Inside a Megamaltings

The tower Maltings at Shobnall
Last Monday I had the chance to visit a UK maltings as part of the British Guild of Beer Writers Ingredients Seminar. You can read my thoughts of the day here. I thought I'd look at the production of malt in a little more detail.

Molson Coors is a global megabrewer. In the UK they produce carling, grolsch and william worthingtons' among other brands at three different facilities (Burton, Tadcaster and Alton, Hampshire). This massive amount of beer requires a massive amount of malt and its all produced in Burton on Trent. 

At this facility its just barley that is malted, but in fact it is possible to malt any number of different grains including wheat, oats and rye. The malting process aims to turn the complex starch molecules into smaller chain sugars that the yeast can then turn into those all important ingredients - alcohol and carbon dioxide.
Originally there were three maltings in Burton, though one had been mothballed due to declining volumes and is currently being developed as part of an £85 million redevelopment of the Burton Brewery site. This leaves two remaining maltins which together form the Shobnall Road site. There is an older tower maltings (visited by a #Twissup) dating back almost 30 years to when it was still decked out in Bass regalia and also what's known as the Redler plant, a younger, increased efficiency system. We got the opportuinty to have a look around the latter of these two.

Steeping vessels.
Working in the cement industry it was inevitable that I was going to find comparisons on an industrial site of this size to the areas I am familiar in, but I hadn't expected the plant to be manufactured by the same company! (Redler) Digging deeper there really are a lot of similarities with the grain being offloaded into storage silos prior to being transferred by conveyor, mixing with water, undergoing pretreatment and being kilned before storage into silos and distributed by road around the UK. In fact the only major difference is cement is produced by a continuous process and malt in batches.

Germinating Barley
The grain is first steeped to activate the enzymes then allowed to germinate in warmed vessels for a few days. It is then "deculmed"; which basically means the little rootlets and shoots which formed during germination are removed leaving just the malted grain. It is then kilned for a length of time dependent on the required colour (from pale lager malt through to darker ale malts on this plant) and then placed in silos. The Redler plant has four germination vessels and two kilns, allowing for 1600 tonnes to be in production at any given time with a turnaround time of about five days. 

Destined to become Carling?
In a year the plant makes an astounding million tonnes of malt a year (at 82% utilisation currently). The malt is used by Molson Coorrs throughout the UK but is also produced under contract for other brewers including Marstons and also Chivas whisky distillery! The site also has its own well for steeping the water, which cuts down on water pressure elsewhere and the output from the steeping process is essential for the local treatment works in providing the biological material needed by the waste water treatment bacteria. Indeed, without it the works would not be able to deal with other waste water streams.

We learnt a lot about malt at the ingredients symposium the following day, but rather than trying to summarise it here, I'll leave it to my readers to discover for themselves the joys of malt, either  in its production process or more likely, as part of a pint of beer.

I'd love to tour a traditional floor maltings and indeed those who had been were a little disappointed by the lack of tactile sensations at this massive site. However being a big science geek I enjoyed this just as much. Would love to try malting some barley myself one day.


  1. Sounds like an interesting day, would love to do it myself sometime.

  2. speak to @kristym809 on twitter, maybe she can help

  3. Cheers Steve, I managed to visit Fawcetts last week and see its operation in Cadtleford - you were right it was fascinating. The floor malting was amazing too.

  4. Now you've left me jealous as I've not been to a floor maltings! However rumour is there's one to be reopened in Northern Ireland plus I'll see some on Islay next month; so plenty of opportunity!