Edition 34: Friends of Warminster Maltings

Edition 34: Friends of Warminster Maltings

At Last…Our Virtual Tour!

Hey ho! We can, at last, invite you to have a virtual tour of our very traditional malting process. The short (6 minutes) film has now been uploaded and here is a link for you to see it.

It seems to have taken forever to complete this project, the main stumbling block being my walk on parts, and my ability to look the same at the beginning and the end, despite being filmed 6 months apart.

We are talking about my need to get a haircut in between! Having made most of the film in October/November last year, we had to wait for the sunshine to return in order to capture the final scenes.

The problem then, was, that we might have transformed our gentle documentary into a Dr Jeckyl and Mr Hyde horror movie, me standing there, second time around, with 4 months growth on my napper!

Freshly shorn, we filmed the scene in brilliant sunshine on April 22nd, only to have to do it all over again the following week just before it started to rain. But we got there in the end.

We are hugely indebted to Jasper Williams at Juice Factory Design, whose great skill with modern technology has put this film together for us. Jasper has also produced a slightly more comprehensive version for our US market. Our agents over there, LD Carlson Company, are very pleased with what we have achieved for them. Now we have started down this road, we are already thinking about what, and where, we are going next.

The Challenges of Forecasting…

Throughout April, sales of our malts have improved markedly. Brewers are responding to demand from pubs (with outside spaces) following the April 12th reopening. However, it seems, what nobody really predicted was the gorgeous sunshine, which has meant those pubs have been enormously popular, so popular that some of them even ran out of beer! All this despite near freezing temperatures in the evenings.

Well, we certainly did not run out of malt, but demand has called for a rapid reset of our recent working patterns, almost back to normal hours. And the Maltsters are so much happier, well, everyone is, of course.

There is a suggestion that this lovely weather is set to continue for some time. Add this to ‘Staycation’, and the fact that since this time last year so many more people have discovered Craft Beer, we are trying to weigh up what this all means in terms of malt demand, going forward.

The Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA), CAMRA, and others are all promoting a catchy little slogan “Craft is back, so back Craft”. I think it sounds like we are going to be very busy. That will be a nice change!

…and Broadcasting!

On Wednesday 21st April, Maggie Dee, a presenter on Warminster Radio, invited me to be interviewed on her programme ‘Maggie in the Mix’. Each day, Maggie tries to interview “a Warminster person of interest”, and she was given my name. But…the interview, over the telephone, was not to be about the Maltings, it had to be about me!

One minute before I was due to be on, Maggie phoned – I was at home in Hampshire. Maggie was calling on a telephone from an office at the Radio Station, and she was crystal clear. Then she said, I am just going to transfer to the studio telephone, whereupon it was as though her voice was 100 meters away. I could now only hear the sound of Maggie’s voice, not the words that she was speaking.

So, my answer to Maggie’s first question was “I cannot hear you Maggie”. Clearly Maggie did not hear me either, because, she failed to react to this, and nothing changed. Luckily, ahead of the interview, I had been sent a list of the sort of questions Maggie intended to ask, so I was more or less able to guess each question from the odd word I managed to pick up.

I do not suppose we had that many listeners, but when my response to one of her questions was “I first got involved in the Barley trade at the age of four”, those listeners might have thought they too were having problems with their hearing. My answer was no exaggeration, and I did go on to explain.

None of our encounters with broadcasting from the Maltings have ever gone without a hitch. Most notably, and it is a few years ago now, was Michael Portillo’s Victorian Railway Journeys. Michael and his team travelled to Warminster by rail, of course, but when they got off the train, they managed to leave the film camera behind!

I think I should probably stick to the written (printed) word.

Present Champion…

Congratulations to Rick Lyall of Frome Brewing Company Ltd, who has just been awarded a Double Gold Medal at the European Beer Challenge 2021 for his Triple IPA, appropriately named “You Can Call Me V”.

All made with Warminster’s finest Maris Otter Malt. We have been claiming that our malt is just getting better and better, and Rick has just gone out there and offered us the best endorsement we could wish for. Thank you Rick. What’s next?

…Absent Monarch.

I have ‘a bee in my bonnet’ about the absence of traditional Maltings in our national culture. If I can draw an analogy with Watermills, for example, which appear everywhere. From George Eliot’s literary masterpiece, “The Mill on the Floss; to John Constable’s iconic paintings of mills, from Flatford Mill (Suffolk) to Parham Mill (Dorset); and Ronald Binge’s delightful musical composition “The Watermill”. But where are the Maltings?

The best that I have come across is Thomas Hardy’s fleeting inclusion of Warren’s Malthouse in “Far from the Madding Crowd”.

Yes, I suppose Benjamin Britten’s conversion of Snape Maltings, on the east Suffolk coast, into an outstanding concert hall, acts as some sort of beacon, but I doubt it raises many question about the Maltings former life.

But on the other hand, barley, and occasionally malt, pops up all over the place. From A E Houseman’s

“…and malt does more than Milton can,
to justify God’s ways to man.”

to Sting’s evocative song “Among the Fields of Barley”. So, forgive me for reproducing the following poem from a recent multi award winning book “All Among the Barley” by Melissa Harrison. It conjures up some of the enormous stature that barley (and malt) should command, in my view. It is why I am so disappointed that Maltings, and/or the malting process itself, as far as I am aware, has not captured more attention in the past.

“The Spring she is a young maid who does not know her mind,
The Summer is a tyrant of a most ungracious kind.
But the Autumn is an old friend that does the best he can
to reap the golden barley, and cheer the heart of man.

All among the barley, oh who would not be blithe,
when the free and happy barley is smiling on the scythe!
The wheat, he’s like a rich man, all sleek and well to do,
the oats, they are a pack of girls, all lithe and dancing too;
the rye is like a miser, he’s sulky, lean and small,
but the free and golden barley is the monarch of them all.

All among the barley, oh who would not be blithe,
when the free and happy barley is smiling on the scythe.”

Well, at least, “the free and happy barley” is pouring through our Maltings again, and with pubs about to open properly once more, even, if we are lucky, without ‘safe distancing’ marring the experience. Perhaps then, we, too, will all be smiling.

Stay safe and enjoy this lovely summer.

Robin Appel

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