Behind the scenes at Tuickers Maltings in Newton Abbot
PUBLISHED: 16:32 07 March 2016 | UPDATED: 16:32 07 March 2016
Old fashioned methods make a quality product, as Ian Parsons discovers at Newton Abbot's Tuckers Maltings
Sometimes the old ways are the best. Tuckers Maltings in Newton Abbot was built in 1900 to supply the brewing industry with top quality malt barley. Today, 116 years later, it is still doing so using traditional methods
Tuckers Maltings is unique in the South West of England. It is what’s known as a ‘floor maltings’ and is one of just four such businesses in the whole of Great Britain.
They take south west grown barley, process it, and then supply this to south west brewers who, in turn, make a vast range of ales and beer. Each year the maltings supply 1,500 tonnes of barley malt to the beer makers in our region; enough to make approximately 15 million pints of beer!
Richard Wheeler started work as manager at Tuckers Maltings in 1959, taking over after the death of his father, who had himself ran the Maltings from 1931. Although Richard officially retired eight years ago he is still involved and is currently the chairman of the Edwin Tucker group which runs the Maltings andTuckers country stores in Crediton and Ashburton.
It is immediately obvious when speaking to Richard that the Maltings have been, and continue to be, an integral part of his life.
“We produce a specialist product, floor maltings. It is a product that is regarded as being at the quality end of the market,” is how Richard succinctly describes the business.
To make beer, the starch in the barley seeds has to be converted into sugars and it is this process that is called malting. The barley is steeped in a large tank of water for between 48 and 60 hours, until it has absorbed the right amount of moisture, it is then removed from the tanks and spread out on to the wooden malting floor in a layer of about 8cms depth. It is this process that gives the process its name of floor malting. Spread out on the floor, the seeds start to germinate, sending out their little roots; it is this germination that converts those starches into the sugars needed by the brewers.
The barley is left on the floor for four or five days, during which it is raked by hand three or four times every day to ensure it germinates evenly. This is the traditional way of malting barley. Once, every maltings in the country would have done it like this, but now only the four remain. The others have gone down the road of computer technology and industrial stainless steel.
As Richard says: “The floor malting process is an old fashioned tradition, but it works, so we never changed it.” He likens the traditional and the modern techniques to roast dinners.
“If you imagine that spreading it out on the floor is your home cooked Sunday roast, whilst the modern method is a roast dinner served in a pub. Both produce a good product, but there is always something extra in the home cooked one.”
It is an artisan process that creates an artisan product. Once the flooring process is finished, the barley is placed into large kilns, where it is slowly baked over 42 hours to toast it and to stop the germination process, ensuring that the sugars remain viable for brewing.
Once out of the kilns the malting is complete and what was just plain barley on arrival at Tuckers is now malt barley.
The malt barley that Tuckers produces is certainly in demand. They supply 40 breweries in the south west, from small specialist micro breweries to larger concerns. Many of these are Devon brewers including Otter and Dartmoor.
Teignworthy brewery, which is right next to thr maltings, uses the malt barley in its beers and is commissioned to brew Edwin Tucker Traditional Ales for the Tuckers Maltings shop.
For Richard, this local usage of their malt barley is important: “I like the whole principle of sourcing local barley and employing local people to make it into malt, which is then sold to local breweries to make it into beer, for sale in local pubs. Every stage creates jobs and every stage generates money that is kept within the local economy. It really gives me great satisfaction to be part of it.”
A celebration of ale
Every April Tuckers Maltings plays host to the Society of Independent Brewers South West Beer Festival. This year will be the 24th year that the beer festival has been run in Newton Abbot and it has proved to be a very successful attraction indeed. This year’s festival, from 14 to 16 April will play host to 100 brewers supplying 280 beers for the public to sample and enjoy, the festival is very popular with up to 5,000 people visiting it over the three days. The festival visitors come from all over the country, bringing a large economic boost to the town as they spend their money not just at the beer festival, but also in the local pubs, hotels and restaurants.
Try a taste
Tuckers Maltings not only supplies the local brewing industry with malt, but it also provides an outlet for the finished product too. At the entrance is a shop that stocks up to 300 different bottled ales, many of them local and many of them difficult to find elsewhere. If you like a beer then this shop is paradise! Tuckers also runs an online mail order service ensuring that wherever you are you can also enjoy the result of their malting process. See their website tuckersmaltings.com