Edition 53: Friends of Warminster Maltings

Edition 53: Friends of Warminster Maltings

English Whisky Update

Two reports landed in our Inbox at the beginning of June, one of which is the first report from the newly formed English Whisky Guild. Both paint a very optimistic picture of the future demand for Single Malt Whisky. In 2023, Scotch Whisky exports exceeded £6bn for the first time! Worldwide, exceptional demand is driven by China, the U.S., and what is termed as Travel Retail. For the U.K. India could also represent enormous pulling power if an impending Trade Agreement permits.

Brand strength, heritage, age, cask type/finish, scarcity, storyline, and experience all contribute to the value of Single Malts. Even so, New World Whiskies (NWW’s), of which English Whisky is a part, are attracting extraordinary levels of attention and value already. Apparently, White Peak distillery in Derbyshire (an occasional buyer of Warminster Malt), operating out of a former Wire Works, very recently sold its first numbered bottle for a record price of £9,000! Of course, the purchaser will probably never open it, but instead hopes to sell it at auction in 10 years time for a very handsome profit. You see, the market is not just about “drinkers and gifters”, it is also about “collectors and investors”. 

Warminster Maltings - Traditional English Floor Malt

Among the fields of barley

Not only that, at Warminster, we know that some of the English Whisky distilleries are bringing something new to the party. Along with the contributions to the flavour of the spirit that the local water makes, and then the barrel, or barrels (many are decanted into a second cask), these new distillers are also enthusing about the complex flavour contributions made by heritage barleys. We are talking about our Maris Otter (1965), and even our Plumage Archer (1905). When collectors and investors get to hear about and appreciate this, early releases are surely bound to attract a whole new excitement and demand.

Along with this, our English Distillers are also providing credible storylines, the story of the provenance of their spirit. Where the barley is grown – just down the road from the distillery – and in the case of Warminster Malt customers, the traditional hand-made and very gentle and exact method of malt production. Those distilleries in Scotland who still operate a ‘floor maltings’ are all basking in the impact of that £16m price recently realised by Ardbeg Distillery for its Cask No.3, made in 1975, and made when they still operated their own ‘floor maltings’. ‘Floor made’ malt clearly makes an enormous difference, of which “scarcity” is only a part.

The Whisky market worldwide is predicted to grow by 20% per annum to 2027. It is unlikely that will apply to us at Warminster Maltings, because we just do not have the capacity to meet it. A nice problem to have, some would say, but potentially a problem all the same.

Visitors to the Maltings

It feels a bit like the good old pre-Covid days again, with group visits to the Maltings punctuating our Calendar, once more. At the end of May, we entertained a 16 person delegation from Taiwan, which was a whole new dimension for us, as 14 of them spoke no English. They were visiting the U.K. to explore the English Whisky industry, and one of our Distillery customers suggested they should visit the Maltings. How my description of the process translated, I have no idea, but they took lots of photographs of themselves against the backdrop of our germination floors, and our Mediaeval looking implements.

In Mid June, we then hosted 23 members of the Salisbury Young Farmers Club to an evening tour. As well as educational, this is all about investing in our future, because some of these are the people we hope will be growing barley for us in years to come.

XK Club drivers and their cars along the southern elevation

A week later, I invited a handful of fellow members of a classic car club, in which I am involved. We all drive Jaguar XK sports cars from the 1950’s, and I lined them up along our now very tidy southern elevation. Back in the day when these cars were “the daily driver” for those fortunate enough to be able to afford them, our Maltings was very much still operating in its very original state. To me the cars seemed to belong, and they made a great photograph.

Then the following day, we entertained a delegation from the wider European malting and brewing industry, who were visiting the U.K. for a pre-harvest study tour. We were their last port of call, before they rushed back to Heathrow Airport. As they departed, the tour leader gave me a present for my trouble – x2 standard size bars of Swiss chocolate. I accepted, of course, but I do not know whether that tells me how out of touch I am with modern protocol, or whether that was a vivid insight into the state of the German economy?

Our European visitors

My next group have a very special interest. They are trying to save their local pub.

Teas in the Garden

Weather permitting, we plan to open the garden again for teas on the second Wednesday of the months of July, August and September. So the first of these is Wednesday 10th July, 2.00 to 4.00pm. The regular team led by Pat Whitty, will be delighted to see anyone who would like to take advantage of this special treat. Pat’s scones and cakes have a reputation that precedes them, and the garden is looking very flush at the moment. The cost of our cream teas will be £8 per person.

Heritage Week

Another date for your diary: Friday 6th September, 11.00am and 2.00pm. As we do every year, we are supporting this annual event with Free Tours of the Maltings, but on this one day only, as we still have to continue our normal duties.

Nearly finished, awaiting the steps

It is probably worth pointing out that we have, at last, after 23 years, completed our Restoration Programme of the malt houses, the final project of which has been the reinstatement of the original kiln roofs 3 and 4, both of which were destroyed by fire in 1924. These have now been transformed into usable spaces, one of which will hopefully become our Maltings Museum. The tours will show off both the inside and the outside of what we have achieved.

Tours have to be booked in advance, at the Warminster Civic Centre, Telephone: (01985) 214847. Please come along.

Robin Appel
& Lisa Conduit

Edition 52: Friends of Warminster Maltings

Edition 52: Friends of Warminster Maltings

MaltingsFest 2024

18th – 20th April saw the return of the annual beer festival, MaltingsFest, which is held in Newton Abbott, Devon. It is now in its 29th year and has expanded its range over that time to include ciders and spirits as well as many, many fantastic beers from the South West’s best independent craft breweries – there is something for everyone!

As usual, Warminster Maltings was the main sponsor for this event and as usual, it was a resounding success.

In our last newsletter, we explained our advertising was designed to get across the message that the “Best of the West” beers come from the “Best of the West” barleys (and, not to brag, that we make the “Best of the West” malts!)

I think that point was hammered home by the fact that no less than 20 of our customers took home Gold, Silver or Bronze across the different categories in the beer competition which was held the first day of the festival.

Congratulations to all the winners; we’re already looking forward to next year!

Warminster Maltings - Traditional English Floor Malt

The wonderful Electric Bear, receiving GOLD for their Keg Pale Ale

It Makes Me Hopping Mad!

Whenever I see an article in the media that suggests beer is all about the hops, I am afraid I always see red! So on March 26th when the headline on my BBC App. declared “Scientists help save the U.K. pint”, and the text goes on to inform me that work in Kent on “isolating hop genes in the hope of producing more climate-change resilient varieties”, my reaction is “fair enough”, but this is not about saving “the U.K. pint”!

The body of beer is the malt, the forever unsung backbone of the brewing industry! Without malt there would be no beer as we know it. Without hops, we would probably find another species of plant, or go back to just producing ale. If I was to compare Brewing to the preparation of food, the ‘ops are the ‘erbs! And whilst I quietly applaud the work the scientists are doing in Kent, they are categorically not saving the good old British pint! I just wish Brewers would join us in the malting industry in trying to get this message across to journalists.

Of course, climate change concerns us in the barley trade too, as much as it concerns hop merchants and brewers. But barley production has a relatively simple solution – it migrates west. There is no question that the Eastern Counties, once regarded as the most important area for the production of premium quality malting barley, is getting drier.

On the other hand, barley production further west, was always regarded as risky due to the higher rainfall levels. Not any more. At least, apart from the last 6 months, that is the trend.

The problem is, malt production is concentrated all along the eastern seaboard of Britain, from Witham in Essex, all the way up to the Moray Firth in Scotland. At the moment there is no likelihood of Maltsters following the barley crop west, they will just have to resort to dragging it back east, to their existing facilities. Currently, investment in new Malting capacity, estimated at another 300,000 tonnes, is all north of the border, and specifically for the distilling industry.

So it is left to us in Warminster, all on our own, to guarantee malt with low food miles for West Country Brewers. But not only that, barley grown more sustainably, with less agrochemicals – our farmer suppliers are working really hard at this – and probably now the finest quality malting barley of anywhere in the U.K. All without the intervention of scientists!

Saving the Planet

I read and hear brewers who say there is not a lot they can do to reduce their carbon emissions. Very few can go out and buy a chunk of Scotland and plant a forest, and I am reliably informed that most of the younger generation are not into horse drawn drays. So instead they need to turn to their suppliers for help.

In particular, some see farmers and farming as an area where significant differences might be achieved. They are talking about more nature friendly methods of growing barley, and therefore their malt, which might provide sufficient credentials to reduce the carbon impact of their beers.

Well, if you are talking about barley grown under an ‘Organic’, or even ‘Wildfarmed’ regime, both of which exclude artificial fertilisers and agrochemicals, then that malt carries a badge of honour which should earn some respect.

But before we get too carried away about this, please note that malting barley production is not an intensive form of agriculture in the first place. We will start with fertiliser. Malting barley needs to be low protein, so heavy applications of Ammonium Nitrate fertiliser are completely out of the question. Instead, many growers will measure the ‘free’ nitrogen in the soil in February. This is naturally occurring nitrogen derived from the breakdown of former crop residues, which can be analysed from soil samples drawn across a field. Then, it is possible to calculate and compare the crop’s requirement with this nitrogen residue, and any need to top this up with fertiliser. Quite often the addition of fertiliser is unnecessary.

Then we should consider agrochemicals. Beginning with herbicides: in the Spring we are really only talking about two groups of weeds, dicotyledons (chickweed, cleavers), and polygonum’s (knotgrass, bindweed), which are easily put down with fairly benign, low cost hormone weed killers. Then foliar diseases need to be monitored, the two most common are mildew and brown rust. With little or no nitrogen fertilisers, mildew is unlikely to be a problem, and brown rust really requires prolonged seriously hot weather in June in order to flare up. As for pesticides (insecticides) there is no requirement for them at all.

The point that I am making is, malting barley produced conventionally, is a very low input crop!

If farmers employed a mixed farming policy – both crops and livestock – and only grew barley, it could well be very unfair to accuse them of destroying the planet. And neither are brewers, particularly if they confine themselves to U.K. grown hops. It’s a bit like EV cars, in our bid to be quickly seen to be doing something, we can easily turn ourselves into “busy fools”!

Accomplished Maltster

Please join us in congratulating Leam Moulder on gaining his General Certificate in Malting.

This is a qualification which is very much slanted towards the modern technology of malting, and the exam paper is certainly not written for ‘floor maltsters’ like us. So a special achievement for Leam, which further underwrites Warminster Maltings’ unique position in the U.K. malt market.

Robin Appel
& Lisa Conduit



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