Simpson’s Malt – A Berwick History

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A Talk by Richard Simpson, Vice-Chairman of Simpson’s Malt at the Parish Centre on 8th June 2022

Richard introduced himself as the 5th generation of a family business that started as ‘Corn Factors’ – the buying and selling of corn to others – in  1852 in Leeds. He went on to give an informative and interesting account of a family business that 150 years’ later is a well-loved local company with an international market. 

In 1862 James Parker Simpson had moved to Alnwick where the first Simpsons Maltings was established.  This was the beginning of a family business that has grown and developed to the present day with plans for further innovation in the future. After further growth in Alnwick by 1902 the first Maltings in Berwick was established. Now the family had taken over the next process from buying the grain to malting it. This is a three-stage process of steeping the barley to awaken the dormant grain thus enabling it to germinate and finally the heating or ‘kilning’ process to produce it’s final colour and flavour.

Initially, the fermentation process was in Floor Maltings – where the steeped grain was left to dry over large areas of floor.  The business grew over the next 50 years with the purchase of other Malthouses mostly in the North East and Yorkshire   With increased production Simpsons were a presence at daily Barley markets from London to Edinburgh.

In the 1950s Richard’s grandfather Richard L Simpson heard about a new style of malting using a Saladin Box, an instrument that mechanically turned the barley two or three times a day. He experimented with a Saladin Plant in Alnwick in 1952 and after research found a good site for an extensive Saladin plant site at Tweedmouth.  This new plant eventually took over from many of the old Maltings, many of which had been damaged or lost to fire.  In 1967 the Head Office of Simpsons Malt was established at the Tweedmouth site. By 1971 continued innovation saw the instalment of the first barley driers together with jumbo silos for storage. The pattern of development continued with the purchase of 4 Maltings from the Grand Metropolitan company in 1986.

Meanwhile, in 1980 there was expansion into another branch of the barley production cycle with the amalgamation with McCreath Agricultural Merchants and in 1984 the agricultural trading company  Prentice.. This enabled Simpsons to remove the middleman and take over the process of buying the barley from the farmers directly.  Later further acquisition of John Guthrie Ltd in 2011 extended close links to farming partners and expanded their geographical spread beyond the North of England and the Scottish Borders. This was proved to be an asset later when the farmers grew specific varieties for specific purposes e.g. food, agriculture, brewing as needed by Simpsons. Nowadays the work is done in two main distilleries one at Berwick and one at Tivotshall. 

Richard told us that the family love their legacy but is always ready to find new ways of expansion and innovation.  He illustrated the ways the business keeps up to date.  He told us about the Waste Water Treatment Plant unique to Berwick with the ability to reuse water; the installation of a Seed Plant enabling seeds to be fertilized before being sown;  of a modern Roasting and Crystal House and for plans for a Green Site at Speyside.  Simpsons Malt are also good communicators expanding in other ways by maintaining a blog and even having A YouTube channel and other social media outlets!

From that small start as Corn Factors back in 1852 in Leeds, Simpsons Malt now employs 360 people, processes 160,000 bags of Barley to provide 425,000 tonnes of malt each year supplying brewing and other industries across the globe as well as small craft breweries which have become so popular. 

We were told that a favourite brand of craft breweries is ‘Golden Promise’  and it would seem that could apply to Richard’s forebears’ early dreams which continue to successfully expand.

Sandra Gann