What's the special Norfolk ingredient in star chef Galton Blackiston's home-grown beer?
The reputation of Norfolk barley has been crystal clear to brewers across the world for decades - but now a home-grown malt which prevents beer haze has excited the taste buds of a culinary celebrity closer to home.
Michelin-starred chef Galton Blackiston worked with local growers, maltsters and brewers to create beers to complement the fish and chips he serves at his renowned Morston Hall and No 1 Cromer restaurants.
Galton’s No 1 Lager and Ale were both brewed using Clear Choice malt, which is produced by Crisp Malting Group in Great Ryburgh, near Fakenham, using barley varieties bred to remove proanthocyanidin – a polyphenol which can cause a haze in beer.
David Holliday, co-founder of the Norfolk Brewhouse at Hindringham which collaborated on the beers, said the malt variety also enhanced flavour and extended shelf life, giving it a growing reputation among brewers in the Uk and across the globe – especially the American craft beer market.
“The reason why this variety is becoming such a popular variety is its ability for brewers to achieve greater beer clarity and flavour stability in their packaged beers,” he said.
“Clear Choice’s secret is that it is a proanthocyanidin-free variety and so doesn’t contain one of the key precursors to haze forming in beer.
“Brewers can take measures to remove these haze forming compounds by chilling the beer to 0 degrees C and holding it for several days to bring the proteins out of suspension and then filtering them. Even for the smaller scale brewers this is a costly and time-consuming business – holding up valuable storage space and therefore production capacity in the brewery.”
Mr Holliday said major breweries experimented with proanthocyanidin-free barley varieties with good success in the 1970s, only to move into an alternative process involving adding chemical stabilisers directly to beer.
However, with the growth of the craft beer market, the team at Crisp Maltings saw the advantages of using the core ingredient to naturally create haze-free beers rather than using chemical additions.
Rob Moody, at director at Crisp Malting Group, said: “The packaged side of the craft beer market has been rising significantly for some time and continues to do so.
“Brewers are looking for ways to maximise the shelf life of their beer, but also to ensure that during that shelf life the beer tastes as good as the day it was packed.
“The absence of polyphenols in Clear Choice increases the malty, sweet notes and reduces astringent and bitter notes in the finished beer. Many breweries, especially in the craft sector, are now benefitting from these quality attributes.
“The reputation of the malt and its benefits has grown over the last few years and we now have farms across Norfolk and Suffolk contracted to grow it for us as we expand its market base.”
Mr Blackiston said local provenance was a key ingredient in his beers, whose barley was grown by the Harrison family a stone’s throw from his restaurant in Morston.
“In creating my own brands of lager and ale I wanted two things – firstly for it to be a distinctly Norfolk product with Norfolk malt, and secondly to have sweet notes,” he said.
“We worked hard with David from The Norfolk Brewhouse in understanding what the options were.
“Obviously David suggested Maris Otter as the iconic Norfolk barley but when he suggested that we blend in Clear Choice as well and that I could actually see the field it’s grown in from the restaurant was simply amazing.
“We only produce our beers for packaging into bottles and so the flavour stability and haze free aspect was really important to us. Its great that such an initiative of barley development is happening right here on our doorstep.”