A chance meeting with James Fawcett in the summer resulted in a recent visit for myself to Fawcett’s Maltsters at Castleford, West Yorkshire. The Maltings are not normally open to the public to visit and it was a great privilege to be given a tour by Brian Hickman.
The firm produces a high quality, extensive and unique range of Pale Ale, Crystal and Roasted Malts using generations of skill and expertise whilst embracing technology to provide one of the key ingredients for the real ales that we love.
The Fawcett family has been making malt in Castleford for over two hundred years. Beginning in the late 1780's, the company was properly established in 1809 and became a Limited Company in 1919. It continues to operate on the original site by one of the oldest family controlled and run businesses in the UK and today the seventh generation of Fawcetts are actively involved in directing the business.
The company always uses the finest raw materials that each new growing season provides. All barleys are bought on sample which means the Company is not exposed to blending variations associated with barley "bulking" operations. The best barleys ensure the supply of quality malt, season after season.
Malting grains develop the enzymes required to modify the grain's starches into sugars and developing other enzymes that break down the proteins in the grain. Starch is then converted to sugar and fermented into alcohol by yeast in the brewing process.
Three methods of malting are used depending on the quantity required and the types of malt used for best results.
Fawcett's remain as one of the few Maltsters,still operating a traditional Floor malting. Barley or other cereal grains are dried to a low moisture content and then stored. The grain is immersed or steeped in water two or three times over two or three days to allow it to absorb moisture and to start to germinate. When the grain has a moisture content of around 44%, it is then transferred to the malting or germination floor, where it is regularly turned over for around seven days . The malt is then kiln-dried to the desired colour and specification.
The second method of malting used is by means of the Saladin Box which can deal with much larger batches in less time than the labour intensive floor method. Invented by Charles Saladin, it consists of a large rectangular container and a set of vertical screws attached to a crossbar, that move through the bed of barley, raising the barley from the bottom to the top, about two or three times a day. Combined with mechanical air flow through the barley for cooling, this allows for deeper beds of barley to be processed.
The third malting method is the modern, automated germinating kilning vessel (GKV) where a tower system is used. Gravity is used very effectively in this design, as water and grain are transported to the top of the tower, where steeping takes place. The germinating grain moves through each stage by dropping to the next level in the tower, finishing at the bottom of the tower as kilned malt.
Several types of malts are produced. Pale ale malts are produced from the best winter barley varieties available - Maris Otter, Pearl, Flagon and Halcyon are the main varieties used today. Spring varieties such as Optic, Tipple, Propino, and Golden Promise are also used for specific contracts. Also produced is an extensive range of coloured malt products from the palest caramalts through the crystal colour range to the darkest chocolate and black malts. As with white malt, consistency is vitally important. The roasting machines roast between 0.5 tonne and one tonne of product at a time. Other specialized products are small quantities of oat malt, wheat malt and Rye malt .Wheat malt can also be manufactured for the making Belgian-style White and Wit beers.
A full time laboratory responsible for checking and analysing every barley and every malt product and an analysis is provided with each delivery so that customers know exactly what to expect from the malt.
The company is proud to be associated with a broad and diverse range of customers which include national, regional, family and microbreweries, and in recent years the Company has entered the export market supplying to breweries in Western Europe, Scandanavia, the USA, Africa, Asia and Australasia.
Fawcett's supplies malts into beer products that have enjoyed spectacular success in recent years. The company is the supplier to a large number of micro breweries that have won prizes consistently in local and national brewing competitions in the UK, the most recent successes being Elland 1872 Porter (CAMRA Champion Beer of Great Britain) and Great Newsome Frothingham Best (Worlds Beer Awards -Best Bitter up to 5% ABV).
Long may they continue.