• Picture: Nick Harman
Marston’s Brewery is championing the terroir of barley with the announcement of a long-term contract with Norfolk’s Holkham estate to supply the winter barley for all of Marston’s Brewery’s range of beers.
Both Marston’s and Holkham are backed by long traditions, and both are intent on making the journey of ‘field to fork’ holistic, and championing barley’s hitherto unexplored terroir.
In the late 1700s, Thomas Coke of Norfolk, the Earl of Leicester, was promoting a four-year crop rotation system with all his tenants, a system based on an annual cycle of turnips, grass, barley and wheat. This fed the soil, putting in natural balance, while growing yields and protecting the plants from disease. His aim was to feed the growing population and to provide protein for humans and livestock.
Even in the 1770s, Coke was inviting farmers and scientists from around the globe to share in his agricultural discoveries and to bring their own knowledge to his farming practices.
The present Lord Leicester has rediscovered his forebear’s methods and, with farming director Poul Hovesen and farming manager James Beamish, is taking it further. Coke’s four-year rotation has been replaced by a six-year one, with the likes of rape, winter wheat, sugar beet, maize, potatoes and spring and winter barley, all chosen to suit the terroir of individual fields. The aim is to diminish the need for fungicides, pesticides and herbicides by giving the soil balance and stronger heath.
This is not to say the estate believes it can yet do away with chemicals completely, or that it will be going organic. But, with its tenants, it will be doing all it can to make its soil rich in nutrients, which should feed through into the quality and consistency of the resultant Marston’s beers.
Marston’s Brewery’s marketing manager, Joanne Wyke, said: “Marston’s Brewery’s vision is not just about traceability and knowing the exact provenance of every grain of barley in its beers. It is also about the flavour of that barley, and the way it translates into extra flavour and complexity in our beers.
“Can the long growing season from the cool seaside fields, and the mellow sea frets (mists) which cloak the crops, deliver a flavour for Pedigree and our other beers which is special to those farms? Is the terroir of barley at long last on its way?”
Marston’s DE14 nano-brewery, in Burton upon Trent, has been challenging Marston’s brewers and Burtonian home brewers to create one-off cereal brews. If quinoa, freekeh, rye, buckwheat, linseed or sunflower are so popular in mueslis, cereal bars and porridge, might they perhaps provide alluring flavours and mouthfeel for Marston’s beers as well?
To find out, the DE14 team recently designed four experimental beers under the guidance of cereal entrepreneur Alex Hely-Hutchinson. In her 26 Grains café in Covent Garden, London, the four new DE14 editions were recently sampled beside especially paired foods.
- Freekeh with pomegranate molasses, like a rich demi-sec Chenin from the Loire, served with labneh yoghurt, dukkah spicing, hazelnut and honey
- Smoked wheat and honey, combining intriguing sweetness with depth, served with roasted pumpkin, malted barley, goats’ curd, almond and chervil
- Fig leaf and oatmeal, with the fig leaves late-figged — a sweetly exotic herbal brew, like a Blanc de Blancs Champagne, served with dark chocolate almond florentines
- Rye and liquorice, a pale coloured brew, served with smoked mackerel and pickled beetroot on rye bread.