When Mikey mentioned that me and Robin had been invited by our malt supplier for a tour, my initial reaction was – cool, road trip! Our Malt supplier is Muntons, who have been making malt products at their site in Stowmarket since 1921. After that I began thinking – I’ve always associated malt and beer, but there got to be more to it than that? Time to learn some malternative facts – sorry.
Mikey assured us we’d have a good time and even negotiated dinner and drinks with a Muntons representative named Joseph the evening of our arrival. So, in preparation for the long drive we had the afternoon off and hit the road after lunch.
Luckily the traffic was kind and we arrived at our hotel with just enough time to flip a coin to decide who got the king size bed, or the runner-up prize – a bed described by Robin as something you’d expect to find after a natural disaster. The stakes were high -The coin was flipped, heads won and I reluctantly accept victory as we make our way to reception.
With little time to deliberate on the inequality of our sleeping arrangement, Joseph picked us up and we ventured to Bury St Edmunds for dinner.
Gastronome was the restaurant of choice and it was a good choice and so too was the Mumbai Fish Pie – suitably satisfied.
In anticipation of an early start in the morning, we still had time to visit a couple of pubs before we called it a night – sensible. My personal favourite was The Nutshell, which claims to be the smallest pub in Britain and for anyone interested also features on Antique Road Trip (series 2, episode 23) – Recall memory was on top form.
Flashforward 3AM and somewhat lost in a massive bed I briefly felt sympathy for Robin – probably because I had booked the wrong room in the first place.
Nevertheless, refreshed and ready for the day ahead we set off to Muntons. Our visit was in fact duel purpose. In addition to the tour we also had the opportunity to use a Research and Development Brewery. The set-up specializes in small batches and therefore it is perfect for experimenting with new ideas and recipes. So, with Robin’s latest recipe in hand and under the guidance of Brewing Engineer, Fabian we got to work – I say we, the sum total of my involvement was scooping out the mash tun. Joking aside, the kit was impressive and Fabian’s knowledge was formidable.
With the brew in process we met up with Joseph again for our tour. Feeling very much the part in all our safety attire, we had one very important task to complete…deliver a gift to Julie, Mikey’s point of contact at Muntons. Seriously, it was on the list, along with drink beer, have fun and drink beer.
On with the tour…
Before the malting process can begin any incoming grain has scrutinised to ensure that it is fundamentally alive and free from forgein objects. All of this ensures the grain is safe to use and viable for germination. Forgive me for the lack of detail, but should the grain be sub optimum its fed through a machine that can detect individual grains and remove them from the equation. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see it in action but the concept was mindblowing. Once approved the grain is moved into silos for storage where it is continuously monitored for a period of time that I forgot to ask.
The first active stage of the malting is called steeping and involves soaking the grain in water 2-3 times over 48 hours.
Next the grain is transferred into germination vessels where it is encouraged to grow under controlled conditions for 4-5 days and at this point referred to as green malt. During germination natural enzymes break down cell walls and starches into fermentable sugars.
Germination is halted when there is an optimal ratio between starch and fermentable sugars. This is achieved by reducing the moisture content of the malt. First the malt is aloud to dry free before it is put in a kiln and forced dried. At this point the malt develops a distinctive colour and taste.
Observing the malting proces firsthand was a real experience. The sheer size is one thing but the application of systems that regulate from start to finish is testament to a quality product. On top of that it opens up a new dimension to enjoying a quality pint, which we can all agree is a worthy endeavor.
The drive home was pleasant and I’m pretty sure we didn’t go 5 minutes without acknowledging that trip was totally worth it.