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Talk of the county

PUBLISHED: 12:00 14 September 2015

David Holliday from Norfolk Brewhouse (left) and Mark Banham of H Banham celebrating the Maris Otter anniversary.

David Holliday from Norfolk Brewhouse (left) and Mark Banham of H Banham celebrating the Maris Otter anniversary.

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Our guest columnist this month is Mark Banham of grain merchant H Banham of Hempton, near Fakenham, who toasts the special anniversary of Maris Otter.

Farmers and grain merchants rarely expect their work to be in the limelight. They just do their jobs. They’re part of a supply chain that puts food and drink on people’s tables. No song and dance. But the growing fascination in ingredients and origins has started to change that. For example, the level of interest in the 50th anniversary of Maris Otter barley has been astounding.

When my father, Tony, first started trading Maris Otter in the 1960s, no-one could have predicted that it would still be around 50 years later. After all, most cereal varieties last just four or five years before being superseded by new varieties.

During its 50-year history, Maris Otter has been through massive ups and miserable downs. But the malt created from it always had something very special about it as far as craft brewers were concerned. It is demand from them that has kept it going. That and the dogged determination of two grain merchants: Dad and Robin Appel.

They rescued it from almost certain extinction. This involved starting all over again – beginning a new breeding cycle with the purest, most true-to-type samples of grain. These were multiplied over the years and the slightly dented reputation for quality was firmly re-established. The malt made from Maris Otter is famous among craft brewers for performing well in the “mash tun” and consistently producing beers with great depth of flavour.

Since 2000, two-thirds of the Champion Beers of Britain have been made with Maris Otter malted barley. Amazing considering it’s just six percent of the malt used by British brewers!

So the anniversary provides a great excuse for several things. One is to say thanks to my father and to Robin Appel for having saved the variety. Another is to highlight the fact that beer’s main ingredient is malted barley – not hops as so many people seem to assume. Then there’s the chance to shout about the fantastic Norfolk farmers who play such a big role in the craft brewing industry and the production of great beer.

Most of all, it’s the excuse for a celebration. A birthday party in honour of a grain!

With the fantastic support of the Norfolk Brewhouse and its entrepreneurial founder David Holliday we’ve put together a three-day Maris Otter beer festival. It’s at the Norwich Open, September 17–19. Fifty brewers are producing brand new cask beers especially for the occasion. They’re all Maris Otter brews – but the diversity of colour, flavour and aroma will amaze even the most accomplished beer tasters.

If you’d like to join in the celebration, get your ticket from www.marisotter50.co.uk. Or find out which Norfolk brewers use Maris Otter, and raise a glass of their brilliant beer to the county’s farmers, maltsters and brewers - as well as to the 50-year-old grain. Cheers!

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