Muntons began life back in 1921 in a small converted brewery in Bedford. known originally as Muntons and Baker (Bedford) Ltd. Nearly a century later, Muntons plc, as it is now called, has grown and evolved to become the company it is today.
Their move in 1948 from Bedford to Stowmarket in Suffolk, was a strategic one, placing their business centrally amid one of the best malting barley growing regions in the country, thus ensuring that they would be able to keep the delivery costs of their main raw material well under control. The site they purchased, for the princely sum of £100,000, was the old British Nylon Spinners factory located on a 45-acre plot alongside the main Stowmarket railway line and bordered by the river Gipping. Converting this to a modern maltings was a challenge.
After the Second World War, there was a surplus of aluminium originally destined for the manufacture of Spitfires. Some of this War surplus material was used by a local engineering company to manufacture the four drum maltings which were installed into Muntons new premises. Interestingly these original drum maltings are still used today, nearly seventy years later, to make small batches of high quality niche malts.
Suffolk as a location for the business was perfect, not just because of the proximity of top quality malting barley but also the rail link into London and the growing importance of Felixstowe as a deep-sea port. As containerisation became the norm, and trade with mainland Europe grew, so traditional ports such as Liverpool and Southampton saw volumes decline in favour of the now more convenient East Coast ports.
Malting is an ancient craft – an art, and its origins can be traced back around 4,000 years to ancient Mesopotamia. These days, whilst machines do the hard work gently turning the malt, making the finest malt still relies on the skill of the maltster. Muntons take the finest malting barley, from within the very heart of the region, and grow this under carefully controlled conditions. They complete the malting process by gently drying the malted grains in kilns and gently remove the tiny rootlets before storing the malt and delivering it to their customers around the world.
Throughout Suffolk, the local farming community has a rich heritage, growing high quality malting barley aided by a winning combination of light soil and moderate climate. These qualities, along with the easy-to-farm flat landscape, provide perfect conditions for exceptional malting barleys to be grown. Malt is one of the key raw materials used in the production of beer and whisky, providing a source of fermentable sugars to produce alcohol and impart its distinctive flavour. Few however know the true versatility of this natural ingredient. Malt made from local barley finds its way into a vast range of foods and drinks: In breakfast cereals, and bread, confectionery and cakes and then there’s malt vinegar, great on chips and for pickling. You will even find malt in some milkshakes and cola’s.
On Suffolk day, 21st June, let’s celebrate Suffolk – and whilst we are at it let’s celebrate malt as well.