With malting barley prices at last rising after many years in the doldrums it has become even more important for brewers to get the most from the grain they buy, explains Teddy Maufe.

He grows about 89ha (220 acres) of Maris Otter winter barley and 73ha (180 acres) of Oxbridge spring barley on the 400ha (1000 acres) of mainly light land at Branthill Farm, near Wells-next-the–Sea.

Demand

The farm’s location, soils and micro-climate allow it to produce high quality malting barley samples, and since his on-farm Real Ale shop opened, demand by local brewers has grown steadily.

However, there was clearly a problem.

“All the brewers were telling me that our barley was good but they weren’t getting as much out of it as they expected,” says Mr Maufe. “And it took us two years to work out what was wrong.”

The key, he discovered, was that the equipment they were using to crush the malted grains was less than satisfactory.“It was all a bit Heath Robinson. One of the crushers had been dragged out of nettles 14 years ago.”

A high quality crush is vital if brewers are to get a good yield from the malt, he explains.“Too fine and it tends to sink to the bottom of the mash tun and cause blockages – too coarse and the yield will be cut meaning they get less beer from a given amount of malt.

“Indeed, if the crushing allows any whole grains through, they just float on the surface like useless lifeboats contributing nothing to the brewing process.”

Crusher search

In Mr Maufe’s search for a better crusher all enquiries pointed him to Bury St Edmunds-based Alan Ruddock Engineering, from whom he bought a modern 1t/hour precision machine, recently installed in an otherwise redundant farm shed.

Its fine adjustment facility, down to 0.1mm, allows a much higher quality, more uniform crushed sample to be produced from the malted grain.By using the £16,000 machine as a service to his brewers, charging £2 per 25kg bag (£80/t), the equipment, including bagger, should pay for itself in four years, he calculates.

The plan is to crush only to order because whole malt stores much better than crushed.“We’ve only done 3t through it so far, but already our brewers tell me they’re getting about 20% better yields. Indeed one of them who used his usual 2.5 bags for a brew found his fermenting vat over-flowing.”

Mark Bristow of the Fox Brewery at Heacham, who buys malt both from Mr Maufe’s farm and from a northern supplier, confirms the improvement in beer output.“We’d been using an old seed crusher, but its adjustment didn’t allow us to use the malt to its full potential. Now we’re getting 20% more out of it.”

The move offers three advantages for the farm, explains Mr Maufe.“It has kept the brewers on board, it‘s allowed me to take on another part of the overall process which in the long term must be a good thing, and it it’s a job that we can do on wet days, so it fits in well with other things.”

Real Ale Shop

Maufe-&-beer-large

The off-licence Real Ale Shop at Branthill Farm opened three years ago, selling 22 ales from six local micro-breweries.

The venture has proved so successful that it now offers 51 ales from 15 brewers who use up to 90t a year of Mr Maufe’s Maris Otter.

“I’m often asked if I regret not starting the shop 10 years ago, but the answer is always no,” says Mr Maufe. “It just wouldn’t have worked then.People are far more interested in the provenance of what they eat and drink nowadays,” he explains. “More and more they want to know that it’s made locally from natural ingredients.”

All the barley used by the local brewers is fully traceable, being malted in 23t batches on Crisp’s traditional floor maltings at nearby Great Ryburgh.

A sister franchised shop has recently been opened at Wrentham, Suffolk allowing local growers and brewers to pursue the same Real Ale route.“Ideally I’d like to see the franchise as an opportunity for malting barley growers in all parts of the country.”

For more information on the franchise details contact Mr Maufe on 01328 710246 or via email: branthill.farms@unicombox.co.uk