Bulking Up Opportunities by Working with Maltsters
To expand or not to expand: that is the question. How to expand: that is the second question.
A company with answers to both is the Kirkstall Brewery in Leeds.
“We have gone for growth,” says head brewer Alex Dodds. “And found a great way of doing it –including finance and technical support from our malt suppliers.”
Six years ago, a small  barrel plant was installed in a Leeds former dairy. Kirkstall was soon brewing to capacity and demand was outstripping supply.
The 8 brewers’ barrel plant was originally installed on an industrial unit adjacent to the historical Kirkstall Brewery (1833 – 1983).
“It’s devastating to have to ration supplies when customers are asking for more – and to have to turn away new customers,” says Dodds, “and so plans soon got under way.”
The installation of a new  barrel plant has recently been completed, giving the capacity to produce 60,000 barrels (over 17 million pints) a year. The challenges faced in implementing this nearly four-fold growth were many. “The trick in scaling up is to work with really engaged suppliers. They need to have a genuine interest in what you’re trying to achieve – and to behave as partners.”
He points out that this applies as much in the sphere of malt handling as in the sphere of brewing equipment.
“The smart move was to involve Crisp Maltings from the outset,” says Dodds. “It helped us to apply new thinking to our malt storage, logistics and processing. Carl Heron, their sales manager, has been fantastic. His brewing experience, technical expertise and commercial understanding have been invaluable. And the finance deal he offered was a no-brainer.”
Capital provided by Crisp was used to buy two pristine 20 tonne malt silos and what Dodds describes as “a beautiful new mill”. Now, rather than buying malt that’s ready-milled, he can order it whole. Specialist varieties are still delivered by the sack load. But large volume base malts can now be bulk delivered by Crisp’s blower truck straight into the new silos. This reduces price and saves space.
“Most importantly, it gives more control to the brewer,” says Dodds. “We draw whole malt from the new silos as and when it’s required. Then it’s freshly crushed just prior to mashing. And of course, we can fine-tune the milling to suit whatever we’re brewing at the time. It’s great to be fully in charge!”
Carl Heron points to the growing interest from brewers in malt silos and mills – with their ‘crush-on-demand’ facility. He says this indicates strong sales and a belief in the sustainability of those sales. As he says, “All this is an extremely encouraging reflection of the success of the craft sector.
“Some brewers told us that logistical considerations and costs of capital investment were barriers too big to overcome,” he goes on. “That’s exactly why we developed our finance packages and bought a new blower truck for bulk deliveries. Our consultation, technical support and advice (from years of experience) comes as part of the deal.”