Barley is beer. Beer is barley. Beer cannot be without barley, and so, for us here at Wold Top the barley we grow on our farm is the keystone that holds everything together.
Barley is a member of the grass family, and is the fourth most cultivated grain in the world (after wheat, maize and rice). It’s used for animal feed, distilled and fermented drinks, bread and as a component in health foods.
Here at Hunmanby Grange (the farm) we’ve been growing barley (specifically malting barley) for over half a century and it was this fact, alongside our pure, chalk filtered, non mains water that gave us the idea and the confidence to launch Wold Top Brewery in 2003.
Traditionally, in the UK, the preferred and historic variety of barley that was used to make malt was Maris Otter. This was because of its strong ‘malty taste profile’ which allowed brewers to create low strength bitters and pale ales whilst still retaining the desired ‘malty’ flavour. It also has low nitrogen content and excellent malting results which meant it was the grain of choice for the majority of UK brewers for over 30 years.
However, in terms of cultivation, it wasn’t a great variety due to issues with disease resistance and yield (how many grains it produced per tonne) so economically, it wasn’t a great crop for farmers to grow. As such, it has gradually been phased out of production and replaced by other, more disease resistant and higher yielding varieties such as Halcyon and Concerto. Maris Otter is now considered more of a ‘heirloom’ malt, only grown in small quantities and used in ‘special’ edition brews although it is finding favour with some brewers who are looking for a point of difference.
Here at Wold Top, we have been using Concerto for the last three years to produce our malt for brewing. This is a spring planted variety which gives highly consistent yields, low nitrogen levels and good enzyme extract for the ongoing malting process. It also grows really well on our exposed, chalky fields! Working together with Muntons (our local maltsters) we review and look at other developing malting varieties each season and this year have also sown a small amount of a new variety called Laureate to see if this performs as well.
2019 will be an interesting harvest as the unseasonably warm weather mid February meant we had all our spring planting completed before the 1st of March! This has (hopefully) allowed the seeds to spend that bit longer germinating and becoming established before starting their journey to the light.
Come later this month, or early next, we will see the results, until then - we’ve just got to let it grow!
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