The Others – The Maltsters

The Others is a monthly series looking at the people who aren’t brewers that help to produce beer and get it onto your tastebuds. This month, the people responsible for the malt…

At the end of April, I had a revelation in terms of The Others. It’s much bigger than I first gave it credit for. The revelation came as I was being shown around Warminster Maltings, by Chris Garratt who started at the company in 1975 as Trainee Assistant Manager, and is now Managing Director.
I asked the question, as I have done with other people I have met, of how many people work at the Maltings? The answer was a rather modest 18, which doesn’t seem a large number of people, until you realise that this is just the number of people working on the malting process, in one malt house. For a pint of beer to reach your mouth, you also need  farmers and their employees for the grain, and farmers and their employees for the hops, people to look after the water supply, people to make casks and kegs and bottles and glasses, not least the people who drive the grain and hops and finished beer from one place to the other. Put simply, one simple pint of beer keeps a few hundred people in employment. The fact that it also tastes good is a pleasant bonus.

I left Warminster Maltings rather daunted by the prospect of writing this post. I left with a lot of information, all of which was fascinating to me, and some of which was featured in last month’s Introduction to Malt.

Warminster Maltings is one of two Malthouses in the country to still use traditional floor malting methods. The other Malthouse is Tuckers Maltings in Newton Abbot, which is open to the public for tours, and is worth a visit if you’re in the area. Back in the 18th Century, Warminster was said to be the biggest producer of malt in the West of England, with up to 36 Malthouses in the town. Today, the Malthouse that I visited is the only one remaining that still serves as a Malthouse, though you can still find the old buildings around the town.

The site in Pound Street was designed by William Morgan, who was from a family of Brewers and Maltsters, in 1879. Morgan handed the business down to his son, WIlliam Frank Morgan, who subsequently transferred the business to his brother in law, Edwin Sloper Beaven in 1902.
It was Beaven, who through his development of barley breeding, and liason with the Guinness Research Laboratory, helped seal the fate and future of the maltings. Beaven’s work led to him recieving an honary doctorate, and the malthouse a contract supplying malt for Guinness.

Guinness did try to close the Pound Street Malthouse in 1994, but found they couldn’t as it was still owned by the Beaven Family. In 2001 it was owned by the grain merchant Robin Appel, who could not only manage the supply of the raw grain to the malthouse, but also owns the marketing rights to Maris Otter, a variety of pale grain used by many brewers.
The Malthouse was listed as a Grade 2 building in the 1950s, and today runs 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, with a two shift, 24 hour operation in process. Approximately 50 farmers supply malt to Warminster, and the method used has been the same for over 150 years. In the 1990s, a second level was installed to double the production capacity, and chillers were also installed to allow production of malt in the hot summer months.

Today, Warminster Maltings pride themselves on the close relationship that they have with their customers, and also the quality of their ingredients and the cost they sell them for. The emphasis that Chris Garratt and Warminster put on the need for local quality has even travelled across to America, with an increase in maltings and the creation of the Craft of Guild Maltsters.The need for local quality also has a positive effect on local economy, as it creates jobs for local people.
I’m sure that across the two posts on Malt and Warminster, I may have missed something. I shall, however, leave you with this. If a brewer wants to brew a beer today, the malt that he will be using will have been negotiated with the grower around 18 months ago. The Others isn’t just about the people, it’s about time as well.

As I focus on moving house next month, The Others shall return in September.


The Others – An Introduction to Malt

The Others is a monthly series looking at the people who aren’t brewers that help to produce beer and get it onto your tastebuds. This month, an introduction to malt…

In the world of beer, malt is the rhythm section of the band. Without malt, there can be no
sugars for the yeast to ferment into alcohol. Ale can be made without hops, but it can’t be
made without malt.

Malt is made by restricting the germination of grain, most commonly barley. First, the grain
is steeped in water. This process takes around 2-3 days. The immersed grain is left in water for about 12 hours, before being drained and left to stand for a further 12. This is then repeated twice, at which point the grains will start to show signs of a small rootlet.

The next stage in the process is germination. Grain is spread out on the malting floor and
germination continues for 4-5 days. During this time, the grain is reguarly turned to control the temperature, and prevent the build up of carbon dioxide, which would prevent the rootlets matting together.

During germination, the barley corn produces enzymes, that break down the cell walls that
hold the starch. In normal circumstances, this starch would then get broken down into simple sugars, which would provide nutrients to the new plant that would grow from the grain. In malting, this process is restricted, and the starch is retained in the malt.

The final stage in the malting process is the kilning. The malt is loaded onto the kiln,
where hot air is blown through the grain to reduce the moisture content to around 3-4% and stop the germination process. It is at this stage that different colours and flavours can be produced, by varying the time and temperature of the kilning.

In the brewing process, the malt is milled to release the starch, which is then converted into fermentable sugars by submerging the malt into hot water (or liquor, if you want to be
technical). The amounts and types of sugars that are obtained from this process (called
mashing) depend on the length and temperature of the mash.
The enzyme that breaks down the starch into sugars is called amylase of which there are two types that the brewing process is concerned with, α-amalayse and β-amalayse. The former breaks down the starch in an haphazard way, exposing the ends of chains so that the β-amalayse can cut pairs of glucose units from the ends of these chains. β-amalayse produces maltose and β-limit dextrin. β-limit dextrins are non fermentable sugars, which remain throughout fermentation, and contribute to the mouthfeel of the finished beer.

The optimum temperature for the amylases is between 63-65C. α-amalayse has an optimum range of between 63-68C, and β-amalayse has an optimum range of 60-65C. If the mash temperature is too high (>75C for α and >70C for β) the amylase will become inactive. Just a slight variation in temperature will result in a different production of sugars and resultant body and mouthfeel. A mash at 65C will produce a much lighter bodied beer than a mash at 65C.

Next month, I will be looking back at my visit to Warminster Maltings, one of just two
malthouses that still use traditional floor malting methods.



The Others: The Hop Merchant

The Others is a monthly series looking at the people who aren’t brewers that help to produce beer and get it onto your tastebuds. This month, the hop merchant…

In the last edition of The Others, we took a look at the work of the Hop Farmer. Once the Hop Farmer has grown and harvested the hops, they pass them onto the Hop Merchant.

The Hop Merchant is essentially the middle man between the hop farmer and the brewer. Charles Faram has been providing hops to customers since 1865, and current managing director Paul Corbett has been with the company since 1989, when he joined as a “market manager”.

In the years since, the number of people employed by Charles Faram has increased to 16. In total, across the UK, Paul estimates that there is around 900-1000 people working in the hop industry in the UK. It is at a critical point, and at risk of losing the people with the relevant skills, and also being unable to sustain itself.

If I was to write everything that Paul Corbett told me on the afternoon I spent up in Worcestershire last year, it would take several pages. Indeed, I wish I had a recorder to record everything, rather than having to rely on written notes. Paul is definitely a man who knows hops, and is worth listening to if you ever get the chance.
Part of the warehouse at Charles Faram

The hop merchant gets the hops in bales that are then split down into smaller quantities for distribution to the brewers. Due to the limited storage space of many breweries, much of the hops ordered will be stored at the hop merchant until they are required. Certainly at Faram’s, there was a number of sections in the warehouse assigned to various breweries.

One problem the hop merchant does encounter is the difficulty in predicting demand, and also weather, both of which can limit what is available. At Faram’s, there are some contracts running up to 2017, ensuring those brewers will be able to brew their beers.

Next on The Others, I shall be looking at the backbone of beer, malt.


The Others: The Hop Farmer

The Others is a monthly series looking at the people who aren’t brewers that help to produce beer and get it onto your tastebuds. This month, the hop farmer…

Alison Capper has been in hop farming for around five years, moving into the industry from marketing after marrying her husband Richard. Stocks Farm has been in the Capper family for over 50 years, and it is believed that it has been a hop farm for over 200 years. The farm itself is split between the growing of hops for the beer industry, and the growing of apples for supermarkets and the cider industry. 100 acres of land is given up to each of the two segments of the farm.

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Hedgerow hops being harvested.

Alongside Alison and Richard there are also three full time and 14 seasonal staff working at Stocks Farm. I had the opportunity to visit the farm last September thanks to Paul Corbett of Charles Faram, and was taken through what happens at a hop farm by Alison.

At Stocks Farm, both hedgerow and bine hops are grown. The varities of hedgerow hops grown on the farm include First Gold, Soverign and Endeavour. As the name suggests, these hop plants grow in a hedgerow style. The hops are harvested by the machine shown in the photo below, and transferred into a trailer being towed in the adjacent row. At this stage there is a lot of waste mixed in with the hops, which needs to be removed.

hop workers cleaning

Workers on the farm removing by hand the unwanted debris that has been missed by the previous machinery


Bine hops produced at the farm include Pilgrim, Pheonix, Golding and Target. The bines are trained to grow up strings, which are hooked along wires. The bines are harvested by a machine that cuts the bine towards the bottom, whilst a worker unhooks the top of the bine and places them into a passing truck.

Whether hedgerow or bine, all of the hops end up in the same place, passing through mulitiple pieces of machinery to seperate the hops from the waste material. At the end of the harvest, 400 tonnes of waste will have been produced, which is subsequently reused on the orchards.

drying hops

Hops being dried in the kiln. It’s hotter than it looks!

When the hops have been seperated they end up in the kiln to be dried. The hops will drop from around 80% moisture to around 12% moisture, and £16-20,000 worth of oil will be burnt in five weeks to dry 80 tonnes of hops. Each batch of hops sits in the kiln for around eight hours (the time depends on the amount of moisture present). After they have been through the drying process, the hops are left to sit and condition, letting a bit of moisture back in to the hops.

bale labelling

A bail of hops being labelled ready to go to the hop merchant.

When the hops are finally ready, they are pressed into bails, all of which are hand stitched and labelled. It is at this point that the hops then move on to the hop merchants, who will be the focus of the next part in this series.

As well as running Stocks Farm, Alison Capper is also the face of the campaign to encourage more use of homegrown hops, over the American and New Zealand hops that have become more favoured in recent years. You can follow the British Hops Twitter account run by Alison, and also visit the British Hops website for more information.


The Others – Yeast

The Others is a monthly series looking at the people who aren’t brewers that help to produce beer and get it onto your tastebuds. This month, the people who look after the yeast…

Yeast is arguably the underrated ingredient in beer. As a community, the beer drinking world raves about the many various hops that impart their wondrous aromas and flavours, yet when it comes to yeast, aside from the sour beers of Belgium, not much is said about them.

This is probably because many drinkers don’t even realise that yeast imparts more than just alcohol into a beer. Certainly for myself, it is something that I have come to discover relatively recently, and I see no reason why a casual beer drinker would even think about what flavours the yeast is adding.

Geuze Boon is one of the many Lambic beers to come from Belgium

Geuze Boon is one of the many Lambic beers to come from Belgium

Arguably, the most obvious effect on a beers taste from yeast can be seen in the many sour beers, including the Lambics and Flemish Reds from Belgium. The Lambic style is produced using Spontaneous Fermentation, which involves allowing the airborne yeast to ferment the beer. The yeast is unique to the area in which the lambic beers are brewed, and as a result, Lambics are a style produced exclusively in Belgium.

Some brewers in other countries brew sour beers using strains of the yeast found in the Lambic breweries, the most common being Brettanomyces bruxellensis. These will be made using more controlled fermentation methods to avoid contamination with airborne yeast which may impart unwanted flavours.

The yeast used in many wheat beers contributes a banana flavour to the taste. This is also present in Brakspear’s Triple. The yeast used by Fuller’s Brewery has, for some (I’ve yet to recognise it myself), a marmalade characteristic, that is present throughout the brewery’s range of beers.

Last year I asked Chris Bond, collection manager at the National Collection of Yeast Cultures in Norfolk, some questions about yeast and beer. Here are the responses he gave me…
1.       How long have you been working at NCYC?
Over 25 years.

2.       How many yeasts related to brewing are currently in the database?
Approximately 350.

3.       How important would you say your work is to the beer industry?
We work with a wide range of brewers from micro-breweries up to national and multi-national brewing companies. We are able to supply a unique quality control and identification system, which allows us to check the purity of cultures and identify any contaminants, as well as having state of the art Safe Deposit storage systems for brewing strains. For our customers we provide a very important service for quality control and back up of their strains – one of their most valuable assets.

4.       Has there been any sort of increase in activity over the last few years?
We continue to steadily accumulate new customers and their strains and so each year tends to be slightly busier than the last. We have had a slightly higher number of enquiries from micro brewers over the past few years, but have not seen a consistent pattern of increase from any particular sector.

5.       How have things changed with the influx of new breweries opening up in recent years?
As mentioned above, the numbers of smaller breweries opening recently has been reflected to some extent in an increase in enquiries and use  of our services by these smaller concerns.

6.       Do you have a favourite yeast?
It is difficult to pick out one yeast as a favourite because they all tend to have their own unique properties and are therefore all interesting in different ways. One of the most popular brewing strains is NCYC 1026 which is a well known ale strain originating from a UK brewery.

7.       What do you do to ensure none of the yeast develops faults or oddities?
The yeast are stored by tried and tested methods which are known to prevent genetic changes. We use both freeze drying and, for our master stocks, storage in liquid nitrogen at -196C. This is below the temperature at which molecular changes occur and so precludes are changes arising.

After storage we are able to carry out ‘DNA Fingerprinting’ as a quality control method (which is also available as a service to our customers) and this allows us to find any genetic changes should they occur.

8.       What is the oldest yeast in the database, when was it registered, and where did it come from?
The oldest yeast strains in the database were deposited in April 1920. These are mostly non-brewing yeast but also include some lager yeast from the Carlsberg Laboratory in Copenhagen.

9.       What is the most recent yeast in the database?
The most recent deposits are again non-brewing strains and include many isolated by colleagues in the Maquipucuna cloud forest reserve, Ecuador.

Although we have some very recent safe deposit brewing strains in the closed collection, the last brewing strain deposited in the open collection was in June 2011.

10.   What is your favourite beer?
Wychwood’s Hobgoblin. Also, Adnams Broadside.

Next month, an introduction to Hops