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27th June 2014


Fast growing Lancashire brewer Moorhouse’s is toasting the early success of an ambitious project to see English ‘brewers’ barley once again harvested in a corner of the North West.

The ‘North West’s newest regional brewery’ brewer aims to help revive the cultivation of traditional Maris Otter barley in the region, while securing crucial future sustainable supplies for its state-of-the-art £4.5m new brewery.

Reporting a record turnover of £5m last year, new national accounts wins and a sales spike of eight per cent in the first six months of the trading year October 2013-14 – with almost 2.6m pints sold – Moorhouse’s also hailed the barley initiative as central to its strategy of ‘growth through quality and provenance’.

Maris Otter barley variety was developed specifically as malting barley for British cask-conditioned ale in the 1950s and became a mainstay of the industry.* However for several years many arable farmers shunned the variety, following bad harvests and difficulties with the seed, in favour of more easily cultivated and higher yield crops.

But the Moorhouse’s project has convinced a clutch of West Lancashire farmers to revive cultivation. They are now preparing to harvest the first crop, which the Burnley brewer will take as part of some 500 tonnes of malted barley a year required to brew the acclaimed ‘Pendle Witches’ ales.

Commenting on the project, MD David Grant said: “It’s still a very tough market as pubs continue to close and the number of micro-brewers grows unabated. Some regional brewers have contracted, but we continue to see sales rise as we win new business nationally. We have confidence in our strategy to push forward by ’growth through quality and provenance’– not price discounting. Our barley initiative is at the heart of that.

“We aim to build a ‘terroir’ similar to that for French wines. We want publicans to know they can have cask ales with real provenance from Burnley – ales brewed in Lancashire from the best Lancashire malt.
“Working through our malt supplier, Muntons, and the seed merchant we have successfully persuaded farmers to grow Maris Otter barley again. It is more expensive than other varieties but this is the very best malt for British cask ale. By ensuring a market we are helping it to survive, for our own sustainable future and for the benefit of the industry.

Several arable farmers are supporting the move. They include Ian Bennett of the 700 acre Home Farm, Rainhill, and Tom and Olly Harrison who farm 1000 acres at Water Lane Farm, Prescott.**See footnotes.
Muntons is a major national supplier of malted barley to the brewing industry and has supplied Moorhouse’s for several years.
Muntons’ general manager Guy Newsam said: “The Moorhouse’s team has taken a leading role in persuading northern farmers to grow more Maris Otter malting barley.
“This has been achieved through the brewery hosting structured visits, supported by Isaac Poad the Grain Merchant and ourselves as maltsters, aimed at building a sustainable Maris Otter supply chain with local provenance. This has stimulated interest from the farmers with a number committing to grow Maris Otter for the brewery on potentially a long term basis.”
Ends/ MHPR – Maris Otter initiative
Notes to editors:
Photograph: Moorhouse’s MD David Grant hails the first crop of barley with his management team at Elton Head Hall Farm, Rainhill.
Comments from farmers involved in the project:
Olly Harrison of Water Lane Farm, Prescott, said: “Our ergonomist talked to Muntons about it and we all thought it was a good idea to try it this year. We have got to make sure it is low in nitrogen and of the right quality and it has got to be treated carefully – like a baby. We will probably grow more next year. It is good to be growing a crop where we know where we are selling and how it is going to be used.”

Ian Bennett, with 50 acres dedicated to Maris Otter at Home Farm Rainhill, said:”We grew Maris Otter 30 years ago, but it is a higher risk crop and there were problems. These days’ fungicides are much better and we hope to keep growing it as long as it meets the brewers’ specifications and is profitable. We are growing Maris Otter very much because Moorhouse’s brewers want this variety for its quality. It was very interesting to visit the brewery and learn what Maris Otter brought to their brewing.
Both farm a mix of barley, wheat and oil seed rape
*Maris Otter
The variety was bred in the 1950s by crossing the then established malting barley variety Proctor with Pioneer. It was bred to brew traditional cask conditioned ales and when introduced in 1966 quickly became a dominant variety due to its low nitrogen content and superior malting characteristics. After many years of being the most widely grown malting barley, crosspollination and use of uncertified seed led to the decline of the variety.
In more recent times the variety has been revived to satisfy the demand of the real ale market. Commercially viable once again, Maris Otter now commands a premium price over modern varieties such as ‘Optic’ or ‘Pearl’.
Today, all Maris Otter crops are grown under contract from new seed to exacting standards. The supply chain is managed to ensure that auditing is continuous from delivery of seed to the farm, to delivery of malt to the brewery.
Brewers favour Maris Otter malt because it is easy to handle and very “forgiving” in the brew house and, crucially, adds the unique Maris Otter flavour to the beer. With the established support of CAMRA and recognition of its true worth by the major brewers, Maris Otter is widely acknowledged right across the brewing world as The Finest Brewing Malt in the World.

Moorhouse’s background and brands:

Moorhouse’s is the North West’s leading dedicated cask-conditioned ale brewer. The ale brands pay tribute to the legend of the infamous witches of the early 17th century that inhabited the brooding Pendle Hill landmark near Burnley. Founder William Moorhouse established his drinks manufacturing business in Accrington Road, Burnley, and Lancashire in 1865. It produced mineral waters and then low strength hop bitters for Temperance Movement bars.

Full strength cask-conditioned ale brewing began in the 1970s. In 1985 Manchester businessman Bill Parkinson bought the brewery ‘because he liked the beer’ when the brewery produced only ten barrels a week and faced closure. Since then the internationally acclaimed ‘Pendle Witches brewer’ has won more awards than any comparable brewer – Black Cat (3.4%abv) was crowned Supreme Champion Beer of Britain at the Great British Beer Festival 2000 and in early 2011 was proclaimed the best moderate strength ale by the Brewing Industry International Awards (BIIA) – the ‘Oscar’s’ of the brewing world.

Pride of Pendle (4.1%abv) was hailed as ‘best cask ale in the world’ when voted BIIA Champion Cask Ale in 2004 and Premier Bitter (3.7%abv) took gold in its class the same year. Pendle Witches Brew (5.1%) has also won several top brewing awards while Blond Witch (4.5%), the newest and fastest
growing brand, has enjoyed wide acclaim from consumer and industry competitions.

In 2011 a £4.5m ‘tower’ brewery was launched to replace the cramped Victorian premises. With a 100 brewer’s barrels brew length it trebled production capacity to 1,000 barrels a week to make Moorhouse’s ‘the North West’s newest regional brewery’ with a current annual turnover of more than £5m.

Moorhouse’s now directly supplies several hundred free trade pubs throughout the North of England, while its famous Pendle Witch beers reach outlets nationwide via contracts with major pub companies and leading drinks wholesalers.
For further information contact: Steve Hobman, Rhino Public Relations: 07751 578605.