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Sarah Marshall sells malt and dispenses quality advice. As Technical Sales Manager for Crisp Malt you’d expect her to sell, but support is just as important in her role – and the advice she can give goes well beyond how to get the best out of beer’s most important ingredient.

“My background is in beer quality,” she says. “A lot of brewers pick my brains, asking what I’d do in their situation. I often tell them you can do a lot with some basic pieces of kit. As an example, just buying a fairly simple microscope can make a big difference.”

Sarah, whose role focuses on Scotland and the East of England, is not alone in her commitment to helping customers. It’s an approach shared by the rest of the company’s technical support team.

An image of Sarah Marshall the Technical Sales Manager for Crisp Malt

There’s Mike Benson, Craft Sales Manager for Wales and the West of England, who – like Sarah – has a background in professional brewing and a deep understanding of how to solve problems in the brewhouse.

There’s Crisp’s Technical Director Dr Dave David Griggs, whose experience in the world of malt stretches back across four decades.

And there’s Andrew Shentall, General Manager at Micronized Food Products, who add exciting extra ingredient options for breweries.

“With Crisp Malt, quality is a given,” says Mike. “I know that from using the company’s malts during my time as a brewer. Brewers can be sure of getting the malt when they need it – and it’s not just a question of quality and consistency. The service is outstanding too. If they need advice on almost anything, we give it, or if something goes wrong, we’ll help them fix it.”

Given the way craft brewing has grown over the past few decades – and the economic headwinds many brewers are struggling with at the moment – this sort of all-round offer is more valuable than it’s ever been. Brewers that use Crisp are not just buying high-quality malt, but tapping into a wealth of knowledge and experience that it’d be hard to find elsewhere.

“I see that as part of our role – to transfer knowledge,” says Dave. “My history in this sector goes back to 1990, since when there have been huge changes in the brewing industry. A lot of the family breweries have disappeared; the bigger brewers shed a lot of technical experts; and then a generation of small and micro breweries has emerged, many with multiple skills, but a steep learning curve in brewing raw materials. We can fill in a little bit of a knowledge gap.”

Both Sarah and Mike are problem-solvers, a legacy of their respective backgrounds in the brewing industry. Sarah worked in the quality control at Shepherd Neame for 10 years, while Mike has worked at a variety of breweries over two decades, from Molson Coors to Love Lane in Liverpool.

“I have a very scientific mind when it comes to dealing with problems,” he says. “It’s a mathematical way of working backwards on anything that could be the problem – whether that’s head retention, controlling haze, controlling the fermentation, or any kind of malt use.”

Flavour development is a key part of this, he says, citing a recent collaboration project with Red Willow, to produce a beer served at Siba’s BeerX Conference, which took place in Liverpool in March. The beer (called ‘Timeless’) was a West Coast IPA, made with two heritage malt varieties, Maris Otter and Chevallier Malt, and hops supplied by Yakima Chief Hops and yeast from White Labs. The malts were used to complement each other: Chevallier for flavour and the way it combines with New-World hop flavour, Maris Otter for flavour and ease of use.

Then there’s the recent work he’s done with Norfolk Brewhouse on a low-ABV beer. “We helped them develop a malt base. We guided them through that first bit, and they’ve taken that knowledge we’ve shared with them,” he says. “With projects like this, we give that little bit of advice around what to do and how to problem solve, and then the brewers take it from there.”

There are other ongoing projects, he says, to help brewers around the country, from brewhouse efficiency to low-ABV beer.

Sarah meanwhile, has fond memories of working on a mill in a windmill, alongside 8 Sail Brewery in Lincolnshire. “It wasn’t actually their windmill mill – that would have been amazing, it would have been very cool,” she says with a laugh. “They’ve got this old traction engine mill, which is a flour mill, which means it’s slightly too fine for brewing. We optimised it so it isn’t going to give them a stuck mash. They use the malt from that as a small percentage in some of their heritage brews.”

Different challenges like these is one of the reasons Sarah relishes her job. “I really enjoy meeting brewers and working out how different plants work,” she says. “It’s incredible how many different ways there are of getting to the same result. There are so many different brew kits out there, so many different ways to boil an egg! That’s part of the problem-solving for me – I love a good teaser.”

Sarah and Mike’s ability to help out in the brewhouse is only one element of what Crisp can offer. There’s also Micronized Food Products, a sister-brand, whose torrefied brewing cereals – wheat, barley, maize, oats and rice – offer extra options for brewers. “They have different attributes to malted barley,” says Andrew. “They can have an impact on clarity, colour, flavour, finish, head retention, all of those things.”

These attributes mean the products can be used across the board, from Best Bitters to crisp lagers. For those wanting to get a better idea of how to use them, Andrew can help on the grain-handling side while his colleagues at Crisp assist with the brew.

“One of our customers approached us a few years’ ago about using our products, so I went down and had a look,” he says. “There were some shortfalls in their handling equipment. So I helped them design how they could intake it, and transfer it through the system. I was there for when they trialled it, to make sure everything was performing as it should. That’s an example of how from beginning to end, we can offer a full package of advice.”

Given the way barley varieties evolve and change on a regular basis, this full package of advice is as valuable for those who’ve spent their careers in brewing as it is for newbies. “We look to do commercial malting and brewing trials for new varieties on an annual basis,” says Dave. “A variety may well work for the farmer in terms of increased yield, but the question we need to answer is, does it work in the maltings and for the brewer?”

From seed to finished product, Crisp is constantly working to ensure breweries can make the best possible beer. “I’m constantly talking to people,” says Mike. “There are lots of conversations about sustainability, short term gains and long term goals, as well as about solving issues in the brewhouse or packaging. When customers ring up, we’ll have a chat and offer guidance. With all the insights we get, we know what best practice looks like.”

Which brings us back to microscopes. “Just getting a fairly simple microscope can tell you a lot about where things are going wrong,” says Sarah. “If you’ve got infections, if you’ve got wild yeast, you’ll see it there. And they’re not expensive! It’s quite simple, so long as you know what you’re looking for.” With the Crisp team, that’s a given.

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