I grew up in Ayrshire, which is a big dairy country. All the children knew what Friesians were, why they were in the fields and where their milk would end up. The milkman would drop bottles daily, and with four kids in my family, however much he left on the step, there never seemed to be enough!
Without knowing the words ‘local supply chain’, we absolutely understood the concept of milk supply from cow to glass.
When I started my career in the brewing industry as a brewer, I had a woeful ignorance about what malt for the distilling and brewing process was, and it’s origins.
I didn’t consider the supply chain.
Even driving through the arable parts of Scotland; even knowing I needed quality ingredients for brewing beer; even with a promotion to brewery manager, I never fully appreciated the connections from field to tap.
It wasn’t until I joined the malting industry that I was able to connect the dots.
I began to be able to tell the difference between barley and wheat in a field when travelling through Fife and Aberdeenshire at pace and with my eyes on the road. I talked to agronomists and seed merchants about malt barley varieties and specifications. I visited farms and started having in-depth conversations with growers, not just about the grain itself, but also about climate, weather, topography, soil, sowing regimes, fertilising and harvesting. I spent time looking into barley storage and conditions and how they impact on the quality of the grain; all that before I’d even touched on the malting process.
Four years on and I can confirm that the more you know about malt, the more you realise how much more there is to know about it.
Knowing where our suppliers grow their barley means I can tell brewers about their malt and the area it comes from. I can educate my customers about the supply chain in general, and Crisp’s one in particular.
Brewers tend to react positively to me being able to confidently lend provenance to our products. By having those conversations, I’ve found just how important source, traceability and locality are to our customers – none more so than in Scotland. It’s not just brewers who are interested in ingredients and their provenance. It’s also drinkers. They too want to know that their purchasing power is invested in local farmers and the local economy.
We’ve been operating maltings in Scotland since 1979 when our Portgordon site opened to supply local grain to local Speyside distilleries. Crisp then purchased an old Bass Maltings in Alloa in 2003 and have been making superb distilling and brewing malt there since then.
The thing is, despite barley being grown and malted in Scotland, none of the main maltsters have previously bagged their products in the country. Crazily, truckloads of grain have been sent southwards for bagging, only to be returned back over the border, for Scottish brewers, until now.
The company has just finished building a brand new packaging line at our maltings in Alloa. Here we’ll bag Scottish malt for craft brewers in Scotland. Our customers asked for a more environmentally-friendly, more local supply chain, and here they have it.
In addition to all the speciality malts we have on offer at Alloa and Portgordon, we’ve become the first sizeable maltster to supply 100% Scottish barley, malted and packaged in Scotland. From this month, August 2020, we’ll be supplying 25kg, 500kg and 1-tonne bags of Pale Malt and Extra Pale Malt. It’s all part of the Crisp Malt promise to reinforce the connection of our Scottish brewing customers to Scottish land and fields, supporting local farmers and creating local employment. They will be available in whole and crushed form.
The new bagging operations will save around 35,000 HGV miles a year – and all the associated carbon footprint. We know that matters to Scottish brewers and drinkers. And of course it matters to the environment.
While I still love a glass of milk, it has to be said that it’s beer that is my passion, although not for breakfast. I’m extremely proud as the Scottish Sales Manager, to be able to tell the story of our field to bag Scottish malt initiative, and I look forward to welcoming our customers to the maltings and bagging line at Alloa when it is safe to do so. It’s a pretty nice piece of kit in my view – but I ought to leave you to make that judgement!
In the meantime, if you’re thinking about using Scottish barley malt in your beer, please drop me a line. You might get more information than you bargained for – and I do promise not to talk about cows!