Edition 30: Friends of Warminster Maltings

Edition 30: Friends of Warminster Maltings

Shaking off those “Malt and Barley Blues”

“Malt and Barley Blues” is the title of a song recorded by a pop band named McGuinness Flint, back in 1971. I am not sure if it charted or not, in my opinion it didn’t deserve to. It was nothing to do with making and selling malt, of course, rather more to do with the implications of an excessive alcohol intake.

But that title might easily be imposed on all of us beavering away at Warminster Maltings. We have had the momentum behind our newly branded sales campaign kicked away from underneath us. Any certainty about our immediate future is constantly threatened – Boris has said he will shut the pubs if it will keep the schools open. And we are now witnessing a disappointing malting barley harvest, with many bespoke crops coming off the fields with a specification way outside anything a brewer or distiller could even contemplate. “Malt and Barley Blues”? We could be forgiven for having this written all over our faces. Except it isn’t!

 

Quite the opposite, in fact. We had a very busy July, peaking at weekly sales figures that we would have been happy with back in January/February. August has, as expected, tapered off a little. But as people gain more confidence to go out and about, if we could be blessed with “an Indian summer” there is a possibility our sales could maintain well into the autumn, by which time everyone will be planning for Christmas, we hope. And as for the harvest, like last year, most of the best malting barley crops are in the south. As this is our main procurement area, we regard this as particularly fortunate.

But not only that, we are overwhelmed at the number of new enquiries we are receiving every week, mostly from overseas. We have always had them, of course, but mostly from organisations trawling the international markets for new sources of cheap malt. Not any more for us, it seems, these new enquiries I am talking about appear to be targeted directly at Warminster Maltings, because they are more particular about what they want. They want ‘floor made’ (almost unique to us), Maris Otter (my variety) and/or Organic (my grain company is the market leader for sourcing this). And, underlining my perception, we have begun to convert these enquiries into orders.

So, as we battle on, we live to fight another day. We take each week as it comes, and rejoice in any good fortune that manifests itself before Friday. You see, not so much “The Malt and Barley Blues”, more a case of “Land of Hope and Glory”! Talking of which…

…Another Visit from the BBC 

We have had them a number of times before – Countryfile, Michael Portillo’s Railway Journeys, Sheila Dillon’s Food Programme, to name but a few. And we have had Radio 4’s ‘Farming Today’ programme before, and almost certainly on exactly the same theme, the “the passage of barley to beer”. Regardless, as the son of a newspaper editor, I firmly believe in the adage that All publicity is good publicity!

 

 

Rebecca Rooney questioning me on Four Bottom

Rebecca Rooney, interviewing me this time for ‘Farming Today’, expected our conversation to be broadcast this week. It will be edited down to no more than 2 minutes, so if you blink you will miss it. As well as wanting to understand the malting process, Rebecca was also particularly interested in Warminster Maltings widespread commitment to arranging bespoke crops of barley for individual breweries and distilleries. She regarded the 3-way engagement with the individual farmers involved as particularly progressive. Even more so in light of all the uncertainty facing farmers as the impact of revised farm support, post Brexit, takes effect.

If that message is broadcast, I suspect my inbox is going to be bombarded by farmers everywhere wanting a slice of this action. However, what I would like them to quietly understand is, if their enquiry should happen to bring a brewery or distillery along with it, they will be told, up front, the answer is “Yes”…what is the question?

 

The Maltmen are Back!  

Warminster Town F.C., sponsored by Warminster Maltings, are back on the field. They have played a handful of ‘friendly’s’ in August as part of their training programme, and their first league match, against at home, is on Saturday, September 5th. Supporters are allowed in, up to 300, provided they remain socially distanced around the margins of the field. And, socially even more important, “Maltings Gold” is back on the bar!!

The other good news is our Maltings Gold badging now features on a new ladies team. Warminster Town Ladies are playing mostly on Sunday afternoon’s, but they played a match last Tuesday evening, against Shaftesbury, and they won! And they didn’t just win, they won 7 – 1! Look out ‘Maltmen’!

“Warminster Town’s Golden Girls – photograph courtesy of Martin Smith” 

There used to be a ladies team years ago, so this is not completely new, but the resurrection of a valuable contribution to the club.

The football pitch itself has been maintained in superb condition all summer, and the clubhouse is enjoying something of a makeover. So if you are free on a Saturday afternoon, do go and give a shout for “the Maltmen”. We like to imagine a shout for them is partly a shout for us at the Maltings, and we acknowledge that, because, it all helps to lift and maintain moral in these strange and challenging times.

Robin Appel

Edition 29: Friends of Warminster Maltings

Edition 29: Friends of Warminster Maltings

Towards Recovery

Well, we continue to make, and deliver malt, and, I am pleased to report, at an improved volume from that at the outset of ‘lockdown’. Understandably, our sales in April and May were quite diabolical, but as we worked our way through May more brewers began phoning up and placing orders. The month of June saw a marked improvement, albeit still significantly short of our original budgeted sales.

Warminster Maltings - Traditional English Floor Malt

Ever since the date, July 4th, began to be talked about as the possible re-opening date for pubs, brewers began gearing up for supply. Their larger customers were issuing commands “Prepare to accept orders”, so they needed to oblige. Then, when, much later than hoped for, July 4th was confirmed, along with the reduction to 1m social distancing, and the freedom to go into the hostelry itself, the feasibility of pubs opening was enormously improved, as well as extended to many more establishments. Are we on the road back to some sort of normality?

It is unlikely things will be quite the same. For starters, some pubs have already closed their doors for good. Added to this, a lot of Craft Brewers have established ‘direct sales’, both click & collect and home deliveries. They like this market, and most of them tell me they are determined to hang on to it. Hooray, I say! Having beer delivered to my door, as my wine has been for the last 30 years, is very attractive. Besides, on the back of this, per capita consumption almost certainly increases!

But a good pub is the best way to shift serious volumes of beer (and malt, of course). So, we wish good luck to all those that are re-opening their doors and hope that the Great British Public apply plenty of common sense in responding to this hospitality. Then, hopefully, our malt sales will continue to improve.

Grain to Glass

 A unique feature of Warminster Maltings offering to Craft Brewers and Craft Distillers is our ability to link their malt supplies directly to farmers producing both the varieties of barley they prefer, and, more importantly from a marketing point of view, in the right location. The latter effectively providing a sort of “protected designation of origin” if you like. We gave these initiatives the label “Warranty of Origin” quite a few years ago, and we manage them for a number of customers, of both denominations, right across the UK.

At the beginning of July, I met two of our Brewery customers at their respective barley fields, so that together (suitably distanced) we could step into the crops and assess the potential quality of the grain just ahead of harvest.

The first meeting on July 1st was in West Sussex where West Marden Farms grows a winter barley named Craft, specifically for Hepworth & Co Brewers Ltd, situated at Pulborough in Sussex. Barley from this farm has, in particular, been underwriting Hepworth’s ‘Sussex’ Pale Ale for a number of years now, all courtesy of Warminster Maltings.

The barley, which was about 10 days away from harvest when we visited, was quite impressive, featuring long ears, and bold grains. Martin Edney, the farmer, was optimistic about the yield of grain, basing his judgement on the previous harvest. So as long as the sun keeps shining that looks like an early and very satisfactory result.

Left to right: In the sunshine, inspecting a crop of Spring Barley for comparison, Robin Appel, Martin Edney, and Andy Hepworth, managing director, Hepworth & Co.

The second meeting on July 2nd was in Gloucestershire, at a field sat alongside the Fosse Way, farmed Organically by the Prince of Wales’ Duchy Home Farm, near Tetbury. This is a particularly special field of barley, a field of the heritage variety Plumage Archer, a Spring sown barley, which Duchy Home Farm have grown for many years now. Of course, this is the famous variety bred at Warminster in 1905, the first genetically true variety of barley in the world, which went on to change the whole course of barley breeding in the 20th century and beyond.

My brewer customer in this instance was Stroud Brewery Ltd, based in Stroud, who buy some of this malt each year for a particular export order for Japan which they supply as bottled beer. Again, this crop of barley looked very promising and Duchy Home Farm manager, David Wilson, was also modestly optimistic.

Left to right: Dodging the showers in the Plumage Archer, Robin Appel, David Wilson,
and Greg Pilley, principal of Stroud Brewery.

At both meetings, understandably, the hot topic of conversation was the re-opening of pubs. Brewers are all experiencing a sudden surge of orders (as is Warminster Maltings for malt) but publicans are nervous, and many are going to stand back and see how, as they put it, “the big boys” get on, before they open their doors. Even with all the Covid-19 secure guidelines in place, the big question is will the customers still come along?

Not a Lot More

I am afraid there is no more to report this time. With no projects (all on hold), no events and no visitors (disallowed), and ‘our football team’ firmly on the touchline, my editorial content is seriously diminished. However, the chairman of Warminster Town F.C., Pete Russell, tells me his players have started training. It brings to mind a quotation, from Oscar Wilde, perhaps an appropriate note to end on “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars!”

Stay safe.

Robin Appel

Special Edition: Watching the Fields of Gold

Special Edition: Watching the Fields of Gold

Fields of Gold

Following the Barley journey from seed to beer

“…among the fields of barley, among the fields of gold”

Written by Sting, magically sung, and recorded by Eva Cassidy, Fields of Gold, evokes the image of a mature barley crop, in July, ears of grain bent over, gently swaying in the summer breeze. This is our raw material, and the beginning of a journey, a journey that is the story of beer.

So for 2020, we are going on this journey, and following a crop of Spring sown malting barley planted in a field at Norton Bavant, just outside Warminster. We will track this crop through it’s growth stages to harvest, and hopefully, from there to our Maltings, and ending up in a glass (or two) of local beer.

Warminster Maltings - Vienna Malt

Planet Spring Barley

March 31st

The story begins…

The fields at Norton Bavant had been left since the previous crop of wheat was harvested on the 1st September 2019. Under normal circumstances, the ground would have been ploughed in January, but the wet weather prevented this. At last, a deep plough to bury the wheat stubble and any weeds, and to help dry out the soil. This is followed by 2 passes of a disc harrow. We just need a few days of sunshine and our field will be perfectly ready for sowing.

April 9th

Our field at Norton Bavant is planted with a variety of malting barley named Planet, which is a very popular brewing variety. After the incessant winter rains, the soil has at last dried out to create a perfect seedbed, and still within the acknowledged timeframe for quality malting barley.

April 19th

10 days in, and the barley is sprouting already. Lines are begining to form and the fields show their first signs of turning green.

April 29th

After nearly 6 months of winter rains, our barley field has been drained of any naturally occurring “soil residual nitrogen”. So artificial fertiliser needs to be added. But this must be carefully gauged, in order to give plenty of green leaf and stem extension, followed by long ears of grain.

It is applied early in the crop cycle, because what we do not want, is too much nitrogen in the harvested barley! The grain nitrogen of top quality malting barley needs to be low in order to meet our expectation of that crystal clear beer in the glass

May 1st

Our barley field has enjoyed 3 weeks of almost perfect growing conditions, lots of warm sunshine, and a little rain to freshen it up. It will now quickly lose its spiky appearance as the leaves expand and fold over, forming a complete crop canopy which intercepts maximum sunlight, and shades out any weeds.

June 9th

Our crop of Planet barley has made tremendous growth. The awns (the long spikes on the tip of each grain) are beginning to appear, followed by the ears of grain themselves.

We are looking for 26 – 28 grains per ear, and based on up to 2 grain bearing stems per by plant, from a seed rate of up to 75kgs/acre, we can expect a yield of around 3 tonnes of barley per acre. That will be a good result.