It only takes a handful...

some of our malts for 7 HeavenWe love hops. A lot. But they are not the only story. So when the chance came for a special collaborative brew, heading into the winter months, me and my partners in crime decided to throw the spotlight on malt. This is the story of our quest…   


Sara Barton founded Brewsters Brewery back in 1998. With a masters in brewing from beer education central, Heriot Watt University, after a number of years with Courage – then the largest brewery in Europe – she wanted to do her own thing. Since the turn of the century, her charismatic range of beers with their tell-tale art nouveau draped pump clips, have appeared on bars up and down the country.

Beer has always been a part of Jane Peyton’s life, and now she is a beer sommelier as well as the founder of the School of Booze – yep, I know, school wasn’t like that when I attended – it’s practically taken over.

Wetherspoons Beer FestivalSo the chance to brew with this award-winning duo – Sara was the first women to win Brewer of the Year in 2012, and Jane is Britain’s Beer Sommelier of the Year – was both an honour and an incredibly exciting prospect.

Jane and I prepared ourselves for brewday by staying overnight in Brewsters’ home town of Grantham. As well as being the birthplace of a certain Mrs T, Grantham also boasts Sir Isaac Newton as one of its own. As a former physicist myself, the sight of Newton through the glass panes of Wetherspoons – we were trying out some of its festival ales while we mulled over what we hoped to achieve – brought a smile to my face.

‘We want to show up the beauty and deliciousness of all sorts of malt,’ said Jane, with typical clarity. ‘Let’s celebrate that Britain grows some of the best cereals for beer.’ I'll drink to that.

Andrea tipping in the maltOpening times

As we arrived the next morning, Sara and her husband Sean were raising the metal shutters, as if waking the brewery from its slumbers. With Andrea Reed (pictured) founder of soon-to-be launched Charnwood Brewery, also on board, within minutes sack after sack of malt were being poured into the hopper, and we were measuring out the speciality malts.

Sara had translated our desire for something dark and dreamy into solid numbers. We wanted texture and mouthfeel as well as flavour. With lager malt as our base, and crystal and dark crystal malt for added depth, Sara chose a quartet of other cereals to give us our complexity. To help us on our way, Crisp Malting Group kindly donated the malts, thanks to our mutual friend, Frances Brace.

Rye adds a nutty caramel flavour, Sara tells me, but you don’t want too much, and it’s renowned as a tricky cereal to brew with. Oats and wheat soften the brew, giving it a touch more smoothness, and help the beer to retain its head of fine bubbles when it finally reaches the glass.

Sara and Susanna weigh out the carafaAnd our magic ingredient, Carafa malt, adds darkness. With most roasted malts, along with the extra colour, there’s that roasty toastiness of dark, bitter chocolate and coffee. But some can feel more like burnt coffee notes, which we didn’t want. Because Carafa has had the husk removed, it doesn’t add that tart, acridness of over-roasted coffee. And it’s amazing how little you need. Less than a third of a percent of the malt bill would give us a beer of medium colour, so the digital scales are getting good usage today.

Within an hour, all this was in our mash tun, warming away, extracting the sugars from the malts ready for the fermenting part of the process. Once our liquor had made its way over into the copper, time to clear the mash tun. So shovel in hand, it’s time to rake out all the spent malt into vast bags, ready for the farmer to collect.

Jane gets to grips with the hopsIn brewing, cleanliness is absolutely vital. Whenever I looked up from whatever I was doing, there was Andrea, directing the pressure hose at some small speck of malt that had got left behind. Not happy until the place was spotless, I can see why she said she’s on her feet from the minute she arrives until the lights are turned off at the end of the shift.

A balanced recipe

Meanwhile, Jane measured out our hops, and we got to work waking up the hop flowers. This is a heady experience. They are dried for transportation, so it's a question of breaking up big clumps of seriously aromatic flowers, full of aromatic hop oils. You're hands end up yellow, but no-one minds. Sara had chosen goodly quota of English hops – English First Gold and Fuggles – plus a sprinkle of zesty Citra from the Pacific US coast, and we added the majority late in in the boiling process, to ensure we retained good aromas alongside our balanced bitterness.

With our brew safely boiling, Sara gave us a taste of some of her own brews that were mid-fermentation, and Andrea gave us a sneak peak of some of her first beers. While her own brewkit gets put in, Sara is helping Andrea out with her initial beers.

the 7 Heaven crewPost boil, it’s into the fermenting vessels for the start of the seven-day transformation. Sara has decided we’ll be using the Brewsters' yeast, since this is relatively neutral, and will give the malts the best chance to shine through, rather than a strain that encourages fruity flavours in the final product.

Once Jane has pitched the yeast in, all she and I can do is wait. Sara has been keeping a careful eye on the evolving beer, sampling each day to check on how things are developing. The good news is she is very pleased. ‘It’s rich and dark,’ she tells us, when we pester once more for news of our baby. ‘There’s a complex flavour with initial roast notes and light crispness from the rye plus a final smoothness from the wheat and oats. I’d say it’s a real showcase of the best of British malts.’

That to me sounds like heaven. Seven Heaven in fact.


7 Heaven You're invited

If you’d like to join Jane, Sara and I when we get to sample 7 Heaven, please do.

We are launching that the enterprising guys at Craft Beer Co are hosting our London launch, from 7pm on December 2nd 2014 at the fabulous Craft Beer Co pub in Clerkenwell, at 82 Leather Lane, EC1N 7TR.

Farringdon is the nearest station, and it's pretty much equidistant between Chancery Lane and the Barbican tubes.


So what is malt?

Malting barley is grown on every continent – except Antarctica, Dr David Griggs of Crisp Malting Group, tells us. He has also handily provided us with a nifty digest of other key facts. We’re putting him forward as a QI wrangler next year…

Crisp Floor MaltingsStep by step: There are three main stages to malting: steeping, germinating and kilning. During malting, the starch in the grains converts to sugars. Those sugars are fermented by yeast during the brewing process and convert to alcohol and carbon dioxide.

Historic roots: Archaeological evidence proves that germinated grain has been used in alcoholic drinks for over 7,000 years.

Healthy stuff: The malting process increases the nutritional value of grains, including levels of antioxidants. Malted barley is a rich source of vitamins, minerals and other health beneficial compounds such as silicon.

the magic of maltBritain's finest: The UK is the 3rd largest producer of malt in the world – and exports malt all over the globe. It produces around 1.8 million tonnes of malt per annum

Global picture: World malting capacity is 23 million tonnes; enough to brew nearly 270 billion pints every year

Granular details: There are around 25,000 grains in every 1 kg of malt It takes almost 2000 grains of malted barley to make one pint of beer

And finally… If all the grains in 1 tonne of malt were laid end to end it would stretch from London all the way down the M4 to Cardiff (approx. 150 miles)


Want to know more?

As well as founding the School of Booze, Jane Peyton is the author of several witty, handy books including Beer o' Clock and School of Booze. Signed copies available here

Don't miss Jane's recent piece on malt on Roger Protz's website.

And we've just got time to vote for Jane as Taylor Walker's first ever Ale Taster. Check out her audition at