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Norfolk maltster highlights success of meeting soaring demand for distilling

PUBLISHED: 16:12 07 June 2013 | UPDATED: 16:12 07 June 2013

Bob King, of Crisp Malting Group, at Morley's ABC malting barley event

Bob King, of Crisp Malting Group, at Morley's ABC malting barley event

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A specialist malting barley briefing and tour of field trials attracted a much larger than expected attendance, said leading Norfolk maltster Bob King.

An estimated 150 growers took part in the half-day event at Morley, near Wymondham, which was organised by Crisp Malting Group, ABC Group and hosts, NIAB TAG.

Mr King, commercial director of the country’s largest independent maltster based at Great Ryburgh, near Fakenham, said that distilling took more than half the barley production. “Half the malt made in the UK is going into the distilling industry including malt made in England and moved to Scotland,” he said.

“Brewing is falling away and only 30pc of the malt goes into the domestic brewing market,” said Mr King, who said that Crisps had invested strongly in recent years to produce for the distilling sector.

He said that about 14pc of national malt production was exported. “We’ve still got a reasonable export performance; 14pc or about 130,000 tonnes to 140,000 tonnes leaves the UK and goes near and far. But 10 years ago, it was over 400,000 tonnes and all that extra tonnage has all virtually gone into the distilling industry now.”

In a brief review of the industry, he said that in the past ten years the volume of barrels brewed has fallen from 34 million to 24m since 2000.

Mr King said that the fall in demand for winter barley might not have had such an impact on Norfolk growers. “If you’re a grower of winter malting barley in the south of England, there’s no market anymore. There isn’t demand for that winter malting barley and it will only carry on falling if the brewing production continues to decline.”

The demand for spring barley had soared and notably for low nitrogen varieties. “A decade ago, we needed lots of 1.7pc and 1.8pc nitrogen spring barleys because of the export demand for malt. “We just need low nitrogen spring barley for this ever-increasing demand for whisky production and that’s very pertinent to our maltings in East Anglia. We’re putting a lot of malt up to Scotland.

“As a business, we’re very much in the distilling industry. We’re also very big into the ale part of the brewing industry, which is still holding its own. We’re quite fortunate that we’re also aligned with two of the larger producers, Carlsberg and AB Budweiser, which are probably holding their own at the expense of Coors and Heineken.”

There was still demand for winter-drilled malting barley if it was below 1.65pc nitrogen. “Most of lager production uses spring barley, so there’s very little use for winter barley with high nitrogen,” said Mr King.

He thanked members of the ABC Growers Group, which had delivered 93pc of the crop planted, and also merchants including Adams & Howling. “It is a massive recovery from 2011 where we had a pretty horrendous spring barley crop and winter barley with broken grains and so on.”

“The 2013 crop is also the first of the new three-year contracts with enhanced terms for growers and enhanced premiums for low nitrogen,” he added. There has been a modest increase in winter tonnage but “the big uplift, and the big increase, which we wanted to see, was in spring barley – an increase of 13,000 tonnes,” he added.

The variety, Concerto was set to become Crisp’s biggest single variety. It had also become the distillers’ benchmark because it produced the highest levels of extract and was rated as zero GN, glycosidic nitrile.

Another variety, Odyssey was fully approved for distilling production. “It remains provisional for brewing because there wasn’t enough barley from last year’s harvest to conduct brewing trials,” he added.

Mr King said that they were looking for a home-grown variety, which could produce malt for Budweiser, the fastest-growing brand in the UK.

“We make malt for Budweiser but we have to use imported barley.,” he added.

For harvest 2014, he said that Flagon would be the biggest winter barley.

“All our ale growers will not move straight to Venture in one year.

“At the moment, we suspect it will be roughly 75:25 Flagon/ Venture.

“We won’t be handling any other winter varieties other than Maris Otter. By 2015, Venture is likely to be the biggest variety,” said Mr King.

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