Adam Henson: A new rare breed on the farm
PUBLISHED: 01:16 21 September 2011 | UPDATED: 20:01 20 February 2013
'I've played a fair bit of rugby over the years so it goes without saying that I enjoy a drink, but I never thought that one day I'd be in the beer business myself.
This month a rare breed is dominating my life. Its traditional, Cotswold-based and very close to my heart. But whats unusual is that for once its not a pig, cow or sheep which is demanding all my attention. Let me explain.
On the arable side of the business, weve grown malting barley for many years which has been used for making lager. Its all part of the mix of crops on a farm like ours. Then we were approached by a company who wanted us to grow Maris Otter malting barley which is an old variety perfectly suited to producing real ale. I thought it was worth a go and with the incentive of a good fixed-price contract thats exactly what we did.
After harvesting, it went to Warminster Maltings which is a really lovely old malt house whose origins date back to the 18th century and where they still turn the barley by hand. I went along with the Countryfile cameras to watch the process and then we saw it being turned into beer at the famous Hook Norton brewery.
Now Im the first to admit that its every mans dream to produce his own booze, but I was seriously impressed and I started thinking about how we could get into the beer business.
Years ago real ale was very out of fashion and considered an old mans drink but recently theres been a saloon bar revolution and its really taken off. Micro breweries are also doing really well and these days the West Country has some terrific, award-winning beer producers. Inspired by what Id seen (and tasted), I took the leap and now weve teamed up with Butcombe Brewery at Wrington in Somerset.
The managing director there, Guy Newell, came up with some inspirational ideas and the result is a wonderful combination of barley grown in the Cotswolds, Mendip spring water and Herefordshire hops to create a real ale which is just about as English as it gets.
Its a refreshing, clean-tasting golden ale available in bottles and kegs for sale in supermarkets and pubs. In all honesty, its got off to a far better start than I could possibly have imagined because J.D. Wetherspoon has decided to launch it during the pub chains October Beer Festival.
Ive played a fair bit of rugby over the years so it goes without saying that I enjoy a drink and nothing beats a really good pint after a hard-fought win. But I never thought that one day Id be in the beer business myself. As farmers we have a tendency to send our crops off and never give them a second thought after the lorry disappears down the road.
Thats particularly true of grain. We sell it through a merchant and its a commodity which is loaded up and transported on gigantic vehicles without us considering where it ends up. So this latest venture is a welcome change and an opportunity to really get a grasp of the food supply chain.
Its a terrific story of provenance and traceability in a similar way to farmers markets and farm shops. Its connecting our barley with the consumer. It will be a fantastic feeling to walk into a supermarket, lift a bottle of beer off the shelf and think to myself this is mine! I suppose its as near as we can get today to the way our great-grandfathers consumed their favourite tipple. In those days when you went to your local Cotswold ale house you could be assured that the beer you were served had only travelled a few dozen miles at the very most.
In the 21st century I sum up our modern day values with the slogan Passion in British Farming which is all about supporting the nations food producers, encouraging localness and ensuring integrity, honesty and good quality. For years weve encouraged people to think about where their food comes from with the phrase from field to fork so I suppose this must be from field to glass. As for the rare breed which has been hogging the limelight recently, well thats really what all this is about. Appropriately enough, the new beer is called Adam Hensons Rare Breed. Good health!
Cotswold Farm Park, Guiting Power, near Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL54 5UG
Tel: 01451 850307; Fax: 01451 850423