Beer shop evolves as farming family's next generation takes the helm

The Maufe family at Branthill Farm on the Holkham estate near Wells. From left, Bruin, Andrea, Atessa and Max <i>(Image: Sonya Duncan)</i>
The Maufe family at Branthill Farm on the Holkham estate near Wells. From left, Bruin, Andrea, Atessa and Max (Image: Sonya Duncan)

A Norfolk farm's "barley to beer" tradition is evolving and expanding under the management of a new family generation.

The Real Ale Shop at Branthill Farm has been a popular attraction on the road between Fakenham and Wells since it was founded by malting barley grower Teddy Maufe 20 years ago.

But after Mr Maufe's retirement last year, the shop has been rebranded and now sits within a series of new enterprises launched by his sons and their wives.

Eastern Daily Press: The Maufe family inside the Norfolk Bottle Shop at Branthill Farm near Wells. From left, Andrea, Max, Atessa and Bruin
Eastern Daily Press: The Maufe family inside the Norfolk Bottle Shop at Branthill Farm near Wells. From left, Andrea, Max, Atessa and Bruin

The Maufe family inside the Norfolk Bottle Shop at Branthill Farm near Wells. From left, Andrea, Max, Atessa and Bruin (Image: Sonya Duncan)

After 10 years in London, Bruin and Max Maufe left their careers in the capital behind to return to the family business, which has been a tenant on the Holkham Estate since their grandfather David started farming there in 1939.

They have brought new professional skills with them - along with the expertise of their wives Atessa and Andrea - to extend and modernise the farm's diversification journey.

In 2017, the brothers launched the Malt Coast brewery to capitalise on the craft beer boom and complete the link between north Norfolk's fabled malting barley and its end product.

Two years later, they took over the running of a nearby plum orchard, planted by their great uncle between Burnham Overy and Burnham Thorpe. Glamping came next, with six furnished bell tents established.

And now the re-named Norfolk Bottle Shop, selling a wider range of local beers, wines and artisan spirits as well as products from the orchard, has been bolstered with a bar, beer garden and pizza oven to serve summer holidaymakers.

Eastern Daily Press: The Norfolk Bottle Shop at Branthill Farm on the Holkham estate near Wells
Eastern Daily Press: The Norfolk Bottle Shop at Branthill Farm on the Holkham estate near Wells

The Norfolk Bottle Shop at Branthill Farm on the Holkham estate near Wells (Image: Sonya Duncan)

Bruin said: "Our father started the Real Ale Shop as a way of celebrating the link between what we grow and what we drink. He was a pioneer of that.

"The farm is on prime malting barley land, and this coastline is famous for malt and malting. Just like the French would celebrate the Pinot Noir in Burgundy, why don't we celebrate what we have got?"

Given the financial pressures on traditional farm businesses, Max said the brothers knew they had to build on what their father had started with the shop. The next idea for the "barley to beer" journey is to launch brewery tours this year.

"It is giving people the full experience of a malting barley farm," said Max, 37.

"If you go on brewery tours on London, they basically just take you into a shed. We realised that we have a unique story and we can celebrate that.

"We can take people into a malting barley field, we can put a bit of barley in their hand, and then take them to the brewery and show them the whole process."

Bruin, 40, said last year was a difficult first 12 months running the farm business, dealing with extreme weather and high costs.

"It has been tough," he said. "And it underlines why we are trying to diversify and try to insulate the business against the volatility and very low margins related to farming at the moment."

Eastern Daily Press: The Maufe family at Branthill Farm on the Holkham estate near Wells. From left, Atessa, Bruin, Andrea and Max
Eastern Daily Press: The Maufe family at Branthill Farm on the Holkham estate near Wells. From left, Atessa, Bruin, Andrea and Max

The Maufe family at Branthill Farm on the Holkham estate near Wells. From left, Atessa, Bruin, Andrea and Max (Image: Sonya Duncan)

The responsibilities for the increasingly diverse business are shared between the two couples, with Bruin and Max overseeing the farming operations. Bruin runs the brewery, while Max and Andrea take the lead on the orchard, and Atessa manages the shop, looks after branding and is the main contact for the glamping site - although they all "do a bit of everything".

Atessa is also on the committee of the North Norfolk Food and Drink Festival at Holkham, co-founded by her father-in-law Teddy, while Andrea handles the firm's social media and also runs her own fashion design business, Hollyblocks.

The two couples each have two children, aged five and three.

Andrea and Max swapped their London flat for Norfolk farm life at the end of 2019, shortly before the Covid lockdown.

"It was a massive culture shock, but it was such a beautiful spring and summer, so it really reminded us why we were here," said Andrea.

"The lifestyle was a big contributing factor. We wanted to be in the countryside, and for our children to have space. Living in London, we were inside a lot, and I knew they would have opportunities here that we didn't have."

Atessa, originally from Iran, said she moved around a lot as a child, but relished the opportunity to put down "proper roots" with Bruin in Norfolk.

"The whole idea of coming here and saying: 'This is where I am raising my kids' - that is amazing, and I love being able to continue these roots," she said.

"What is great as well is there were all these amazing opportunities with the diversification. Obviously there is the farming, but Andrea and I have been able to slot ourselves and our skills into the diversification projects. It is nice that we can all contribute and be a part of this."