#NFDF2014 visit to @WoodfordesAle – famed for its #WherryBest beer.

Following my visit in July to Crisp Malting, which malts the finest barley in the world, a trip to Woodforde’s brewery was the obvious way to follow the local links from the grain to the glass.

Woodforde’s, like the village of Woodbastwick it calls home, is quintessentially Norfolk. From its trademark Wherry logo and its location in the heart of the Broads, to the local water and premium malt in its award-winning beer, it epitomises the best the county has to offer in food and drink. Similarly, Woodbastwick has a fine church, a cluster of cottages set round a small green and, like many Norfolk villages, a decent pub.

Copyright Woodforde's - with permission

It’s the beer, the whole beer and nothing but the beer

The Fur & Feather is thatched and red brick like the surrounding properties, with locally sourced food every day and, best of all, its own brewery next door. This is Woodforde’s only pub – the firm doesn’t have a large property portfolio or a diversified business. Consequently, as Managing Director Rupert Farquarson makes clear, “the company lives or dies by maintaining the excellent quality of its beer year in year out.”

That quality has been evident since two members of Norwich’s home brewing community turned their passionate hobby into a thriving business in 1981. After the dark days of the 60s and 70s when it seemed the only beers were Watney’s Red Barrel or Double Diamond, the craft beer pioneers were almost guaranteed a hero’s welcome from thirsty drinkers. Wherry certainly hit the mark and, after a couple of years on an industrial estate in Drayton, had to move to larger premises in Erpingham, next to the Spread Eagle pub (now the Erpingham Arms), to cope with rising demand.

A fire almost destroyed the brewery a month later, but the business rose from the ashes – and launched a special IPA called Phoenix to mark its survival. Since then it has grown steadily, building a loyal following not just in Norfolk but also across the UK, as its popular online ordering service proves. It moved to Woodbastwick in 1989 and in September 2014 it resurrected Phoenix as a guest ale to mark just over 30 years since the fire.

Copyright Woodforde's - with permission.

The secret to great beer – great ingredients – and master brewers

Just 15 years after its launch, Wherry won the title CAMRA Supreme Champion Beer of Britain and the company has gone on to win numerous accolades since, including two at this year’s Norwich beer festival. However, the crowning glory came when The Good Pub Guide 2015 named it UK Brewery of the Year. This is great news for Woodforde’s and for Norfolk, which boasts more than 20 pubs in the guide, including The Rose & Crown in Snettisham, which won the Pub of the Year award.

The three main ingredients in all Woodforde’s beers are local water (from its own borehole), malt and the hops. The brewery team works closely with local maltsters (Crisp Malting and Simpsons) to ensure they get the finest brewing malt made exclusively from Norfolk barley, mainly the world famous Maris Otter. “We always buy the best,” says Brewery Manager Bruce Ash, who is one of only 71 Beer Sommeliers in the world. “Our reputation depends on it.”

Woodforde’s tends to use English hops for their bitter flavour and Slovenian hops for their aromatic qualities. “Many brewers use processed hop oil or dried pellets because they are cheap,” explains Bruce, “but we only use whole hop flowers because we want to ensure a full flavour.” Fittingly, it used purely English Golding and Challenger hops for its Royal Norfolk Ale, which it brewed to commemorate the sacrifice of the local regiment in WW1 and to raise funds for its benevolent fund.

Supporting the local community

“The term ‘ethical’ is perhaps a bit overused in business these days,” admits MD Rupert, “but we do strive to put something back into our community. After all, most of our employees are Norfolk born and bred – we even have three members of the same family on the team – and they stick with us because they like our attitude, as much as our beer. In fact, three people have been with us for over 25 years, including Bruce who worked his way up from being an apprentice.”

Woodforde’s commitment to the local economy is also evident in its brewery shop (run by Juliet Jones) where it stocks food and drink from 16 other Norfolk producers. It is like a permanent indoor farmers market and well worth a visit – particularly in the run up to Christmas if you are looking for a special present for the gourmet in your life. Feast your eyes on the current selection:

JubberwackyBooja Booja

Yare Valley Oils

Norfolk Sloe Company

Essence jams and chutneys

Algy’s popcorn

Chillis GaloreNorfolk cider

Broadland Wineries

Saffire Handmade Chocolate

Orchid Apiaries

The Little Fudge Stall

Norfolk CordialGnaw

Channell’s Norfolk Preserves

Lady Jay’s Preserves

Peachey’s Chutneys

For a delicious, festive family day out, you should pop along to the brewery’s Christmas Open Weekend (6-7 December). Along with beer and wine tastings, there will be a hog roast, a local food marquee, carol singers and free brewery tours. As further proof of the brewery’s support for local producers, it doesn’t charge pitch-fees for the marquee – which is a particularly generous gesture in these tricky economic times.Copyright Woodforde's - with permission.

Woodforde’s also supported the Norfolk Food and Drink Festival 2014; sponsoring the Aylsham Slow Food Festival and Ormiston Families’ Walk with a Fork, as well as running a food & ale matching evening. In 2015, as in previous years, it will continue its involvement in Norwich City Of Ale Festival in May and the Norwich Beer Festival in October. It will also brew a special ale for the Maris Otter 50 celebrations in September, to mark the revival of the malting barley that is a favourite of craft brewers the world over.

Supporting pubs across the region

If that was not enough, Woodforde’s is again organising the East Anglian Ale Trail. Now in its 15th year it has become one of the biggest in the country. The trail features around 700 pubs – including some 330 in Norfolk. That is enough for a dedicated beer drinker to enjoy two stops a day, every day of the year – and there will be prizes for those who complete different sections of the trail. This is a great way to support local pubs and craft beer makers, not just Woodforde’s (although it obviously does help).

Declaration

This is not a sponsored blog (none of mine are) but Woodforde’s kindly gave me a bottle of Norfolk NIP and a bottle of Tinsel Toes to taste. However, I’m saving them for the festive season – when I can try them with a slice of delicious Christmas cake from Dozen – so will report back on them later. Rupert also donated a box of six assorted bottles of Woodforde’s beers for the Nelson’s Journey Christmas quiz. Thank you to all the team at Woodforde’s for your hospitality and generosity, especially Rachael Shakespeare for arranging my visit and showing me round the brewery.

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We’re blogging for charity

We are using our blogs to raise awareness of an excellent local charity called Nelson’s Journey. If you enjoyed this post, please donate £1 (or more if you can spare it) to Nelson’s Journey today. Thank you.

JustGiving - Please sponsor us

About this post

This is one in a series of #NFDF2014 tagged posts about the Norfolk Food and Drink Festival 2014 and related stories – I hope you enjoy them (if you do, please give them a star or five).

If you have any questions or comments, or ideas for future posts, please post them under this blog or tweet them to me. I will do my best to reply.

Thank you for reading – best wishes – Huw.

@HuwSayer / @Business_Write

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#NFDF2014 days out in Norfolk – Part 1: pork pies, popcorn and potatoes

One of the many lovely things about being a Norfolk Food & Drink Festival Champion is it gives me a great excuse to get out and see a bit more of our wonderful county (not that excuses are really needed). The following is a quick review of just some of the trips I have enjoyed recently. Perhaps they will inspire you to seek out some of the delicious food and drink made by local producers – do let me know by posting a comment at the end.

Sunday 6 July – Samphire open day

Regular readers will already know that I am partial to good pork pies and sausages. Some of the finest I’ve tasted are made by Karen and Jeff Nethercott from free range pigs reared on their smallholding in Pristow Green Lane. This is just 20 minutes from us in South Norfolk (15 minutes if the pies are hot out of the oven) – so when we heard they were having an open day we hurried along.

The day started cold and damp but thankfully the drizzle stopped shortly after we arrived and by midday the sun was almost out. About a dozen local artisan producers had braved the weather to set up food, drink and craft stalls in the garden – and all were more than happy to chat about their work (although having tried the potter’s wheel, I think I will stick to writing for a living). We treated ourselves to some pies and sausages, naturally, as well as a jar of excellent Jubberwacky Chutney, a couple of bottles of Humpty Dumpty Ale and a slice of chocolate brownie (to share).

We couldn’t stay for the music in the afternoon (Monday copy deadlines were looming) but before leaving we enjoyed a tour of the smallholding with Karen as our knowledgeable guide. As well as rare breed pigs and sheep, Karen has a beautifully tended vegetable garden, a small orchard with various heritage variety fruit trees and a scattering of chickens and ducks. This might sound like the good life but I am sure it also takes a lot of extremely hard work to maintain.

The pigs and sheep produce exceptionally tasty meat: partly because they are free range and partly because they are so well looked after, as evidenced by the RSPCA naming Samphire as a finalist in its Good Business Awards 2012. If you want to try some of Karen’s delicious food, you can buy online or from their stall at one of the half-dozen markets they go to. You will also find the pies served in local pubs and farm shops – just ask Karen on twitter for your nearest supplier.

Thank you Karen and Jeff.

Thank you Karen and Jeff.

Monday 7 July – A missed opportunity and fresh discoveries

You may remember how in early July I visited Crisp Malting, in the pretty village of Great Ryburgh. On leaving I noticed a sign for the village shop and post office saying it was ‘owned by the community’. Intrigued, I popped in and asked for more info. There were three people working in the shop and they all turned out to be both residents and ‘shareholders’ in what is a Community Interest Company.

The company was set up in 2008/9 after the pub, school, shop and post office had all closed in the space of a few months. It is now a successful social enterprise and – I am pleased to report – a keen supporter of local food and drink producers. From what I could gather, the villagers are justifiably proud of their achievement, which just goes to show what a community can do when it pulls together.

I didn’t buy anything, other than a bottle of water, because it was a hot day and I had no way of keeping food fresh until I got home. This was a shame because I found out later that the shop stocks David and Julie Smith’s famed Perfick Pork sausages, which are made in the village. I also passed the Perfick Pork shop as I drove out of the village but (being a Monday) it was closed – so I may have to order some treats online.

Monday 7 July – Popcorn time

Driving back down the A1067 to Norwich I was reminded of another local foodie success story when I saw Algy’s Farm Shop. It’s worth reading Algy Garrod’s story on the website to understand his passion for making Norfolk Popcorn and supporting local producers – do pop into the shop, if you are passing Bintree, it really is lovely. Charlie Hodson, who is now Executive Chef at The Great Hospital in Norwich and a fellow Food & Drink Festival Champion, calls Algy one of his ‘food heroes’ and I can see why.

Monday 7 July – Perfect Potatoes

That same Monday, I had to drive over to Lammas (errands and all that), so I took the opportunity to say hello to Tim Briscoe who runs the Buxton Potato Company. Tim’s family farm is only a few hundred acres but he has big ambitions. A few years ago he realised that simply selling his potatoes to wholesalers and processors meant he was missing out on the opportunity to add value to his product.

He decided to start supplying local stores direct and to offer temperature controlled potato storage to other growers in the area. This all required some pretty substantial investment in high-tech bits of equipment (including solar panels to reduce his carbon footprint) as well as branding for his packaging – but it’s paying off. He now stores around 5,000 tonnes; washing, grading and packing up to 1000 tonnes for local supermarkets and shops and selling the rest to national chains via the Greenvale Co-op.

Earlier this year the East of England Co-op named the Buxton Potato Company as one of the three finalists for its East of England producer of the year award (out of 130 entrants) and winner of the Norfolk heat. Look out for the Buxton Potato bags if you are shopping in North-East Norfolk.

Happy Samphire pigs.

Happy Samphire pigs.

Other local delights

On Tuesday 8 July I had the pleasure of meeting Nick Stone (known to many of you as TypeJunky) who, aside from being a talented designer, is an ace photographer and walking encyclopaedia of local history. If you haven’t read Nick’s Invisible Works blog – take a look now, it’s fascinating. We took the opportunity to try out the new Little Red Roaster on St Andrew’s Hill and, as expected, the coffee and flapjack were delicious.

That Saturday (13 July) we drove out to Foxley Wood for a fun and fascinating morning studying ‘Mighty Mini- Beasts’ with Norfolk Wildlife Trust. It’s a beautiful setting and only lacks one essential – a decent place to stop for coffee (do tell me if you know of one nearby). However, that gave us a good excuse to stop in at the wonderful Dozen Artisan Bakery on the way for fresh croissants to enjoy mid-morning – and excellent sourdough bread for sandwiches when we got home mid-afternoon.

Dozen Bakery

Dozen Bakery

There you have it – a roundup of just some of the places we’ve visited recently and some of the excellent local food and drink we’ve enjoyed. Part 2 of this blog will look at some Norfolk visitor attractions which, while not being food focused, did not entirely disappoint on the refreshments front. Hope you enjoy both parts – do feel free to leave a comment below, it would be great to hear from you.

We’re blogging for charity

We are using our blogs to raise awareness of an excellent local charity called Nelson’s Journey. If you enjoyed this post, please help a grieving child by donating £1 (or more if you can spare it) to Nelson’s Journey today. Thank you.

JustGiving - Please sponsor us

About this post

This is one in a series of #NFDF2014 tagged posts about the Norfolk Food and Drink Festival 2014 and related stories – I hope you enjoy them (if you do, please give them a star or five).

If you have any questions or comments, or ideas for future posts, please post them under this blog or tweet them to me. I will do my best to reply.

Thank you for reading – best wishes – Huw.

@HuwSayer / @Business_Write

#NFDF2014 trip to Crisp Malting: talking about Norfolk barley, best malt, fine whisky and craft beer.

NFDF coloured logosDriving out from Norwich on a beautiful July day, I turned off the A1067 just before Pensthorpe Park and found myself looking down on a quintessentially English scene. Rolling away below me were the woods, fields and hedgerows surrounding the pretty village of Great Ryburgh, which lies by the upper reaches of River Wensum (and just over four miles from its source between Colkirk and Whissonsett). This landscape hasn’t changed much in hundreds of years (although the mill has gone) – and the crop is essentially the same: mainly wheat and barley.

Barley – specifically malting barley – was the reason I’d made the journey; however I wasn’t there to find out how malt is made. Instead, I wanted to find out what role Crisp Malting Group Ltd plays in the food and drink sector, which is such an important part of our economy. As well as being the UK’s largest manufacturing sector (accounting for some 7% of the UK economy, including £18.9bn in exports), food and drink makes up some 15% of Norfolk and Suffolk’s economy and employs 13% of the workforce, many of them in highly skilled jobs demanding good STEM qualifications.

Crisp Malting Distribution Map

From Great Ryburgh to the world of fine whisky and craft beer – with love.

Norfolk firm supplying customers around the world

If you are a malt whisky or craft beer connoisseur you might have heard of Crisp Malting, the largest independently owned maltster in the country. It makes high quality malt and supplies whole grain and crushed cereals for the food and drink industry. Customers range from the finest distillers and largest brewers in the world to numerous craft breweries across the UK, including around 30 in Norfolk (such as Woodfordes, Panther, Fat Cat, Humpty Dumpty Norfolk Brewhouse, and Redwell Brewery).

The firm has five production sites: two in Scotland and three in East Anglia, including its largest in Great Ryburgh (which is also home to its head office and main research laboratory). “East Anglia is arguably the best farming region in the world for malting barley,” says Crisp’s Managing Director Euan Macpherson. “Light soils, low rainfall, and plenty of sunshine provide ideal growing conditions, while the fog that rolls in off the North Sea subtly enhances the quality of the grain.”

Working with growers, merchants and buyers

The interesting aspect of Crisp’s business from an industry supply chain point of view is the way it works with suppliers and buyers. This includes advising farmers on the different varieties of barley to grow based on the needs of its specialist customers, as well as the costs involved and any quality issues. “A few years ago we set up the ABC Growers Group with two local grain merchants – Adams & Howling and H Banhams (which owns 50% of the famous Maris Otter brand),” explains Bob King, Crisp’s Commercial Director. “ABC works with over 220 growers in Norfolk and Suffolk to develop long term supplies of specific malting barley strains. We now have rolling three-year contracts for around 100,000 tonnes – and some have been in place for the best part of 15 years.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/markescapes/

Iconic Norfolk lighthouse – and almost as iconic Norfolk barley – photo by Mark Spurgeon

“This approach is good for growers because it gives them greater certainty about the demand for their crop, as well as potential yields and returns on investment. The grain merchants, who are experts in constructing and pricing such contracts, benefit because it keeps them involved in the process and helps them develop their specialist market knowledge. Meanwhile we ensure we can source a high quality crop that meets our customers’ changing needs for different styles of malt.”

For example, Crisp produces a unique variety of malt called Clear Choice. “This comes from a low yield variety of barley,” explains Steve Le Poidevin, Sales Director, “which no one would have grown without a secure contract. However, we know it is ideal for producing malt that makes a great tasting, haze free beer, with a long shelf life. Because our customers appreciate these real benefits, we have the confidence to place long term orders with our growers.”

Crisp runs tours of its malting facilities and its customers’ breweries to give the ABC farmers a better understanding of the maltster’s and brewer’s needs. “Traditionally this never happened,” says Steve, “but about two-thirds of the ABC farmers have now visited one of our sites. This gives our technical director David Griggs an opportunity to discuss the various malting methods, including traditional ‘floor malting’, and how particular types of barley and malt suit specific styles of beer or whisky.”

#Agritech – Research and development

As well as a team of highly skilled crop and food scientists, Crisp has extensive technical capabilities in its Great Ryburgh laboratory. These include a micro-malting facility for testing small batches of new grain varieties and the ability to analyse up to 30 product attributes. It also works with various industry specialists to improve existing varieties of barley and to develop new ones.

Partners in this process include growers and The Morley Agricultural Foundation, which specialises in conducting field trials of arable crops for seed specialists, including researchers at the John Innes Institute (JIC). “Both Crisp and JIC have recently worked together on a conservation variety of barley called Chevalier, which was the first identified malting barley,” says Euan. “JIC is interested in it because it has certain characteristics that could be useful in breeding modern varieties; while we are interested because we have identified a market for small quantities of ‘heritage’ malts.”

This attention to detail and specialist knowledge helps explain why Crisp is the leading supplier of malt to the craft beer sector in the UK. The firm also supplies malt to about 70% of the micro-breweries in Japan (where there has been a surge of interest in craft beers). In addition, Crisp provides its customers with complete product traceability, which is particularly important for brewers and distillers who value provenance as well as quality.

Thank you Euan, Bob and Steve for your time and for a fascinating conversation.

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Interesting link with Heygate Farms

In an earlier blog I talked about Heygate Farms’ Grow & Cook Awards. Heygate Farms are probably best known for growing the Norfolk Peer and Norfolk Keeper brands of potato. However, the group is also a major supplier of spring barley and rye to Crisp, who malt both. Some of the malted rye is sent on to Crisp’s sister company EDME in Essex, who process it before sending some of it back to Heygates for use in its flour.

We’re blogging for charity

We are using our blogs to raise awareness of an excellent local charity called Nelson’s Journey. If you enjoyed this post, please help a grieving child by donating £1 (or more if you can spare it) to Nelson’s Journey today. Thank you.

JustGiving - Please sponsor us

 About this post

This is one in a series of #NFDF2014 tagged posts about the Norfolk Food and Drink Festival 2014 and related stories – I hope you enjoy them (if you do, please give them a star or two).

If you have any questions or comments, or ideas for future posts, please post them under this blog or tweet them to me. I will do my best to reply.

Thank you for reading,

Huw.

@HuwSayer / @Business_Write