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The endlessly fascinating aspect of supply chain logistics is how a seemingly slight detail can have huge ramifications. Something new which you didn’t know you cared about can lead you to a story that unfolds like an origami flower.
In this case, the starting point in supply chain logistics is the construction of a packaging facility at Crisp Maltings’ Alloa facility. In other words, it’s a machine that puts malted barley into sacks.

A Lot of Dosh

The first clue that there’s more to this story than meets the eye is that Crisp spent £2 million on this facility. What makes a packaging line worth that much?
Sure, it’s state-of-the-art technology. But it’s how this technology is applied, the issues it solves, and the opportunities it opens up that make it particularly compelling.

It all began 125 Years Ago.

The building that’s now Crisp’s Alloa Maltings has a long history. It was built as a floor maltings in 1899 by legendary (and long-departed) Scottish brewer George Younger & Son, who had been brewing in Alloa since 1845. At a time when many brewers owned their own maltings, it was the perfect spot. It was close to farms growing good quality barley and also close to the thirsty cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Stirling.

Malting in Alloa, brewing and distilling malt in the Crisp Malt warehouse

Died and Revived

Younger’s was acquired in the 1960s by Bass, who closed the brewery but modernized and kept the maltings. When Bass was in turn swallowed up by Interbrew (later AB-Inbev) in 2000, malting in Alloa was mothballed. Crisp saw an opportunity and stepped in, buying the plant and getting it running again in under 18 months. It opened in 2003.

Focus on Distillers

By that time, brewers mainly bought their malt rather than malting it themselves, and they had consolidated and dealt in fewer, much larger, long-term contracts. The bigger opportunity for Crisp’s Alloa plant was now in supplying Scotland’s burgeoning malt whisky industry. Their requirements from malt were different from those of brewers – focusing on the yield of fermentable sugar above all else – but malting in Alloa grew successfully and now malts 28,000 tonnes of barley a year.

Supporting New Wave of Brewers

But in any aspect of drinks production, change is constant, and adaptability is vital. The last 15 years have seen an explosion in craft brewing, with around 130 breweries now operating across Scotland. The vast majority are small-scale craft brewers – a totally different market from one or two big national brewers, and different again from a group of long-established whisky distilleries.

Break Through with Laureate.

In 2015, barley breeders and growers delivered Alloa a beautiful stroke of luck. A new malting barley variety, name Laureate, sailed through its trials and was launched commercially. By 2021, it accounted for 48% of all barley malted in the UK.
There are two other interesting aspects of Laureate that worked very well for Alloa. One, more of it is grown in Scotland than in England, and two, it delivers on the needs of both brewers and distillers. It has the high fermentable sugar yield required for distilling, and has everything brewers require for a great pale malt.

There was just one problem: logistics.

Scottish Laureate barley growing in the fields

Loads Crossing Borders

While Laureate could thrive in Scotland’s 270 barley farms (80% of which are within fifty miles of Alloa) the maltings, along with every other maltings in Scotland, didn’t have the facilities to package their end product. Either Scottish grain was taken to be malted in England and brought back, or it was malted in Scotland, carried all the way to England in big lorries to be bagged, then brought back up to Scotland.
The inefficiency of this was brought into sharper relief in 2018, with the publication of Brewing up a Storm, a new report on the Scottish brewing scene produced by Scotland Food and Drink. As part of its programme for growth, the report highlighted increased efficiency in the supply chain as a key target. Crisp Malt seized the initiative.

Scottish Malt – from Barley Grown, Malted and, at last, Packaged in Scotland

The new packaging facility meant Crisp was the only Scottish maltster to be able to supply Scottish malt in Scotland without carting it to England in between. Since the line launched in 2020, it’s estimated that this saves 35,000 miles of HGV driving every year, significantly reducing the carbon footprint of the supply chain.

This alone would be enough to justify the investment. But in addition, the line is highly customisable, and the product can be tailored to meet the exact needs of the customer. This means malting in Alloa is now unparalleled in its ability to cater to the diverse Scottish craft brewing market. Malt can be supplied whole or crushed, in quantities large or small, in bags of different sizes, and brewers can come and collect them at the plant.

So how has it worked out?

Scottish brewing and distilling malt being packed at Alloa inn Scotland


“We’re now the only large maltster that grows, malts and packages in Scotland, and that’s been a great success,”

Crisp’s Colin Johnston told Ferment magazine recently.

The plant has built up a strong list of local breweries, and according to Colin, “One of the things these breweries – and their customers – really appreciate is that the Alloa supply chain is very local; 100% of our malt is Scottish spring barley, supplied from the local area, so it has that provenance and is very sustainable in terms of food miles. We’re very proud of that, and I think just proud to be continuing the history of Scottish malting in Alloa, with a team of local guys who’ve all been there forever.

The practical advantages of this are huge. But there’s more to craft brewing than practicality. Small brewers as a rule care passionately about provenance and local identity, and they can now be sure that they’re buying Scottish malt, grown and malted in Scotland. Williams Bros, a long-standing craft brewer just down the road in Alloa, uses this as the key selling point for its Alloa Gold golden ale, boasting in the sales blurb that the base malt is by Crisp, who are “just next door to the brewery on Kelliebank”, and that “the majority (around 80%) of the Scottish barley used to make our base malt is grown within 50 miles of the brewery.”

Malting in Alloa, Colin Johnson from Crisp Malt, and craft brewers Cold Town Beer stand in front of a hand painted 100% Scottish malt sign.

Growing Demand Abroad

This in turn helps raise the profile of Scottish malted barley on a wider stage. There’s increasing export demand from countries like the US, Japan, and Scandinavia. The new, flexible packaging facility also makes it easier to serve those markets.

Bagging in Scotland Backs Your Story – and Ours

So: here’s a story that’s about sustainability. It’s about nimbleness and adaptability. It’s about listening to a wide array of customers and catering to all their needs. It’s about respecting the craft of brewing. And it’s about national pride and national identity, both at home and on the international stage.
Not bad for a bit of kit that puts grain into bags.

View from the Alloa, Scotland Crisp Maltings across the town and maltings

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