The Malt Coast brewery is a partnership between brothers Bruin and Max Maufe on the family farm near Wells-next-the-Sea in north Norfolk.
Launching their own brewery was the obvious farm diversification for brothers Max and Bruin Maufe. The family farm near Wells-next-the-Sea has been producing Maris Otter malting barley for many years.
Ten years ago their father Teddy opened the Real Ale Shop on-farm to promote the barley to beer link to some of the many visitors to the north Norfolk coast each year.
“We both had an eye on coming back to Norfolk,” says Bruin. “But we knew the farm needed to diversify and, in 2017, eventually got the courage to go for it.
“I had just got married and feeling settled and thinking about building a life in Norfolk. Rather than working hard in London, I wanted to work hard here and I knew that I wanted my children to be brought up here.”
He and Max and their wives Atessa and Andrea started planning the business on visits home and the two brothers eventually took the plunge to cut down their work hours in order to invest more time at the farm.
They both split their week between London and Norfolk, working on a consultancy basis for their employers in London. Bruin was a corporate partnerships manager for the UN’s Peace Day, while Max worked as a head hunter for the technology industry.
“When we launched we went to three days-a-week, so between us we had the week covered and that is how we launched it,” says Bruin.
Eighteen months later they are both pretty much full-time in the business, but work occasionally on a consultancy basis as and when needed. They both travel to London frequently but now for Malt Coast business – meeting clients or holding meetings to promote their products.
Bruin, his wife Atessa and Max went on an intensive brewing course in Manchester prior to launching the business.
He says: “Then we had a consultant brewer work with us for six months. He helped us develop our first two beers and then after six months he left and we had enough knowledge and experience to do it ourselves.”
They soon developed a five-beer ‘core range’ and, through a branding agency and artist, developed the Malt Coast Brewery brand and identity.
“We wanted something that encompassed Norfolk and gave the beers a sense of place.
“Dad’s shop was our first client. It sells really well in the shop.”
Other customers include London restaurants and delis, plus numerous local delis and restaurants on the North Norfolk coast.
“They take pride in telling customers where their products come from,” Bruin adds.
With the real ale market well-served by Norfolk breweries they knew they needed a different angle and instead decided to produce a craft beer.
“It is exciting because the market is growing. There are more people drinking specialist beer, but there are more breweries too, so you have to find a niche.
“In Norfolk there are lots of fantastic real ale brewers and Norfolk did not need another one. In London lots of craft breweries were springing up so we decided to do that.”
While real ale is served at room temperature or cooler, craft beer is designed to be served cold and is more carbonated, he explains.
“There are also more hops. That said, we do try to brew a beer that has a malt backbone.
“We realised it had to have good branding as well as good beer and decided to go down the premium route.”
After harvest the barley goes to Crisp Malting at Great Ryburgh, 10 miles away.
“We put it through the floor maltings,” says Bruin. Floor malting is carried out in small batches done by hand.
“It is more expensive but it means we get our own barley back.”
The heritage variety is popular for premium beers.
“It is expensive but good, with a great biscuity taste,” says Bruin. Of the 450-hectare farm, Teddy produces about 80ha of Maris Otter per year.
“We crush the malted barley ourselves and then it is ready to be brewed with. It needs to be crushed enough to break the shell but not too much,” he explains.
The brewery has been set up in some disused barns on the farm with the assistance of an EU Leader grant, which covered 40 per cent of the core equipment and building costs.
These included alterations to the barn floor, installation of a cold store and purchase of equipment such as mash tun, fermentation tanks and so on. They spend three weeks producing each brew.
“We are trying to condition it perfectly so we are not in a rush,” he says.
“Unlike London-based breweries we are not having to pay extortionate rent, so there is no pressure to churn out beer, although we are keen to increase our volumes now.”
Each of the brewery’s four tanks produce roughly 3,500 bottles and Max and Bruin will produce four of those in a busy month.
“For each brew we use eight 25kg bags of Maris Otter. Different beers require different amounts of malt and we add 5-10 per cent specialist malt as well to vary the colour or flavour.”
Working with his brother has been a great experience, says Bruin.
“It means there is a huge degree of honesty which is so important in business. We have different approaches and we do argue a lot because we tell each other how we feel about things.”
As well as the core range the pair has recently developed an exclusive beer for a Norwich-based wine retailer and are keen to do more projects like this, creating special one-off brews. There is no shortage of ideas for the future. Bruin would like to expand sales, develop a low alcohol beer and would also like to have a tap room on the farm one day.
“It is an exciting idea, but a pipedream at the moment as it would need a lot of investment. But when selling our products wholesale the person selling it on is making the biggest profit.
“The farm is already a destination and we have a story to tell. We are in a beautiful part of the country and on the main road between Fakenham and Wells.
“When my grandfather farmed here he had enough staff that the farm had its own cricket team. And I remember events on the farm Bruin Maufe filling bags with crushed malt at the brewery. where there would be lots of people who worked on the farm with their families, but that has really changed. Now there is just one fulltime employee with my father.
“What is exciting about diversification projects like the shop and brewery is they are bringing the farm back to life in different ways. They have created jobs and a new community which is fun,” says Bruin.
“We never lost sight that there was an opportunity to be had up here.”