Adam Henson: raise a glass to British barley
PUBLISHED: 15:17 13 September 2012 | UPDATED: 21:51 20 February 2013
Adam Henson's family farm has been growing malting barley for years. He recently tried out a new variety for the BBC Countryfile programme with delicious results
Adam Hensons family farm has been growing malting barley for years. He recently tried out a new variety for the BBC Countryfile programme with delicious results ...
After a long, hard day at work on the farm what could be more welcoming than a tankard of ale? Im as partial to a pint as the next man but I never thought that one day Id be in the beer business myself.
On our family farm in the Cotswolds weve grown malting barley for many years which has been used for making lager. Then recently we were asked to grow Maris Otter which is a variety perfectly suited to producing real ale.
Im always interested in a challenge and with the prospect of filming the process for Countryfile, we decided to give it a go. After harvesting, it went to a traditional West Country malt house where they still turn the barley by hand before it was made in to beer at one of Britains last surviving Victorian breweries. I was really impressed and I started thinking about how we could take the idea further.
The resurgence of microbreweries in the last few years and the success of some top notch regional beer producers inspired me to take the leap. Thanks to a lot of hard work and advice from the team at Butcombe Brewery in Somerset, my Cotswold-grown barley is now combined with Mendip spring water and Herefordshire hops to create a fresh tasting, golden coloured ale called Adam Hensons Rare Breed. Now when I see it on sale in pubs and supermarkets, I can hardly believe it.
Farmers can have a tendency to send their crops off without giving them a second thought once the lorry has left the yard and thats particularly true of grain. Its treated as a commodity and sold through merchants, so theres not a lot of romance or personal connection with the end result.
But my venture into beer production really brings home the link between the farmer and the produce we buy every day in the shops or over the internet. Its also a very tangible example of localness, provenance and traceability; all important issues for the consumer and one of the reasons why farmers markets and farm shops have become so popular in the last decade.
However, youd be wrong to run away with the idea that turning a field of rippling barley in to a pint of tasty ale is easy. The unseasonably cold and wet weather we had earlier this year has meant that our yield is down by about 30% and that means less profit.
Its a similar story with other growers and some unlucky farmers with a poor quality crop have seen their barley used for animal feed instead of malting.
But with growing demand for real ale malt at home and for malting barley exported abroad, one weak harvest wont spoil the party.