whatever means, particularly at the moment, is no longer beyond a lot of peoples’ suspicions! Rightly so. A pint of fresh beer from a local Craft Brewery knocks the spots off the ‘brewing giants’ lager taps. Even at our annual village quiz the other night, I was impressed by the number of ladies who opted for our local ale (Warminster Malt), rather than a glass of cheap merlot.

With Easter early this year (29th March), which typically kick starts home tourism, and, let’s hope, an end to the continuous rains that have been falling since last August (law of averages), perhaps we can look forward to an early and very long, warm and sunny summer. A long summer of busy pub gardens, and flourishing beer sales. From every point of view, it will do us all the world of good!

Warminster Maltings - Traditional English Floor Malt

Changing Landmark

Very shortly, people driving down Pound Street, the home of our maltings, might suddenly think they are on the wrong road. The substantial plastic coated scaffolding tower that has encompassed one end of our complex, for more than 2 years, is about to be dismantled. At last, the Restoration Project of our Grade 2* Listed malthouses is almost complete!

The unveiling begins…

Over the last 20 years, our maltings has undergone a prolonged and comprehensive programme of repairs, rebuilds and renewals. The objective, as well as preserving our ancient buildings, has been to return the complex back to as close as possible what it looked like when it opened in 1855.

The overall project, which began in earnest in 2003, has taken more than two decades to complete. It has involved the authentic replacement of eleven separate roofs, each an individual project in themselves. As well as this, 66 windows, including more than 60 mullioned windows, have had to be re fabricated and repaired, along with the refurbishment, or renewal, of 8 external doors and doorframes. All services, gas, electrics, and plumbing have been renewed, along with the installation of an all new engineering infrastructure, which has been ‘tailor made’ to discreetly squeeze into unsuitable buildings, and yet meet 21st century standards of product quality, manufacturing efficiency, and staff welfare.

The final instalment of the Restoration Project has taken more than 2 years to complete and has probably been the most ambitious of all. It has involved the re-establishment of two of the original four ‘pyramid’ kiln roofs. These two roofs were burnt down in a devastating fire in 1924, on the night of November 5th. They were originally replaced with conventional ‘hipped’ roofs converted to accommodate a revised kiln superstructure.

So, Warminster Town has not seen these kiln roofs for 100 years. The fire in 1924 was a typical catastrophe suffered by many ‘traditional maltings’ at the time. The juxtaposition of fiercely hot coals in the four kilns, and dry barley and malt grains, was always a recipe for disaster. Fortunately, the then custodian, Dr. Beaven, was unphased, and immediately set about rebuilding his malthouses.

But, unlike the present custodian, Dr Beaven did not regard the signature architecture of a traditional maltings as important. However, now that most of these maltings have disappeared from Britain’s landscape, this very unusual example of a survivor, and what is more, a working survivor, persuaded us, and the planning authorities, including Historic England, that this was a unique and exciting opportunity to remind everybody that one of the staples of our food and drinks supply, was once very much more visible, and considerably more attractive, than anything that has replaced it today.

We will make much of this achievement across this year’s Newsletters, as we complete the ‘cosmetics’ of this final project. Let us know what you think.

MaltingsFest 2024

We are pleased to be the main sponsor for this event, again this year. The Festival opens on Thursday 18th April, and runs to Saturday 20th.

Our visual support takes on a different dimension this time. In the past, our advertising has targeted brewers, but it has been our perception that, for the most part, they no longer attend the Festival like they used to. This is all quite understandable, they are very busy people, and they cannot afford the time away from the brewery.

So instead, this year we have designed our graphics for the Festival goers themselves. We have designed a trio of posters, sets of which will be placed all around the walls of the two main tents where the beers are served and enjoyed. It is our attempt to get the message across that “The Best of the West” beers come from “The Best of the West” barleys, which in turn produce the only malt production in the West!

We are repeatedly told that food and drink consumers want to know more about where their sustenance comes from, but it is my sad experience that not too many people understand what malt really is, anymore. Once upon a time everyone would have known about malt, but, today, despite it being a lot more widely spread across the food and drinks spectrum, and our enjoyment even more pronounced than ever before, malt is largely unseen. That is its problem, and if it is seen only as a flavour, it’s true value is seriously undermined. Of course, it is something of a challenge to make malt more visible, so at MaltingsFest (where else?), we are attempting to do just that. By “talking malt” to the public at large, we hope perhaps this might help. See what you think.

Robin Appel & Lisa Conduit

Edition 50: Friends of Warminster Maltings

Edition 50: Friends of Warminster Maltings

New Year, New Hope, and New Prices

We can shout about the ‘New Prices’, because, contrary to almost anything else in our lives at the moment, from January 1st we have been able to reduce our Malt Prices. Boom, boom!

This has come about because the price of Spring Barley, which spiked in 2022 due to the war in Ukraine, has dropped back sufficiently for us to be able to pass on the savings we have made to our customers. It has not been an easy call, because, apart from the price of Spring Barley, nearly everything else we touch has escalated in cost.

But hopefully, our small contribution, along with the beneficial news (for brewers and publicans, at least) in the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s ‘Autumn Statement’, will help to keep the fires burning in our favourite pubs and bars this winter. I am a great believer in the old adage “When times are good we drink a little, and when times are bad, we drink a little more!” I am sorry to say, currently, our drinking habits are probably more driven by the latter than the former.

Especially in winter, our pubs are such an important part of our communities. According to a recent survey they still represent 29% of our spend in hospitality. Besides, see how, before Christmas, the ‘amateur’ £700 Tik Tok advertisement for Charlie’s Bar in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, went viral, and was very quickly viewed more than a quarter of a million times! It is a powerful reminder, for some of us, of the contribution made to our wellbeing by warm and friendly pubs/bars, by the quality beers they serve, thanks to the brewers who brew them…and the malt, of course.

Warminster Maltings - Traditional English Floor Malt

Charlie’s Bar Christmas Advert

Our Special Relationship

At Warminster Maltings we enjoy a very special friendship with the U.S., courtesy of our selling agents based in Ohio. This is an arrangement we put in place immediately prior to the Covid pandemic. It was immediately a source of some shared optimism: orders for full containers of our Maris Otter malts rolled in, just as our U.K. malt sales collapsed. Not only that, we set up a two- way, monthly correspondence, comparing notes on the impact and responses to Covid in our respective countries. Today, along with expanding sales volumes, our monthly correspondence continues, and I dub the incoming emails, after Alistair Cooke’s iconic broadcasts, our very own “Letter from America”.

At the end of last November, we at last had the pleasure of entertaining our Letter writer from America, at the Maltings. Bobby Terry, and his colleague Evan Luxembourg, were on their way to Germany to attend an international brewing exhibition. So they flew into Heathrow, and stayed over with us for 36 hours. We used some of the time to make a film, quite simply using iphones, like Charlie’s Bar in Enniskillen, which can be projected across the U.S.

If our efforts go viral with a quarter of a million hits in the first 48 hours I will let you know!

Of course we know that, forever, Americans have particularly loved three things about Britain: the Queen, David Beckham, and pubs. So I arranged to host our visitors overnight at a particularly good hostelry on the Longleat Estate. Here, our guests were quite adamant, that along with the local beer (made from our malt), they had to sample a plateful of good old ‘fish ‘n chips’!

We used the time to map out a plan for expansion across the U.S. There is a lot of enthusiasm amongst American Craft Brewers for the English beer styles – Best Bitter; IPA; and Stout – and so what better than English barley malts, made the traditional way, with which to brew them.

Bobby and Robin

Our Team of Malt-Stars

We consider ourselves very lucky to have such remarkable staff here at the maltings. We understand the importance of having a dedicated and experienced team and so would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge some key members of our maltings family and their rather significant anniversaries (either approaching this year, or just past).

    • Leam Moulder, Operations Manager – 20 years
    • Colin Scutt, Deputy Foreman – 25 years
    • Jerry Curtis, Foreman – 35 years

Long service naturally brings a wealth of knowledge and skill, but surely must also mean we’re doing something right? Our staff wouldn’t stick around for so long if not and this is, at least in part, down to our inclusive approach to running the business.

We encourage engagement across the whole team. We welcome feedback. We value them and their contributions.

So, an enormous thanks to all our hard-working people, but especially to Leam, Colin and Jerry for their outstanding service. We shall be bulk ordering gold watches before we know it!

Colin, Leam & Jerry

Half a Century!

When I started writing this Newsletter, just over 6 years ago, it was originally all about building up a local following of Warminster/Wiltshire people in the event of our Maltings’ future ever being threatened. Creating a body of people we could turn to with a petition, if the need ever arose. It hasn’t, of course, and perhaps I should not be over concerned.

But with the 50th edition, I guess it would be fair to say our bi-monthly bulletins have now established themselves as part of the Maltings fabric. For the time being, we have no plans to stop!

However, I am now increasingly being helped by my colleague Lisa Conduit, in our Pound Street office. Lisa has already begun editing, even writing some of our stories. So she now, quite rightly, joins me as a signatory. Together, we boldly step forth towards “our century”!

Meanwhile, from everybody at Warminster Maltings, may we wish you all A Very Happy New Year!

Robin Appel & Lisa Conduit

Edition 49: Friends of Warminster Maltings

Edition 49: Friends of Warminster Maltings

Bonfire Night!

On this day, 99 years ago, Warminster Maltings suffered a rather disastrous and costly event!

There was a fire which, amongst much other damage, destroyed the ‘pyramid’ style roofs on kilns 3 and 4.
Warminster residents will know this is something we have been working on reinstating – the final phase of our 20+ year restoration project – and there will be more exciting news on this imminently.

But, back to the anniversary of this catastrophic event. It was actually a fairly typical problem suffered by many ‘floor maltings’ at the time. The combination of hot coals, partial timber structures and dry barley and malt grains was always a recipe for disaster.

The ‘Somerset Standard’ reported that “The high tower [the sweater kiln at the other end of the building] was ablaze, and the scene was wonderful”.

I don’t believe that the then custodian, Dr. Beaven, would have agreed it was “wonderful”, but he was fortunately unfazed, and immediately set about rebuilding his malthouses.

And so here we are, 99 years later, still going strong!

Warminster Maltings - Traditional English Floor Malt

“What Goes Round…”

‘Floor malting’ is a centuries old process. There is a Saxon site under excavation close to the Wash in north-west Norfolk, where they have discovered a whole complex of what appear to be malthouses – the archaeologists visited us to establish that the Saxon remains have the same “footprint” as Warminster Maltings. Less than 200 years ago there would have been a small malthouse in every third countryside parish you travelled through.

But at the beginning of the 20th century, new technology from the Continent crept into the U.K. malting industry. It was described as ‘pneumatic malting’, a fully mechanised, controlled environment process which allowed for both greater volume and less time required for each batch of malt, by effectively forcing the modification of the barley into the malt. This new technology was capable of reducing the price of malt significantly but was initially judged by the brewing industry to produce an inferior product and was soundly rejected!

In the aftermath of World War 2, however, the drive towards the industrialisation of our food and drinks industries moved up a gear, which meant Britain’s largest breweries became far more receptive to the price of malt, than to the superior quality of ‘floor made’! So, by the early 1960’s, large scale ‘pneumatic maltings’ priced much of the ‘floor maltings’ industry out of business. By the end of the 1970’s only a handful of ‘floor maltings’ still remained operational, including Warminster Maltings of course.

Today, craft brewers and distillers are returning to being more discerning about the quality of their malt than just focused on the price, and in doing so, they are returning to recognising ‘floor made’ malt as being a superior product, which, in turn, can markedly enhance their own.

Up in Scotland, there is a small number of iconic distilleries which still operate their own ‘floor maltings’, and there is a brand new small distillery that has just opened on Speyside, Dunphail, which includes its own ‘floor maltings’ modelled on Warminster. Of the former, three of these are owned by the Japanese based Suntory conglomerate, one of the world’s largest producers and distributors of spirit drinks. It seems that Suntory agrees with the view that ‘floor made’ malt is a superior product, to the extent that they are now building two brand new ‘floor maltings’, one each at their Hakusha and Yamasaki distilleries in Japan.

From my point of view, this is an extraordinary turn of events. Ever since 2001, when I undertook the task of keeping Warminster Maltings going, I was much derided for trying to prolong a “sunset” industry and have constantly been challenged over the extra cost of ‘floor made’ malt. Now, it seems, both brewers, and distillers, want to return to the very natural process that engineering and scientific intervention have tried, but struggled, to truly replicate.

It seems the old saying rings true, “What goes round, comes round”!

The Barley Tree

Different barley varieties have existed forever. Originally, many were named after the place in which they were discovered, often spotted as a small group of plants growing in the wild. These selections became known as “landrace” varieties, propagated by the farmers who found them. But these varieties were unstable in as much as they would not easily travel. They belonged where they were found, and when a particular variety was found to be especially good, it took very many years for farmers to adapt them to the climate and topography of a different region.

Then along came our very own Dr. Beaven, at Warminster, who practiced barley breeding, by crossing many different “landrace” varieties, until, in 1905, he created the very first “genetically true” variety of barley in the world, our famous Plumage Archer. This barley was stable, and so it would travel. From then on barley breeders worldwide took over the selection of new varieties, and the rest is history, as they say.

Except, “the rest” has become a quest driven more by the agronomic virtues of each new variety, than the quality traits demanded by consumption. In the process, the flavour of individual barley varieties seems to have been sacrificed on the altar of economic performance. So, we are now attaching a level of importance to a secondary group of barley varieties which follow directly from the original “landrace” varieties, which we are now labelling “heritage varieties”. These are the varieties that followed on from Dr. Beaven’s work and were bred in the first half of the 20th century. What is important about them is they retained distinctive flavours because their conception was guided by barley breeders more focused on consumption than production.

So, because you could say it was us at Warminster who started all this, and, courtesy of Maris Otter, have since sought to perpetuate matters (Robin Appel Ltd owns the Production and Marketing Rights to Maris Otter), we have produced a ‘Barley Tree’, entitled “The Evolution of U.K. Heritage Barleys”. We have yet to produce it as a Poster, but we can if demand exists.

Demand for the actual barleys, on the other hand, is very real indeed, with an extraordinary level of interest from the distilling sector in particular. You could say another example of “what goes round, comes round”!

Robin Appel