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Batch Brewing showcases rare, local craft malt

August 18, 2016
Batch has visited Riverina barley growers on multiple occasions in the making of 'Just Beer'

Batch has visited Riverina barley growers on multiple occasions in the making of ‘Just Beer’

Dubbed simply ‘Just Beer’, the latest release from Sydney’s Batch Brewing premieres malted barley sourced from a startup craft maltster in south-western New South Wales.

Just Beer stemmed from the brewery’s desire to directly support farmers who are practising sustainable agriculture, founders Andrew Fineran and Chris Sidwa told Australian Brews News.

Sidwa said that under the current barley supply chain, all farmers are paid the same price for their crop regardless of how it is produced, and the only malt available is derived from barley bred to suit the needs of the big brewers.

“What they’re harvesting each year are malts that will produce a lot of alcohol very efficiently,” Sidwa said.

“They’re not even considering anything to do with the flavour. I don’t need super high diastatic power and a super high attenuation limit – I actually don’t want those things.

“I want to encourage growers to put something in the ground that’s going to get us better beer, but that chain is broken, that communication doesn’t exist with the big guys,” he said.

Enter Voyager Craft Malt, a Riverina, NSW startup founded by Stuart Whytcross and Brad Woolner, whose families have been producing barley and other cereal grains for four generations in the small town of Barellan.

“They’ll be producing malts in relatively small batches at relatively similar prices to what the industrial guys charge us, but because they’re doing it in a more efficient way, they’re paying the farmer a lot more than the farmer’s currently getting,” Sidwa said.

Just Beer using Schooner malt
Using what amounts to a pilot kiln, Voyager is currently in an experimental phase, producing a single tonne of Schooner malt per week – an heirloom barley variety that Whytcross believes is not currently being grown anywhere else in Australia.

“Schooner malt is one of those varieties that from a big malthouse perspective has poor attenuation limits and poor extract… things that are music to my ears,” Sidwa said.

Batch has been slowly integrating Voyager’s malt into a few of its beers. Released last week, Just Beer is the first brewed using the malt almost exclusively, supplemented by a very small proportion of Weyermann Wheat.

“It’s ‘Just Beer’ because we want to be using fewer malt varieties. We want to simplify the recipe but it’s also [about] being ‘just’ to the environment and to the people in the supply chain that we’re working with,” Sidwa said.

“Craft brewers leave industrial beer because they want to feel good about what they’re drinking and they want a connection with who they’re working with.

“That connection can’t end at the brewery, it needs to continue to the maltster and the farmer. We can’t be using industrial malt to make craft beer.”

L-R: Batch's Chris Sidwa and Andrew Fineran with Voyager's Stuart Whytcross

L-R: Batch’s Chris Sidwa and Andrew Fineran with Voyager’s Stuart Whytcross

Thanks to an open dialogue with Voyager, Sidwa said Batch is sourcing malt that meets its specifications, avoiding the need to make tweaks in the brewhouse to compensate for inadequate raw materials.

“If your malt goes really dry then you need to compensate with some caramel malt; something that’s going to put some body back into it, something that’s unfermentable,” Sidwa said.

“Those malts oxidise very quickly, they make your beer taste like cardboard sooner than it otherwise would.

“These are things we shouldn’t have to do, we should be having communication with malthouses and farmers and therefore changing it that way,” he said.

A multi-year project
Fineran said Just Beer is closest in style to an easy drinking Lager, but it is a multi-year project that will evolve based on the malt available from Voyager.

“We’re going to communicate the changes and differences batch-to-batch,” he said.

Sidwa said this approach may incorporate oats and wheat sourced from Voyager, reflecting sustainable farmers’ rotating crop cycles.

“You need to be incorporating different crops onto your land in sequence from harvest-to-harvest to make sure that you’re putting nutrients back into your soil,” he said.

“If you’re just pulling barley out year after year after year, using lots of pesticides and herbicides to boost your yields, that’s not sustainable in the long term.

“To encourage people to plant things like rye and oats that are beneficial to the soil… You need to buy them from them. You can’t ask them to plant it and then say, ‘that’s your loss economically – suck it up’.”

Fineran said Batch would ideally like all ingredients for the beer to be sourced directly from family-owned primary producers, located in the closest proximity possible to the brewery.

“For the hops, if we can also make that happen, we will. There are a few options where we can do that, that aren’t multinationals,” he said.

But Sidwa said hops will not be a feature of Just Beer, imparting only gentle bitterness.

“It’s a simple beer, it’s not intended to be multiple IBUs and lots of different crazy hops or anything headline-grabbing,” he said.

The finished product: Voyager Craft Malt

The finished product: Voyager Craft Malt

Rewarding sustainable agriculture
Voyager is currently only able to supply malt to Batch and a couple of other small breweries, but will soon be expanding to a new kiln that will allow it to ramp up supply.

“Batch are only a small brewery but already they’re having a say in the sort of crops that we’re growing at the moment,” Voyager’s Stuart Whytcross told Australian Brews News.

“There’s a lot of potential there for craft beer to essentially change farming practice, or ensure that sustainable agriculture continues to happen.

“If we can start getting that story across to beer drinkers, then potentially every time they’re spending a dollar, they can really have a bit of a vote on the future of agriculture,” he said.

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4 Responses to Batch Brewing showcases rare, local craft malt

  1. Ben Hamilton on August 19, 2016 at 8:52 pm

    Not exactly sure what that means.? Having grown up on a barley farm, and now being a part owner and brewer of a craft brewery, it seems like marketing hype based on a fair bit of BS. There is no need for the BS as there is a great story without it.

    Craft brewing means different things to different people. Craft brewers are craft brewers for different reasons and no one can speak on behalf of all of us. In my opinion it should always be about the beer, and not marketing hype based on white lies, but that is me speaking for me and not all craft brewers.

    Paddock to glass stuff is great (we are in the process of doing some ourselves) but tell the truth about what is going on. Schooner is not an heirloom variety, why would you say it is? Farmers are not going to rotate their crop because a small craft brewer or malt house tells them too, they rotate them because it keeps their soil in good sustainable condition and inputs nutrients into the ground. Generally farmers are rotating away from cereals (such are barley, oats and rye which have a very similar impact on the soil) to legumes that get nitrogen back in the soil. Switching from barley to oats or rye has limited value. So why put a spin on the story to indicate that crop rotation is coming from a directive from a craft brewer or malt house? It is simply not true and will never be true.

    You need to be paying farmers a premium for older varieties because they don’t yield as much per hectare, so unless you are paying them a large premium you would be ripping them off. The fact is the farmers would not be growing old varieties for a small malt house unless they were paid a premium or it is a favour, otherwise why would they do it? Maybe they like giving money away?

    If you are growing lower yielding varieties then you are using more land to produce the same amount of product. This land could be used for stuff like growing more food, planting trees or clearing less vegetation. So what is sustainable?

    The story reads well but it is full of white lies which CUB and Lion would be proud of.

    There is a great story in small scale malting and paddock to glass, just leave the BS out of it. You get to have the malt made to the specifications you want and not have to buy an ‘off the shelf’ malt. You can trace it back to its origins. This is all good stuff.


    • Ben Hamilton on August 19, 2016 at 9:08 pm

      This comment was in response to Paul Pacey’s comment.

  2. Ben Hamilton on August 18, 2016 at 8:05 pm

    Love the idea. In fact planning on doing something very similar. However, calling Schooner an heirloom variety is pushing it (it was only released in 1983). It was only de-listed as malting variety in around 2010 (varies state to state) and was commonly grown in more than one state up until then (and a little bit after). It was even grown on my parents farm as it performed well in the Wimmera. Schooner was developed in South Australia in times when you would struggle to find a beer other than Carlton and Tooheys at your local pub, so you could argue it was pretty much developed to make those beers. Like most Australian bred varieties, Schooner can make some of the best malt in the world, but has no better flavour profile than more recent varieties such as Commander or La Trobe. It just yields lower, has low diastatic power and is more susceptible to disease (newer varieties do better with these issues which is why Schooner was de-listed). Great story, just stick to the facts without he rubbish, that doesn’t help our craft beer image. You have a good story there without using ‘false facts’ like the big guys do. Would have been better concentrate on how small batch malting gives you the freedom to create the malt the way you want it.

  3. Paul Pacey on August 18, 2016 at 3:12 pm

    This! -> “Craft brewers leave industrial beer because they want to feel good about what they’re drinking and they want a connection with who they’re working with. That connection can’t end at the brewery, it needs to continue to the maltster and the farmer. We can’t be using industrial malt to make craft beer.”

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