Dr GDH Bell bred Maris Otter in Cambridge in 1965 with the express purpose of producing a barley variety that would give consistently high quality malt for the cask conditioned ale market. It was bred by crossing the two varieties Proctor and Pioneer and it soon became the foundation of the finest English cask conditioned ales. After many years of being the most widely grown malting barley, cross pollination and use of uncertified seed bought about the decline of the variety.
Although no longer on the recommended list of approved malting barley varieties, there was still a demand for Maris Otter malt from the brewers of high quality ales such as Adnams and Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries. In 1991-2 a consortium was formed between H Banham Ltd in Norfolk and Robin Appel Ltd in Hampshire, which approached PBI, who owned Maris Otter, with the express purpose of rejuvenating the variety to satisfy the demand of the real ale market. H Banham and Robin Appel bought the sole right to market Maris Otter seed. Much work was done to clean up the variety to make it commercially viable once again, the consortium now being able to control the supply of seed and ensure it was only grown by the best growers on the most suitable soils. A unique three-way contract between farmer, merchant and maltster enables the farmer to be paid a substantial premium to give him a fair return for his effort and risk. It is for this reason that Maris Otter commands a premium over modern varieties such as Craft or SY Venture.
In 2002 Maris Otter was bought outright by H Banham Ltd and Robin Appel Ltd who have continued to improve the variety. NIAB, the countries premier independent botany company, has been employed to further eliminate contaminates and select only the best ears for propagation to ensure that Maris Otter preserves its original identity and will not compromise the traditional flavour of some of Britains finest beers.
Maltsters find that Maris Otter is easier to malt than some modern varieties. It matures quickly after harvest, there are no dormancy problems and the thin skins absorb water easily, giving no processing difficulties.
Brewers like Maris Otter malt because it is easy to handle and very ‘forgiving’ in the brew house and more importantly, is perceived to add the unique Maris Otter flavour to the beer which is much favoured over malt from modern varieties which are grown for yield and ease of production for the grower.
Today Maris Otter malt is available to all brewers large and small and formalised arrangements can command a “tailor made” supply of malt to enhance the image of the brewing customers, e.g. “Hampshire malt for Hampshire Beer”. From the outset Maris Otter demonstrated its ability to produce grain with low nitrogen levels as well as providing a uniquely reliable performance in both the maltings and the brew house. With the established support of CAMRA and recognition of its true worth by the major maltsters and brewers who even name it on their bottle labels, Maris Otter is today acknowledged right across the brewing world as the finest quality malt available and probably the only variety grown to achieve exactly what the brewer requires.
The Benefits of Growing Maris Otter
Winter barley obviously can’t compete on margin with the likes of winter wheat but if you’re after a crop that will benefit your rotation and help combat blackgrass winter barley is for you. “Winter barley has benefits in a combinable crop rotation, contributing significantly to the performance of the following oilseed rape crop.” (Tom Allen-Stevens, editor CPM).
Winter feed barley varieties yield far higher than standard malting varieties and there is a lot less risk of failure but the price is lower and the fertiliser and chemical costs are far higher but overall feed tends to have a healthier margin than regular malting varieties, this is where Maris Otter comes into its own because although the yields are still less than that of feed, the premium per tonne is considerably higher than regular malting barley. Fertiliser usage is also far lower when growing Maris Otter as lower grain nitrogen is required.
The demand for craft beer continues to grow around the world with Maris Otter malt playing a large part in the brewing of a whole range of wonderful beers and we supply Maris Otter to all maltsters in UK.
The success of Maris Otter is threefold.
- The only barley variety ever bred for its brewing capabilities
- Maris Otter is only grown in England – only the malt is exported
- The variety is over 50 years old, making it unique amongst malt varieties
If you are thinking about growing Maris Otter, please give your local representative a call to discuss.