MaltingsFest 2024

18th – 20th April saw the return of the annual beer festival, MaltingsFest, which is held in Newton Abbott, Devon. It is now in its 29th year and has expanded its range over that time to include ciders and spirits as well as many, many fantastic beers from the South West’s best independent craft breweries – there is something for everyone!

As usual, Warminster Maltings was the main sponsor for this event and as usual, it was a resounding success.

In our last newsletter, we explained our advertising was designed to get across the message that the “Best of the West” beers come from the “Best of the West” barleys (and, not to brag, that we make the “Best of the West” malts!)

I think that point was hammered home by the fact that no less than 20 of our customers took home Gold, Silver or Bronze across the different categories in the beer competition which was held the first day of the festival.

Congratulations to all the winners; we’re already looking forward to next year!

Warminster Maltings - Traditional English Floor Malt

The wonderful Electric Bear, receiving GOLD for their Keg Pale Ale

It Makes Me Hopping Mad!

Whenever I see an article in the media that suggests beer is all about the hops, I am afraid I always see red! So on March 26th when the headline on my BBC App. declared “Scientists help save the U.K. pint”, and the text goes on to inform me that work in Kent on “isolating hop genes in the hope of producing more climate-change resilient varieties”, my reaction is “fair enough”, but this is not about saving “the U.K. pint”!

The body of beer is the malt, the forever unsung backbone of the brewing industry! Without malt there would be no beer as we know it. Without hops, we would probably find another species of plant, or go back to just producing ale. If I was to compare Brewing to the preparation of food, the ‘ops are the ‘erbs! And whilst I quietly applaud the work the scientists are doing in Kent, they are categorically not saving the good old British pint! I just wish Brewers would join us in the malting industry in trying to get this message across to journalists.

Of course, climate change concerns us in the barley trade too, as much as it concerns hop merchants and brewers. But barley production has a relatively simple solution – it migrates west. There is no question that the Eastern Counties, once regarded as the most important area for the production of premium quality malting barley, is getting drier.

On the other hand, barley production further west, was always regarded as risky due to the higher rainfall levels. Not any more. At least, apart from the last 6 months, that is the trend.

The problem is, malt production is concentrated all along the eastern seaboard of Britain, from Witham in Essex, all the way up to the Moray Firth in Scotland. At the moment there is no likelihood of Maltsters following the barley crop west, they will just have to resort to dragging it back east, to their existing facilities. Currently, investment in new Malting capacity, estimated at another 300,000 tonnes, is all north of the border, and specifically for the distilling industry.

So it is left to us in Warminster, all on our own, to guarantee malt with low food miles for West Country Brewers. But not only that, barley grown more sustainably, with less agrochemicals – our farmer suppliers are working really hard at this – and probably now the finest quality malting barley of anywhere in the U.K. All without the intervention of scientists!

Saving the Planet

I read and hear brewers who say there is not a lot they can do to reduce their carbon emissions. Very few can go out and buy a chunk of Scotland and plant a forest, and I am reliably informed that most of the younger generation are not into horse drawn drays. So instead they need to turn to their suppliers for help.

In particular, some see farmers and farming as an area where significant differences might be achieved. They are talking about more nature friendly methods of growing barley, and therefore their malt, which might provide sufficient credentials to reduce the carbon impact of their beers.

Well, if you are talking about barley grown under an ‘Organic’, or even ‘Wildfarmed’ regime, both of which exclude artificial fertilisers and agrochemicals, then that malt carries a badge of honour which should earn some respect.

But before we get too carried away about this, please note that malting barley production is not an intensive form of agriculture in the first place. We will start with fertiliser. Malting barley needs to be low protein, so heavy applications of Ammonium Nitrate fertiliser are completely out of the question. Instead, many growers will measure the ‘free’ nitrogen in the soil in February. This is naturally occurring nitrogen derived from the breakdown of former crop residues, which can be analysed from soil samples drawn across a field. Then, it is possible to calculate and compare the crop’s requirement with this nitrogen residue, and any need to top this up with fertiliser. Quite often the addition of fertiliser is unnecessary.

Then we should consider agrochemicals. Beginning with herbicides: in the Spring we are really only talking about two groups of weeds, dicotyledons (chickweed, cleavers), and polygonum’s (knotgrass, bindweed), which are easily put down with fairly benign, low cost hormone weed killers. Then foliar diseases need to be monitored, the two most common are mildew and brown rust. With little or no nitrogen fertilisers, mildew is unlikely to be a problem, and brown rust really requires prolonged seriously hot weather in June in order to flare up. As for pesticides (insecticides) there is no requirement for them at all.

The point that I am making is, malting barley produced conventionally, is a very low input crop!

If farmers employed a mixed farming policy – both crops and livestock – and only grew barley, it could well be very unfair to accuse them of destroying the planet. And neither are brewers, particularly if they confine themselves to U.K. grown hops. It’s a bit like EV cars, in our bid to be quickly seen to be doing something, we can easily turn ourselves into “busy fools”!

Accomplished Maltster

Please join us in congratulating Leam Moulder on gaining his General Certificate in Malting.

This is a qualification which is very much slanted towards the modern technology of malting, and the exam paper is certainly not written for ‘floor maltsters’ like us. So a special achievement for Leam, which further underwrites Warminster Maltings’ unique position in the U.K. malt market.

Robin Appel
& Lisa Conduit