a fitting tribute… 

David Holliday of Moon Gazer Ale talks about creating a 100% Maris Otter ale in memory of its saviour, Tony Banham.

Of all the special ales and collaborations we have brewed over the past 10 years at Moon Gazer, brewing Tony’s Tribute was one of the most rewarding and poignant.

The team here at Moon Gazer are very fortunate to have known Tony and be inspired by his passion for barley, beer and his Norfolk heritage – and specifically his role in saving the Maris Otter barley variety.

We are also lucky enough to call him a friend of the brewery and to have known him for the true gent that he was, and also to call his son, Mark, a dear friend. Indeed, we teamed up with Tony and the H Banham team to promote Maris Otter with a brewery bar at three CAMRA Winter Beer Festivals and even raised a glass of Moon Gazer with him at Parliament.

It was Tony and Mark’s passion for Maris Otter that inspired us here at Moon Gazer to become unofficial ambassadors, flying the flag for Maris Otter and Norfolk at every possible opportunity. 

This barley variety is special and much beloved by brewers the world over – and it is the cornerstone of Moon Gazer ales and lagers, putting that authentic Norfolk stamp in everything we brew.

Tony’s involvement with Maris Otter stretches back to 1965 when he was 24 and started trading this brand-new barley variety for the family business of H Banham Ltd, in Hempton. 

Maris Otter was in high demand. However, during the 80s its popularity waned as many of the larger brewers sought new varieties in the name of progress, efficiency, and cost cutting!

Thankfully, smaller craft brewers – run by brewers, not accountants – demanded the brewing properties and taste profile they could get from dear old Maris Otter, and Tony had the vision to see this. So, in 1992, he worked with grain merchant Robin Appel and Gowlett Grain, to obtain the growing rights from the Plant Breeding Institute (PBI).

The variety lived to fight another day, and much work went into the cleaning of the seed stock to remove impurities and improve yield and quality, and craft brewers loved the result that saw demand increase.

Now, if this success seems small fry, please consider that most barley varieties will survive just six-to-seven years before they are superseded in the name of ‘progress’.

Enjoy a Champion Beer of Britain and the chances are that it has been brewed with Maris Otter as it has taken that crown for around 85% of Champions – now that’s no fluke. Nor is the fact the brewers in over 20 countries demand Maris Otter – much of which is Norfolk grown and malted – to produce their beers. That’s all thanks to Tony’s vision.

With Tony’s sad passing recently, we couldn’t let his contribution go unmarked.

Another local brewery – Barsham – as well as our local maltings, Crisp, had the same view and we all agreed to brew together to create an ale to pay tribute to Tony in the best way we know how.

The Barsham Estate is a long-time grower of Maris Otter, and they farm close to Tony’s Hempton base, so we were delighted to be able to use their barley. To be fair, the malt aspect of the recipe creation didn’t take too long as the decision was taken to make the beer out of 100% Maris Otter barley, floor malted in the traditional way by Crisp Maltings.

This way you can taste the true Maris impact – a distinctive biscuit malt backbone of so many champion beers and countless beers across the world. Uncluttered by any coloured malts, the beer will be a pure Maris Otter golden. The brew was gently hopped with a revitalised British hop Ernest – itself cast aside in the late 60s-70s as bigger brewers sought cheaper alternatives – only to be revived to great effect, so it seemed a fitting match.

If you weren’t able to enjoy Tony’s Tribute, the limited-edition brew, then rest assured that when you order a pint of Moon Gazer, it will be crafted with Norfolk malted Maris Otter and will forever be so. After all, when  you have an ingredient this good right on your doorstep, why wouldn’t you embrace and celebrate it.

Thanks to Tony, you will be able to enjoy beers crafted with Norfolk Maris Otter for decades to come.

Cheers Tony – you will be missed.

Team Moon Gazer 

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