Edition 28: Friends of Warminster Maltings

Edition 28: Friends of Warminster Maltings

 

Extraordinary Times

 I have now been the custodian of Warminster Maltings for very nearly 20 years, and in that time I have never been away from it for more than 2/3 weeks. Suddenly, it is already 8 weeks since I last drove away from 39, Pound Street, albeit, I talk to my colleagues at the Maltings everyday. I suspect it will be even more weeks before I am able to return. But, of course, there has been a lot of changes there, but not the sort of developments I ever imagined reporting in this newsletter.

 

Open for Business!

 Following our Prime Minister’s announcement, back in March, that all Pubs, Bars, Restaurants and Cinemas had to close, you will not be surprised to learn that our malt sales fell off the proverbial cliff edge. Our bank was very quick to offer us financial support, if and when we needed it, and we took up their offer based on projected sales of just 20% of turnover for the next 6 months.

Three weeks later, a national survey of the Craft Brewing sector (www.siba.co.uk), concluded that across the country as a whole, beer sales had dropped by a whopping 82%, which supported our original worst case projection.

We have had to furlough 7 staff (of 17) in order to both respect ‘social distancing’ instructions, and leave enough to do for those remaining at work. We continue to make malt, but only at 25% of capacity. Most importantly, we are able to respect all government guidelines, and remain open for business! We are classified within the “key worker” category (food and drink), and all our staff, so far, remain safe and well. Equally important, those that are working are all happy to come to work each day. Warminster Maltings lives on.

 

Not for Nothing

Orders for malt continue to come in, and, I am pleased to report, at a little better than the 20% projected at the outset. Some of our customers have capitalised on the overwhelming demand for canned and bottled beers by the supermarkets. Others have re-invented their business and developed very successful ‘home delivery’ arrangements, and amongst these several have made newspaper headlines and on to the television news. You cannot get away from it, we British love our beer, and even more so when the sun is shining.

While thanking all those brewers who are able to continue supporting us, I think we need to recognise that this is unlikely to be just a temporary fix. There is everything to suggest pubs etc. are going to remain closed for a very long time. It is even suggested in the press that when pubs do re-open, if ‘social distancing’ measures are still recommended, these will not be practical in many establishments. Added to that, commentators suggest people will initially be frightened to go into a pub for a little while. So, Craft Brewers who have shut up shop for what they might have imagined was just for a few weeks, may need to review their situation

And I am pleased to report that there are some that are already doing this! We have customers who are re-opening their breweries, encouraged by what they see others have achieved. Not only that, we have two ‘new build’ projects who have opened, straight into the ‘home delivery’ market place! Surely if they, without any brand loyalty, can do it, probably a lot of others can too.

One of our customers has even gone as far as to say that they are making more money now than they ever made selling to pubs. I am not surprised – they have become retailers as opposed to wholesalers. For my home deliveries, I am paying as much money for 24 litres (48x500ml bottles) as some brewers might be selling 80 litres (2x40L casks) to pubs. Perhaps this is the new path for Craft Brewers, after all they can probably do this completely free of any competition from the ‘big brands’!

Let me point out, if you are being deprived of your beer, or would like to experience something a bit more special than the supermarket offerings, you can either access CAMRA’s online platform www.camra.org/pullingtogether or from the 6th May, CAMRA are launching their Brew2You app, both of these allow customers to search for local beer supplies, both click and collect, and delivered to your door. Do try one or other, and help to keep our Craft Beer sector going.

Doubtless, as the weeks and months roll forward, like many other commercial sectors, other innovative trading patterns will also evolve. And on the back of this, Warminster Maltings will continue to roll on.

Harvest Prospects 2020 

The incessant winter rains eventually gave way to give us the desired Spring sowing weather, and barley has all been planted within the acceptable timeframe to produce quality crops. On our website we are now following a crop of Spring malting barley planted on the edge of Warminster at Norton Bavant. This is a crop of a variety called Planet, a popular brewing barley, and the farmer, Matt Fry, is going to keep the crop to one side after harvest, so that it can be made into malt at Warminster, and, hopefully, end up in a range of local beers.

 

But before that, we could still have 5/6 months of 2019 crop barley to use up first. Not just us at Warminster Maltings, but right across the whole of the UK malting industry (2 million tonnes barley per annum)! This presents a huge problem for many farmers who grow malting barley in the expectation that it is taken into the Maltings immediately after harvest. Of course, the farming clock stops for no man!

My grain company (Robin Appel Ltd) has already secured substantially increased grain storage capacity in order to address the new harvest logjam, but this will add extra cost. Luckily, the UK malting industry is a very small group of less than a dozen companies, all of whom are very focused on the longer term, and the protection of their barley producers. So fear not, every effort will be made to marshal and protect our malting barley supplies going forward. All part of a combined effort to protect your favourite pint, even if it now has to be delivered to your doorstep!

What Next? 

I wish I knew! Even our Prime Minister, and his brilliant advisers, in their carefully measured responses at the daily Downing Street Press Conferences, sensibly avoid making any forecasts. For my part, this ‘Friends Newsletter’ will continue, every other month, to report ‘the here and now’.

Once upon a time (it seems like that now), we did have ambitious plans at the Maltings for this year, including continued improvements to the infrastructure. We also had everyone and everything in place, to commence in April, the final restoration project of our Grade 2* listed buildings. All of this, of course, has had to be put on hold. But once we get back into full production, we will be setting about this again with renewed vigour and urgency! Meanwhile, like the rest of the world, we just have to be patient. 

So, for the time being, please stay safe and well.

Robin Appel

 

 

Edition 27: Friends of Warminster Maltings

Edition 27: Friends of Warminster Maltings

FRIENDS of WARMINSTER MALTINGS

Storm Ciara obviously received word that in three or four months time we planned to replace the dilapidated roofs of the former coal fired kilns 3 and 4. So on Sunday evening, 9th February, ‘she’ decided to give us a helping hand. ‘She’ stripped the northern slope of kiln 3, clean off, all the tiles and the battens. But unfortunately, dumped it on the metal roof next door, severely buckling many of the roof panels.

 

One of our maltsters was ploughing the adjacent floor when it happened, and he reported it sounded like a bomb had exploded – one enormous bang! Our roofing contractors, Chalke Valley Roofing, from Salisbury, very quickly came to our rescue and made the roof weather proof ahead of Storm Dennis.

 

The Maltings has survived far worse in it’s time, but if we are to be continually ravaged by these Atlantic storms, thank heavens we have done so much to protect our structures already. As I indicated in the last Newsletter, this last roofing project is all good to go, Storm Ciara was just a little premature in ‘her’ intervention. But hopefully by the time Storm Willow arrives, all this work will be done.

ALL CHANGE FOR CLIMATE CHANGE

With all that has happened on a wider context in the last month, I am sure it is not unreasonable to embark on this New Year with more than a little optimism. So I highlight a few stories from late 2019, which for me at least, help to underpin my own sense of “better things to come” within the malting and brewing industry:-

 

But hats off to our team, they are more than up to the challenge, adjusting their practices on a daily basis. For anyone who has spotted the lights on in the malt houses at 2.00am, this is because ploughing of the floors has been necessary at that time in order to keep the ‘modification’ of the green malt perfectly on track.

 

100 years ago, the problem would have been all about how to keep enough warmth in the maltings. That, despite four coal fired kilns, sat firmly amidships, burning flat out 24/7. When the warmer weather came along in May, of course, these kilns would then have made the temperatures on the floors quite untenable. That is why, in those days, production then stopped, and did not restart until October.

Today, we have to maintain production all the year round…and just get used to opening and shutting those windows on a daily basis!

NEW CAR PARK

When I first arrived in Pound Street in 2001, street parking alongside the Maltings was never an issue. I could park where I like, when I liked. Not anymore!

 

It was 4 or 5 years ago when we had to request restricted parking (single yellow line) on the front of Pound Street, in order to load lorries and maintain access for our fork lift trucks. Now, all manner of cars and vans are parked all day and again all night on the opposite side of the road. Some mornings our HGV’s cannot get up Pound Street, and if they can, sometimes they cannot get back down again. It is all down to thoughtless parking of vehicles, without any regard for the restricted access this creates.

Regardless, we feel we have to do our bit to overcome this congestion, so we have dug out the grass bank along Cobbett Place, moved our boundary fence just inside the edge of the pavement, and created 10 car parking spaces on our property. We would like to think this will alleviate the problem of parking on the street. But I suspect it won’t. In time, it will just ‘suck in’ another dozen vehicles from nearby streets, desperate for somewhere to park. If so, that will probably mean we have to resort to more yellow lines!

DEMAND ACROSS THE POND

January and February are traditionally quieter months for malt demand, and this year has been no exception. But March is turning out to be particularly busy. As well as a larger than previous month’s domestic demand for malt, we are loading 5 containers for the US craft beer market. American craft brewers like Maris Otter barley in particular, which they can only buy as malt from the UK. The craft beer market in the US continues to claw in an expanding market share.

 

American beer lovers are very keen on British beer styles, in particular India Pale Ale (IPA) and Mild Ale (both of which they prefer to serve straight from the fridge!). So it is not surprising that in order to replicate these, they feel they need to indulge themselves with the authentic malts. And “indulge” must be the right word, because by the time these malts reach them, they are far from cheap.

 

Anyway, ours is not to reason why, ours is to join all our fellow UK maltsters in helping to satisfy this demand. We just hope that Mr Trump does not confuse malt with ‘single malts’, which he is currently penalising. On the other hand, some of the Distillers who produce the most iconic single malts, say Mr Trump’s intervention has only served to fuel demand! So perhaps we shouldn’t worry, either way. We will just go on gratefully accepting the orders, when they come along.

 

Robin Appel

 

Edition 26: Friends of Warminster Maltings

Edition 26: Friends of Warminster Maltings

FRIENDS of WARMINSTER MALTINGS

May I begin by welcoming a whole new raft of potential readers – we have added all Warminster Maltings’ customers, both brewers and distillers, to the circulation of this bi-monthly newsletter. I hope they find it of some interest.

BEYOND 100 DAYS

This first Newsletter of the New Year (New Decade) is only my second since taking over the manager’s desk, so I suppose, to pick up on politicians parlance, I should begin by reporting on my “first 100 days” in (the) office.

Looking back to those early days in September, at first it was quite daunting, tense, at times bewildering, exciting, and, I am pleased to say, rewarding. At the Maltings I have quite an exceptional team around me, and I am now reassured that, also, I do have an outstanding portfolio of customers, most of whom recognize Warminster Maltings for what it is, and the value of the malts that we make. I am also very lucky that the 2019 harvest delivered some top quality barleys from which we are now drawing all of our raw material going forward.

So what have I/we achieved so far? Well, I believe, in the office at least, we all now understand the numbers and we have costed and created a new 2020 Price List for our Malts. Not only that, we have shared this with all of our customers, mostly via phone calls, in the first instance, and e-mails, securing contracts for the next 12 months. I have visited a dozen customers, just for starters, both distilleries and breweries, all the way from Yorkshire to South Dorset, and I have won a few new accounts. I am also engaging with potentially new outlets in the Czech Republic, Spain, Australia, North America and Mexico.

Alongside all this, we have also tapped into what looks like a renewed interest around the world in Organic Beers. This is coming from some of the major brands, who, perhaps, are seeing this as a way of fighting back over the widely reported findings of pesticide (glyphosate) residues (at very safe levels) in their beers. Warminster Maltings is one of only three UK Maltsters with Organic accreditation.

We are responding to all this support and emerging opportunity by rebadging ourselves to reflect the new era of Warminster Maltings that I and my team now represent. For those who live locally, you will see our new company sign at the entrance off Cobbett Place. This image is being replicated right across all our new publicity material and, particularly, our new website, due to go live on January 17th.

Then, finally, and much to my relief, each month we appear to be recording a modest profit. Our bankers will be pleased!

A NEW DECADE!

With all that has happened on a wider context in the last month, I am sure it is not unreasonable to embark on this New Year with more than a little optimism. So I highlight a few stories from late 2019, which for me at least, help to underpin my own sense of “better things to come” within the malting and brewing industry:-

Pubs Opening!

Some good news from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) at the beginning of December. For the first time in 10 years, at the end of March 2019, there was a nett gain of 320 pubs over 12 months, in the race between pub closures and pub openings/re-openings. This change can be put down to a number of factors, including:

  • Pubs broadening their appeal.
  • Help for some landlords with business rates.
  • Some pubs being saved from unnecessary closure by being designated Assets of Community Value (ACV’s).

Craft Brewery Numbers Declining?

Within the Craft Brewing sector, the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) reports a decline in membership, which almost certainly reflects a drop in Craft Brewery numbers for the first time. Many in the industry, particularly those who have been there a long time, will welcome this, as the market place has probably got far too crowded for it’s own good. However…

Craft Beer Forges On!

Craft Beer continues to be the fastest growing category within the Beer Sector! But we must still heed change. When we focus on consumer habits going forward, we now have to kiss goodbye to the ‘millennials’ and instead pitch our forecasts around ‘Generation Z’ (currently under 22 years). We are told this new generation will be drinking less, but better! Mintel, the market analyst, tells us consumer trends highlight growing demand for “genuine products with heritage and provenance, a hand-crafted nature, and trusted values”!

I think Warminster Malt probably ticks all of those boxes!

And then there is… …Probiotic Beer??

Some of you might have spotted this story in the press at the beginning of December. The headline in my paper ran “Raise a glass to the beer that’s good for your gut”. Apparently, researchers on the Continent have discovered some beers that are bursting with probiotic microbes, the bacteria and yeast credited with a host of health benefits.

Of course, we have been here before, back in 2018 (Edition 17) I referred to an exhibit we have here at the Maltings, a Price List from Henry Morgan’s Brewery, Warminster, dated 1883, which advertises their “AK Family Pale” (Ale), at just “one shilling a gallon”, and, interestingly, “…recommended by the Medical Profession for family use”! No doubt there was some substance to that.

So I ran this latest story passed one of our brewer customers for comment. He was very quick to point out that any story that suggested beer was good for your health ran the risk of getting into trouble with the Portman Group, the organization established by the drinks industry in 1989, to ensure drinks are marketed in a socially responsible way. But…
…he went on to point out that beers containing live yeast – draft ale from a cask, and “bottle conditioned” beers, particularly those of a lower ABV – almost certainly imparted benefits for the gut, but strictly subject to modest consumption, of course.

So what is modest consumption? According to my press article of early December – one glass a day! Mine’s a pint.

“THE MALTMEN”.

I am delighted to report that Warminster Town, our local football team which Warminster Maltings sponsor, are not just referred to on the field by their new name, but they are now headlined in the press as the “Maltmen” (Wiltshire Times, 22/11/2019).

And headlines they deserve, because they have been winning quite a lot of their matches of late. Until last Saturday, 11th January, the 4th Round of the prestigious F A Vase. Again they were winning, 1 – 0 for most of the first 70 minutes against Bitton AFC (a whole league above them). But, having played their hearts out, they began to tire, left their defence wide open, and very quickly conceded 3 goals, losing 1 – 3. Never mind, dreams of Wembley will have to be put off for another year, while they concentrate on a strong finish in the league. Long live the Maltmen!

FINALLY, 40! …AND STILL COUNTING.

I cannot sign off without quietly pointing out that my other commercial venture, Robin Appel Ltd (grain merchant), has just celebrated it’s 40th birthday. Wednesday, 2nd January 1980, was the start date for what some said was a commercial undertaking against the odds. However, it is one which proved successful, and went on to precipitate my procurement of the rights to Maris Otter barley, which in turn led to my purchase of Warminster Maltings in 2001.

So further reason for celebration this year! And perhaps more next year, 2021, if I can meet the deadline I have set myself to complete the restoration of the Pound Street malthouses. The next and final restoration project is probably the most exciting yet, and it’s all on track, due to begin this summer, so watch this space!

A Very Happy and Prosperous New Year to you all.

Robin Appel