North Norfolk farmer makes solar-powered ”sun-kissed” malt for real ale brewers

Specialist North Norfolk barley grower Teddy Maufe is making 'sun-kissed' malt using solar panels to demonstrate a vital stage in making real ales.

He is one of a select number of growers of winter-sown Maris Otter which many specialist and craft brewers regard as the best malting barley in the world.

Mr Maufe, who is a tenant at Branthill on the Holkham estate, near Wells, wanted to demonstrate to visitors to his real ale shop how malt is made. As it is the crucial ingredient in producing a consistent quality beer, he started a 'solar-powered' maltings, which produces between 15kg and 20kg of finished malt from barley grown on the farm.

Although he has managed to produce a number of batches through the summer, the shorter days have forced him to suspend the Branthill maltings until next spring.

As the chairman of the Confederation of Malting Barley Growers for the past decade, Mr Maufe has been tireless in promoting the industry to brewers, distillers and every sector of the food and drink industry.

Although the acreage of Maris Otter has been reduced on the farm, it has been consistent performer over the years. 'The Maris Otter astounded us although we didn't get record yields. We got two tonnes an acre which was our target,' said Mr Maufe as it produced superb samples with very low nitrogens.

'It was really important that it came good this year because last year's difficult harvest rather knocked the confidence of brewers, maltsters and the supply chain because the variety is slightly more sensitive to a major weather upset. The brewers who tried other varieties after supply problems last year were really pleased to come back to Maris Otter, so I'm really delighted.

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'It fills a real niche in our rotation and on this light land, it is very suitable. Long may it be that North Norfolk can be one of the main Maris Otter growing areas.'

While Maris Otter dates from 1966 when it was bred by Dr G D H Bell at Cambridge from a cross of Proctor and Pioneer, it has always been appreciated by real ale brewers since its launch.

Mr Maufe said that it was a 'quite a forgiving malt' and did not need exact temperatures in the brewhouse to perform consistently and produce clear, bright real ales. He also grows spring barley, Concerto, which yielded about 2.25 tonnes an acre but the wheat at an average three tonnes was a very good performer. 'In financial terms, our wheat crop this year, very nearly came to the amount as our whole harvest last year – all our oilseed, spring and winter barley equalled our wheat this year.'

It was 10 years ago that the rights to the malting variety were bought by two specialist agricultural merchants, Robin Appel, of Hampshire, and H Banham, of Hempton, Fakenham. They have continued to invest in the variety and ensuring that the seed remains of the highest quality and purity, which is appreciated by the malting trade.

While Maris Otter was appreciated by real ale brewers, it was also in demand in the United States. While beer sales were 'flat' at best, if not still declining given the real increases in duty and the daily closure of pubs up and down the country, real ale was holding at about seven or eight percent of the market. 'The premium end of ale has actually held its own or grown by one per cent but every other sector has fallen,' he added.

The overwhelming percentage of his Maris Otter barley goes to the Crisp Malting Group at Great Ryburgh, near Fakenham, which has also developed a thriving export trade.

'Maris Otter premium ale is the one niche which is holding its own. We can't all jump on that bandwagon because it is a small one. I supply the Magnolia Brewery in San Francisco, who tells his customers: 'I get my heirloom Maris Otter malt from the high coastal plains of eastern England.'

As one of the founders of the North Norfolk Food and Drink Festival, Mr Maufe said that there has been a real increase in interest about the provenance of ingredients and local sourcing. 'It is not just real ale which is enjoying a resurgence, it is all the local provenance.

When he opened the Real Ale shop, there were just seven micro-brewers including the longest-established brewer in Norfolk, Woodforde's of Woodbastwick. Now there are 23. 'And just 15 years ago, we were looking down the barrel of an ale desert in Norfolk.

'My dream is that when people come to north Norfolk, they not only think about the beaches, the beautiful coast, and the sea food but this is where they grow some of the finest malting barley in the world which goes on to make the best ales in the world. That's not a bad strap line for Norfolk.'