As consumers increasingly value the story behind their beer as much as the liquid, brewers are focusing on the provenance of the beers they produce.
At its inception in 2017, Brisbane’s Archer Brewing Co committed to producing beers brewed with 100 per cent Australian ingredients. But co-owners Gavin Croft and Stuart and Lucy Martin have decided to take provenance one step further with this week’s launch of Archer Queensland Pale Ale.
Archer’s new QPA is brewed with ingredients sourced from producers located within 130 kilometres of the Spring Hill brewery but for Stuart Martin and his team, this hasn’t been easy.
Martin told Brews News that the original plan was to source barley from Croft’s cousin’s Goulburn farm and hops from a Stanthorpe grower. But after suffering harsh weather conditions, neither supplier was able to provide Archer Brewing with malting-grade barley or sufficient hops.
Fortunately, Martin was able to source barley from other Queensland farmers, which was then malted at Barrett Burston Malting’s Brisbane plant.
Sourcing alternative Queensland hops proved much harder, but Martin said that he managed to find another grower just in time.
Located in Hemmant, which is about 20 kilometres out of Brisbane towards the bayside suburbs of Manly and Wynnum, Hilltop Hops is a tiny operation – literally a spare block – farmed by two engineers who have decided to give the crop a go in the unlikely location.
Martin told Brews News that of all the ingredients, sourcing a yeast that locally was the hardest. Luckily, Toowoomba-based yeast operation Mauri Yeast has recently started producing Aussie01, its first commercial brewers yeast.
Martin said that producing beers of provenance is a massive positive, proving that everything the beer industry needs can be grown in Queensland, even hops.
He said that provenance is also about reducing carbon miles.
“It’s our responsibility as human beings now to take responsibility for our actions and try and look after the earth we live in.
“By no means am I a massive greenie but we hope one day to have children and pass this earth onto them.”
A Scottish barley farmer’s son, Stuart told Brews News that he is the only non-Australian entity of the company.
“Being a farmer’s son, I’m very passionate about using and supporting as many local industries as possible.
“I know what being on the receiving end of a bad summer or a bad winter can be like for a farmer.
“We’re lucky enough to be in a position where we own our own brewery and it’s our responsibility to help as many people as we can around us.
“We’re all about supporting as many local suppliers as possible and that’s where the QPA originated I guess.”
Stuart said that he understands why breweries choose to export but assured Brews News that QPA will remain in Queensland.
“If I was in Victoria, I would want to drink a Victorian pale ale, if I was in Western Australia, I would love to drink a Western Australian pale ale.
“From a consumer’s point of view, I think it’s all about drinking as local as possible and supporting as local as possible.”
Gavin, Stuart and Lucy said that they want to encourage all local breweries to make a QPA and celebrate what Queensland has to offer.
Melbourne’s Bad Shepherd Brewing Co is another brewery to pride itself on supporting its local suppliers. But co-owner and head brewer Dereck Hales, together with brewer and beer historian Peter Symons, have also decided to take provenance one step further. Bad Shepherd Victoria Pale Ale was also released this week, this time championing this brewery’s home state.
Bad Shepherd’s new VPA was brewed with Victorian-grown barley malted at Barrett Burston Malting’s Geelong plant, HPA hops from its Rostrevor Farm in Myrtleford and a 100-year-old yeast called Melbourne No.1.
First isolated by famous bacteriologist Auguste de Bavay in 1889, Melbourne No.1 was rediscovered by Symons – who claims the Melbourne No.1 pure ale yeast was so good it was once dubbed the ‘sire of Australian beer’.
The yeast is exclusively propagated by Bad Shepherd for its VPA.
Much like Archer Brewing, Dereck and his wife Diti founded Bad Shepherd with their local community in mind.
When Dereck Hales first heard of Melbourne No.1 at a US craft brewing conference in 2018, he saw it as the opportunity to take his local notions to a new level.
Hales told Brews News that breweries have got to consider provenance.
“I think breweries need to be making either really high quality stuff on mass that can compete in terms of price point and quality across the country, or else they’ve got to brew something that’s meaningful to their local community base,” he said.
“I don’t think there’s anything in between anymore, or it’s very difficult.
“There’s an overwhelming response to provenance right now, and it’s not just in beer.”
As a brewery, Hales said that Bad Shepherd is responsible for using ingredients produced by local businesses to not only support the community but also to do right by the environment.
Hales’ desire to brew a Victorian beer has proved just as challenging for the Melbourne-based brewer as his Queensland counterpart.
Hales said that while sourcing the right malt proved pretty straight forward, hops and yeast were incredibly difficult.
From the outset, Hales explained, HPA indicated that they were – for the most part – contracted out to the larger breweries for the next two years, which has made securing enough Topaz and Vic Secret hops very difficult.
“The larger breweries that were buying up the Victorian hops precluded us from having the same opportunity.
“We managed to procure as much as we could to meet the demands of our product in the short run but in the long run we’ll need to find alternative sources of Victorian hops.”
Sourcing the Melbourne No.1 yeast has proved “incredibly expensive” for the family-owned brewery.
Each time Bad Shepherd orders Melbourne No.1 from its home at White Labs in San Diego, California, it must be propagated before being sent to Australia, which makes the entire exercise expensive.
Hales said that he has worked out a way to propagate and recycle the yeast on site, which has managed to bring that cost down, but said that it’s still very high.
Looking further afield, Hales said that while Bad Shepherd is focused on the Victorian market, he wouldn’t rule out distributing VPA interstate.
“If there is an opportunity to take that provenance story to somebody else responsibly, with due consideration to the community, it’s not a priority but we would consider it,” he said.
“I suppose there’s a romance to trying something with a story from another area but I think there’s a basis in focusing on your own backyard from an environment point of view and supporting your own.
“I can’t say we would never export our product interstate, I can see us doing it sporadically as an opportunity to share the experience but it wouldn’t be our priority.”
Melbourne-based consumer psychologist Adam Ferrier says that beer’s current macro trend is the story behind the brew.
Ferrier told Brews News that the old advertising model is dying, consumers are no longer interested in drinking the advertising so much as drinking the beer. He said that the need to be able to rationalise the beer choice at a product level – part of which is the provenance story – is greater than ever.
“Marketers are getting more sophisticated on the emotion that they are promising,” he said.
“Conversely, they may need to get more sophisticated or more targeted on the rationalisation of the emotion that people are buying into.
“Provenance is just an extremely convenient rationalisation of beer choice, it helps guide the consumer – this is a good beer because of where it’s sourced or brewed.”
Ferrier said that while provenance is not the only way to seduce consumers, saying that process and ingredients are also legitimate, provenance brings a brand story as well.
“So depending on where that provenance is, that provenance brings with it a whole set of established cues that help guide the consumer as to what type of beer it’s gonna be.”