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