Malt Coast, Norfolk
Posted on January 01 2020
Bruin and Max are two brothers on a mission to brew the freshest beers from the award-winning Maris Otter barley grown on their family farm on the North Norfolk coast.
Malt Coast is a young brewery with a different story to tell. It’s not all about hops and hoppiness … it’s about family, a heritage barley and provenance.
“In a way,” explains Bruin Maufe, one of the founders of the business, “it’s very like the story of a vineyard – it’s about that wine word ‘terroir’”. That’s soil and climate to most of us and they have a heritage barley that loves it.
Let’s start at the beginning – at Branthill Farm, situated on the windswept coast of north Norfolk, close to Wells-next-to-the-Sea. It’s a family farm, part of the Holkham Hall estate, founded by David Maufe, grandfather to our brewery owners, Bruin and Max. David took it over in 1938, just at the tail end of the recession. The farm was empty – the previous tenants had gone bankrupt. He took up the tenancy, planting it with barley, wheat, oats and sugar beet – perfect timing as war broke out a year later and food production was a priority.
His son (Bruin and Max’s dad) Teddy Maufe, took over in 1974, increasing the farm’s plantings of Maris Otter. It’s the Queen of barley when it comes to brewing, and one that brewers will pay a premium for. Not everyone can grow it – you need the right soil and climatic conditions.
Branthill Farm, with its 1200 acres, is the perfect spot – just 1.5 miles from the sea, it’s windy with morning sea mists, which slow down the ripening, while the soil is light sand over chalk. The quality of the Branthill Maris Otter is so high, in fact, it’s won over the years two Silvers and a Trophy at national competition. It’s snapped up mostly by Norfolk’s many local traditional brewers, with 20% going to other UK brewers outside the county, and a little going as far as California and Florida. The spring crop is malted and distilled into whisky; the autumn crop is for beer. Of the 400 tonnes they grow each year, the farm holds back around 10% for their Malt Coast beers.
When you arrive at Branthill Farm, like we did one wet and windy Tuesday, the vibe is firmly family. Second generation, Teddy, runs the farm, although his plan is to retire soon. His wife, Sally, helps with the admin and accounts. The sons Bruin and Max, along with wives Atessa and Andrea, are the brains and inspiration for the brewery (sister, Amber, resisted the call of the farm and is a successful jewellery designer).
So how come brewing, not farming?
Well, Teddy is the wise father who said to them, “go off and have careers, learn new things and bring the world back to the farm”.
The boys took this on board, went to university, then took up careers in the big smoke, Bruin with an advertising agency and Max in financial recruitment. Both knew, however, that they wanted to find a way back to the farm. A way that included the farm, but was also their own project.
In retrospect, the path was obvious – a family farm growing top-quality barley for the UK’s (mostly local) brewers, the brothers’ love of the stuff and the heady era of craft brewing. In 2005, Teddy had opened a Real Ale shop at the farm, stocking all the beers brewed from the farm’s barley, and this no doubt helped to plant the germ of the idea.
The down side for setting up Malt Coast?
The craft beer scene was getting crowded, possibly overcrowded, and the boys had zero experience of brewing. Undeterred, the brothers were certain they could make beers that would stand out … that they had a different story to tell. Provenance and traceability, sourcing locally, were becoming increasingly important and their beers would tick all those boxes. Success has proved them correct.
Late summer 2017, Bruin, Atessa and Max went on an intensive brewing course, real hands-on stuff, in Manchester, one of the UK’s craft brewing hubs.
From there, they fitted out one of the old outhouses at the farm and bought a bit of kit. They kept their London jobs to help cashflow, doing all this in their spare time. They signed up a gypsy brewer from the States to get them started, then later Alex Hudson, a class brewer now crafting beer down in Cornwall.
Their mission from the start was a clear one – to brew a beer that would celebrate their prized barley. One that was malt-led, not overly hoppy. There was no point trying to compete in that field – that scene was definitely crowded, plus they had prized Maris Otter to champion. What’s more, they wanted to make beers that you could enjoy with food.
A food beer for the Michelin stars
By focusing on subtle malt flavours they produced a great ‘food beer’ … one that works really well, but not exclusively, with food. They are stocked by around 20 top restaurants, many Michelin-star, as well as a top hotel in Spain. Indeed, theirs is the only craft beer stocked by London’s Nobu resaurants. As Bruin and Max declared, “we knew we were onto something when restaurants like Nobu wanted to stock us.”
Malt Coast is right on trend with its local story too – the traceability from field to glass. There’s no middleman, of course, for the barley they use – it’s direct from their own farm and the only time it leaves is for malting at Great Ryburgh, 10 miles away or as the finished article, beer. All the processes are done on site. The packaging is local as well – an artist at Haggeston who, being local, knew how to capture the sea, the wind, the beaches and the open space depicted on the labels – the brewery’s distinct identity.
Keeping it local – on the farm
At the farm you’ll find the small brewery – the hot liquor tank, the mash tun and fermenting tanks. Next door, up a few steps, is the office, housed in the old carpentry. The other side is the crusher – milling the malted barley when it returns from Great Ryburgh. Wiggle through some doors and round the back and you come to the silos for drying the barley – 19 in total of various sizes. No wonder it’s one of the longest farm buildings in the UK. Go into the fields surrounding the farm and you’ll find the 1200 acres of land nurturing the prized Maris Otter. Ask Teddy and he’ll tell you a few other crops they grow, including the rye and maize used by the national grid to heat Wells-next-to-the Sea.
What will the future hold?
The brewery is barely 18 months old and, so far, only has Bruin there full-time. For now, Max continues part-time in London in the headhunting world, and wife Andrea at Match, while both families have a baby under six months to add to the equation. The plan is gradually to grow to a size that needs them all full time. Not big volume, but large enough to accommodate them all, as well as run the farm. As Bruin is quick to point out, both the farming and the brewing is a family affair – decision-making is over the kitchen table.
They're going to develop a picnic area outside the brewery buildings and a tap room beside that. It’ll no doubt be humming during the touristy summer months. Collaborations could be on the scene, but that’s further down the line, as are projects like barrel-aged beers, sours and other experimentation. What they are clear about is the drive to produce beers that keep Maris Otter at their centre.
Oh yes, and for fun, they’re dabbling with a few rows of Chardonnay on the estate, just to test out their theory of ‘terroir’!
Malt Coast Beers
Enjoy with us their delicious selection of beers. There are three in the core range, all in bottle – Pale Ale, Amber Ale and IPA, plus a Saison and a rare Black IPA. All are totally unfiltered and unpasteurised, so will pour a little hazy – a quality, we feel at Brew Republic, is one to embrace.
Bruin and Max told us more about the brewery, their beers and themselves on our recent visit. Watch the full interview here: