Edition 33: Friends of Warminster Maltings

Edition 33: Friends of Warminster Maltings

20 Years, Not Out!

Three weeks ago, on February 13th, I celebrated 20 years at Warminster Maltings. I well remember that afternoon in 2001, sat in my solicitor’s office in Southampton, waiting for the phone call from the vendor’s solicitors in Warminster, to tell me “it’s yours!”

“Yours!” yes, the responsibility for Britain’s oldest working Maltings, at that point, hanging on to life by its fingertips. The infrastructure was minimal, a lot of the machinery was in a very parlous state, some of the electrics were the original and quite frightening, and the buildings were all in a very sorry state of repair. But not anymore!

Within a year of my new tenure, the Chancellor of the Exchequer introduced Small Brewers Relief (SBR), a substantial cut in excise duty for micro-brewers that, overnight, enabled them to sell beer as cheaply as the global brands.

Very quickly, an extraordinary revolution took place across the U.K. brewing industry. Fueled by the already hugely influential Campaign for Real Ale, a whole new generation of Craft Breweries suddenly sprung into being, and the rest is history, as they say.

But, just as no-one saw SBR coming, neither did we predict a pandemic, and ‘lockdown’. My 20 years at Warminster has been bookended by two extraordinary events, the first, which made us, and the second, which has attempted to break us.

However, as we, hopefully, shake off Covid, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is now threatening to abolish SBR! As I stated in my ‘tweet’ of 2 weeks ago, the “adventure…is far from over!”

Organic Ales, Atomic Sales?

Even before Britain’s Soil Association announced two weeks ago that the U.K. ‘year-on-year’ Organic sales in 2020 had risen by a huge 12.6%, we have, since Christmas, noticed a surge in enquiries for Organic Malts. These have not just been enquiries from potentially new customers, but also from existing customers, considering brewing Organic beers for the first time. And of the latter group, I am particularly pleased to announce, we have already dispatched the first new delivery of Organic malt.

So, what is going on?

Well, I can only speculate. There is no doubt the pandemic has, for the time being, caused a lot of people to think more about healthier eating…and drinking.

“My weekly contribution to that 12.6% Organic growth”

At the same time, I think David Attenborough’s fantastic Sunday evening television has also caused wide concern over the state of our Planet, from plastics in the sea, to soil erosion brought about by industrial farming practices.

Some of our brewer customers have reported that since they have been operating door step deliveries, they have been surprised at the number and repeated requests for Organic beers. This, of course, may have been something that has been sought after prior to the pandemic, but we can imagine that neither landlords of pubs or multiple retailers were ever likely to pass that information on. Their obsession with ‘bargain basement’ prices always takes precedent.

Lastly, of course, under-employed brewers, it seems, have had time to think about changes in strategy, perhaps to meet younger people’s aspirations, or just to achieve a point of difference compared to supermarket/pub chain brands.

Warminster Maltings is one of only three U.K. maltsters with Organic accreditation, and we have the widest choice of Organic malts available. So, it is a trend we are keen to foster. At the moment, most of the Organic malting barley produced every year in this country, is sold to maltsters and brewers on the Continent, and a significant percentage of Warminster’s Organic malt sales goes exactly the same way. You might agree that it is more than high time for this situation to change.

Roadmap to Freedom

As long as the vaccine rollout does not lose any of its early momentum, it seems possible we may achieve some sort of amnesty with coronavirus by June. This would suggest that at the Maltings we are going to get busy again in May. It is somewhat ironic that just as we would normally be looking forward to a summer holiday, this year we will be looking forward to going back to work properly.

So, we are cracking on with any maintenance engineering projects that we would normally slot into our summer schedule, when, due to higher temperatures, we cannot work the floors quite as hard as we do in winter.

For starters, we have renewed part of the upper floor of Floors 1. Some cracks appeared in the concrete, so we made the decision to take part of the floor down, and re-build it. We inserted new RSJ’s and timber work, and we are just waiting to pump in and lay fresh concrete, and then that should be good for another 100 years!

Our engineering contractors fitted the new metal structures, otherwise we did all the rest of the work ourselves.

We are so lucky to have those skills within the workforce, albeit this was a policy decision we took many moons ago.

We also have two large conveyors that need attention, one requiring a complete replacement. So, we are racing ahead to get all this work done. It is almost like preparing for a new ‘opening’, which, of course, it almost is. After all that we have had to go through, it really is exciting. I just hope beyond hope that this time, this does not turn out to be another false dawn.

Meanwhile, please stay safe.

Robin Appel

Edition 32: Friends of Warminster Maltings

Edition 32: Friends of Warminster Maltings

Happy New Year

I want to begin by wishing you all a Very Happy, Healthy and Safe New Year.

I have little to report, at least little positive news, and so instead, I would like to list Warminster Maltings’:-

10 New Years Resolutions

We are in the process of creating, and hope to shortly add, a virtual tour of our Maltings to the website. We will let you know when it is released!

It will, quite deliberately, only be a very short film, about 4 minutes long, but it aims to capture, and attempts to explain, the whole process, start to finish. So, shortly, there will be a much safer alternative to the actual tour, for which we have become renowned. No more the need to negotiate those awkward steps, wet floors, low ceilings and sharp pieces of metal infrastructure which prod you in the ribs. Instead, you can now select a comfortable chair, grab a glass of beer, and quietly remind yourself on screen just how the brewing of that particular tipple most probably began.

1) We are going to get through this!

The pandemic is clearly set to run on, and its impact on our Maltings is now worse than that experienced last Spring. But our track record of success, coupled with the ever-widening raft of new opportunities which keep coming our way, underline the viability of our business. We hold a unique place in the supply chain, as well as being the only Maltings in the West Country.

2) As a team, we will work ever closer together

We have an amazing team at the Maltings, and their forthright willingness to get to grips with the Covid restrictions to our work practices has been professional, versatile, and always uncompromising. We have stayed safe throughout the pandemic, so far, and to their credit, everyone cannot wait to get properly back to work again.

3) We will continue to hone our malting skills

Over the last 15 months, we have continually researched and studied the practice of our predecessors, adding (or putting back) disciplines to our malting process which contribute to the quality of our malt. We now have three ‘additional’ procedures, and a fourth, pending some fabrication work, which, individually, and as appropriate, are quite definitely adding value, and raising the specification of our malts.

4) We will widen the range of malts we make and sell

Our very sophisticated, and very modern Veishaupt kiln allows us to make a whole kaleidoscope of different malts, including some particular bespoke formulations for individual customers (subject to batch size).

This bespoke market is a new dimension to our portfolio, and, based on feedback, is a potentially much bigger opportunity for us. Also malts with their individual provenance is in increasingly widening demand, and something we are uniquely able to deliver.

5) We will continue to improve and modify our website

We have been slowly learning how to “go forth and multiply” our sales, without knocking on doors, or attending events. Our website is currently our foremost Sales Platform, and we are fortunate to be able to manage this on a week-by-week basis with improvements, additional material and changes that reflect time and events.

The number of new enquiries we attract each week would appear to endorse this policy. All communications are dealt with very promptly, which has become another one of our hallmarks.

6) We are going to finish our Buildings Restoration programme

When I set out on this project nearly 20 years ago, I visualised two schedules of 10 years each, completing all major works by 13/02/2021, the anniversary of my arrival 13/02/2001. We comfortably completed Phase 1 before 2011, and back in March we were on schedule to also complete Phase 2 on time. Re-instating the pyramid kiln roofs to Kilns 3 and 4, will be the most outstanding project we have undertaken, and will transform the Maltings complex back to looking like it was for the first 60 years of its life.

These pyramid kiln roofs are significant because they are the signature architecture of a Victorian ‘floor Maltings’.


7) We will serve Teas in the Garden again

If we are stopped in the street in Warminster, the most frequently asked question is “will we go back to serving teas in the garden, like we used to?” The answer is a resounding ‘yes’!

Pat Whitty’s homemade scones and cakes are as famous as Betty’s Tea Rooms in Harrogate and served in our beautiful garden across the summer months, they are a very special treat we could never deny   the townsfolk of Warminster.

8) We will work towards a wider Visitor Attraction

As the custodian of the Maltings, I do feel it is my duty to share the ‘experience’, for want of a better word, with a wider public. The magnificent Grade 2* buildings, the history, and the very traditional process, which has all but completely disappeared from the industry, commands enormous interest.

This interest is partly fuelled by the revolution in brewing and distilling which has given rise to a Craft example of either a brewery or a distillery established near where you are. It is also driven by the increasing number of people who are looking for something different to the ‘National Trust’ experience with its overrun car parks, and over trodden gardens.

9) We will continue to sponsor ‘The Maltmen’

This is a wonderful example of an unforeseen consequence. When we undertook to sponsor Warminster Town Football Club, it was partly driven by staff interest, and partly driven by a desire to engage with the local community.

That the footballers should become ambassadors for Malt never ever occurred to us. It is a fantastic outcome, and that the club, under the chairmanship of Pete Russell, is such an outstanding community project, has all added up to a “win, win” for Warminster Maltings, quite apart from all the winning on the field.

10) When we get out of the current muddle, we will have a Big Party!

We need to be able to dream of this day. We will probably pitch a big marquee on our new car park.

There will be food, music and dancing, and lots and lots of beer. The date? I will have to come back to you on that.

Robin Appel

Edition 31: Friends of Warminster Maltings

Edition 31: Friends of Warminster Maltings

Lockdown 2

Our weekly order book is back into struggling mode again, while brewers fall back onto online sales. As one brewer advised me: ‘fireside’ consumption favours higher strength, and (unfortunately for us) less volume! If you have not already caught up with this, this has precipitated some “special offers” from some brewers. It is worth taking a look.

Meanwhile, at the Maltings, we are obliged to take advantage of the furlough scheme, again, keeping our maltsters apart, as half the staff do an a.m. shift, and the other half a p.m. shift. But we are led to believe two things: the R number is coming down, and this lockdown is definitely time limited. So we should soon be busy once more, we hope, making ready for Christmas! But for the time being…

…We are in the Film Business

We are in the process of creating, and hope to shortly add, a virtual tour of our Maltings to the website. We will let you know when it is released!

It will, quite deliberately, only be a very short film, about 4 minutes long, but it aims to capture, and attempts to explain, the whole process, start to finish. So, shortly, there will be a much safer alternative to the actual tour, for which we have become renowned. No more the need to negotiate those awkward steps, wet floors, low ceilings and sharp pieces of metal infrastructure which prod you in the ribs. Instead, you can now select a comfortable chair, grab a glass of beer, and quietly remind yourself on screen just how the brewing of that particular tipple most probably began.

We are in the final stages of editing, with much footage on the cutting room floor, so to speak. The plan is, another day, to use this film to go on and make other bespoke films for our customers. The idea is for me to take our customer on a tour, when we can create additional footage as we observe the process, and both interact. This new film can then be material for our customer’s own website, visitor centre, or however they wish to use it.

Back to your armchair, if it is a large glass of beer you have poured for yourself, you might like to also watch another film linked on the Home Page of our website.

This is a very amusing production, sponsored by the Brewers Society, made in 1973, and found in the East Anglian Film Archive. Titled “I Know What I Like”, and starring the comedian Bernard Cribbins, it is the story of how beer is made, with Bernard playing all the parts, including the ‘floor maltster’! There is no doubt it was originally an attempt to sell the virtues of modern industrial brewing, as opposed to the traditional process. Today, of course, it does the complete opposite!

You’ll find the clip at www.warminster-malt.co.uk

I should add, Bernard Cribbins’ take on a floor maltster, really belongs to the 1950’s. We do not employ anyone at Warminster Maltings today who either looks like, dresses like, or even talks like Bernard does in the film, but…we do still use the same tools!

“Oat-manouvre”

We hope we are going to start making Malted Oats, something we have not done before. We already Malt barley, wheat and rye, but due to increasing demand, we are going to have a go at making Oat Malt.

It all began with a commitment I inherited, to make a couple of hundred kilos of malt from a heritage variety of oats for a research project at Dublin University, where they are going to try and recreate some Tudor ales. Then we received a request to make x3 whole batches (24 tonnes) of oat malt for a single customer. So, “in for a penny, in for a pound”, as the saying goes. Since then, we have had even further enquiries – it is almost as though our thoughts and intentions have gone viral. Well, they certainly will now!

News of the Brews

Harvey’s iconic Victorian Brewery in Lewes, Sussex (www.harveys.org.uk), does not buy a lot of malt from us, but from that which they do take, they produce some particularly spectacular alcohol. Miles Jenner, Head Brewer and joint Managing Director, describes this year’s ‘Southdown Harvest’ ale, as “sublime”!

Well, I’m not surprised to hear it is a bit special, because it is not only made from Warminster Malt, but Warminster Maris Otter Malt, and what is more, Maris Otter grown on Edward Tupper’s farm near Petworth in Sussex. A rich combination of Sussex barley and Sussex hops, Harvey’s own well water, and their 60-year-old yeast. You really can’t beat that, a truly local, and sublime, Harvest Ale!

But it does not stop there. An earlier batch of the same malt supplied by us to Harvey’s back in February, was made into a ‘brewers wash’ at the brewery, then sent away for distilling. From some of this, a clear malt spirit has now been bottled, labelled “Spirit of Sussex”, and is now on release. The balance will, in 3 years time, become Harvey’s “Sussex Single Malt Whisky”.

We are very proud that Harvey & Son have chosen Warminster Maltings to be a part of this new and exciting dimension to our alcohol marketplace.

P.S. If you would like a virtual tour of one of Britain’s most traditional breweries, then I can thoroughly recommend going to Harvey’s website, and taking the tour, conducted by Miles Jenner himself. Like the beer, it has been wonderfully crafted.

Thrills from the ‘Stills

And there is even more for us to shout about. The Cotswolds Distillery (www.cotswoldsdistillery.com), whose malt is all made at Warminster, have just launched their Cotswolds Single Malt Whisky nationally with Sainsbury’s. Daniel Szor, Cotswolds Distillery’s founder, is justly very proud of this, because this is the first English whisky to achieve shelf space with this particular grocer. I should point out this whisky is already available nationwide from both Majestic Wine and Waitrose.

So we congratulate Dan and his team on another major ‘breakthrough’. Since opening 6 years ago,  Warminster Maltings has supplied Cotswolds Distillery with all their malt, and we have continuously observed the huge investment and enormous amount of hard work which has gone into delivering this superb whisky, which, quite rightly, is now really beginning to impact the market place. Again, we are particularly proud to be a small part of this story. We just say: Scotland beware!

P.S. Tours of Cotswolds Distillery are up and running again, and also highly recommended. But you need to book in advance.

El Maltico!

Last, but far from least, “The Maltmen” have been playing some very good football this season, maintaining position close to the top of the league – 5th at the moment, and only 3 points behind the leaders. Their last match, two Saturdays ago, was against Devizes, who are sponsored by Wadworth Brewery. So, from the outset, this match was seen as the local ‘El Clasico’ event, the Maltsters versus the Brewers. Warminster won 6 – 0, so the outcome was dubbed ‘El Maltico’!

It might be dangerous for me to suggest this, but I wonder if, unconsciously, ‘the Maltmen’ are being spurred on by the ladies team? You see, the question our high scoring lady footballers ask themselves each time they walk out onto the pitch, is not whether they are going to win or not, it is by how many goals are they going to win? Their top score so far is 15 – 0! They are also top of their league. This cannot possibly have gone unnoticed by the chaps.

Robin Appel