Malt Coast brewery completes the 'barley to beer' journey at Branthill Farm near Wells
A family business in north Norfolk has completed its "barley to beer" provenance by installing a brewery to make use of its award-winning malt - and the skills of its next generation. CHRIS HILL reports.
It’s a north Norfolk farm famed for selling the “barley to beer” story – but an important part of the process was missing.
So now Branthill Farm, which grows specialist malting barley and promotes the end product through its Real Ale Shop, has completed the provenance picture by building its own brewery.
The installation of the Malt Coast brewery means the farm, near Wells, now brews and sells its own ales, made with crops from the surrounding fields – giving it the complete traceability demanded by a burgeoning craft beer market.
It has been set up by brothers Bruin and Max Maufe, keen to find their own niche in the family farming business after returning from careers in London.
Their father Teddy’s 1,000-acre tenanted farm on the Holkham Estate is an award-winning grower of Maris Otter barley, which is traditionally processed at Crisp Maltings in nearby Great Ryburgh into malt which is so revered by brewers that it is sent as far afield as California.
Bruin said: “We thought if there were brewers willing to ship our barley to San Francisco then it had to be worth using it to brew our own beer.
“We always had one eye on wanting to come back to the farm, but we wanted to get stuck into something that was ours, and not pushing into Teddy’s terrain, which was farming. We knew we had different skills to bring.
“Making this connection with barley and beer is something that has always impressed us, and how are barley is very special because of where we are.
“We have the right soil type and the perfect coastal microclimate for growing barley. Two years ago the farm won the silver prize for Maris Otter in the UK, so we know we are one of a handful of farms producing the very best malting barley in the country.
“But there was this natural gap to fill, because there was not a brewery here.
“Over the last few years we have seen a craft beer revolution which has seen an explosion in the sheer choice of beer available across the country, especially in urban areas. With the beer market changing we thought that offered us the chance to do something a bit fresh and different.
“Consumers are looking for traceability and provenance. The exciting thing for us is that the base malt for our beer is guaranteed to be from our own barley. Because it goes through the traditional floor malting process, we can track the batch all the way through, but if it was mechanised, that gets lost.”
The brewery makes an Amber Ale, an IPA and a Pale Ale, which are sold in bottles and cans to pubs, delicatessens and restaurants along the north Norfolk coast, and the latest addition is keg deliveries which are helping to take the brand into Norwich, and even London.
Bruin spent about ten years working in the capital in advertising and marketing roles, while Max was a head-hunter for senior finance executives.
Both brothers split their time between Norfolk and London as the fledgling brewery finds its feet, but they hope it will eventually become a full-time earner for both of them.
“Our father told us to go off and have careers, learn new things and bring the world back to the farm,” said Bruin. “It is great that we are on the cusp of doing something that can bring in our advertising, marketing and people skills.
“It has been a huge learning curve for us, but we have a genuine story of traceability and family heritage. My dad and my grandad have been growing this barley for decades. So there is a family story too and we are very excited to continue that and build a brand around this farm and its barley.”
About £100,000 was invested to set up the Malt Coast brewery – helped by a grant fund which still has £4.5m to distribute to rural business projects in Norfolk and Suffolk.
The Leader programme, managed by Norfolk County Council, distributes money from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, via five Local Action Groups (LAGs) in the Brecks, Broads, Waveney Valley, Wensum and Coast and West Norfolk.
Since the programme started, almost £3m has been allocated to 69 rural businesses, and Norfolk County Council says there is still time to apply for a share of the remaining £4.5m.
Eligible projects need to meet the criteria set out for each respective LAG area but they must support at least one of the following broad goals: increasing farm productivity; micro and small enterprises and farm diversification; rural tourism; provision of rural services; cultural and heritage activity; increasing forestry productivity.
Funding has been guaranteed by the UK government for all projects that are contracted by March 29, 2019.