What started as a conversation about a love of craft beer has now seen a relationship between farmer and brewer that shows beer lovers the journey from paddock to pint.
Armidale brewer The Welder's Dog has joined forces with Wee Waa farmers Corie and Nicole Piper to provide them with an independent strain of grain for their produce.
Now about 20 hectares of the Piper's property 'Auburn' is dedicated to growing single origin, single variety and single harvest malt barley with the the focus of producing super pure lines of the highest quality malt barley varieties.
"We have been blown away by the craft beer movement, we knew we could grow high quality barley and we knew we could do it well," Corie said.
"It was not part of the business plan but we are constantly looking at gross margins, how to value add and how to remain profitable."
The Pipers purchased "Auburn' in 2000 - a broadacre grain and cotton producing enterprise.
Prior to that Corie worked on properties, had contract cotton pickers and started share farming before he and his wife worked their way to purchasing their own property.
Cotton is their main summer cropping enterprise but they also grow barley, wheat, faba beans, mustard, chickpeas and anything that makes commercial sense.
About six years ago they started to trial new varieties for seed production. These included GrangeR and Alestar barley, working predominantly with Elders plant genetics.
They trialled multiple varieties (six to eight) on around 20ha, increasing to 300ha for bulk up of individual lines for commercialisation.
"Seed premiums are paid for maintaining varietal purity," he said.
"Clearly there is a lot of research behind these varieties, not just agronomic traits but whether they are suitable for malting and beer production."
The trials came at a time where there was increased activity with craft beers in Australia.
"We looked at where else we could add value to our business. That's when we considered our barley, how we could malt it, brew it, and try to understand if there were particular varietal flavours and performance traits exhibited by individual varieties," Corie said.
They started malting some of their own varietal lines with hopes they could find a brewer who would appreciate their approach.
We can offer them full traceability of their product right back to farm and field.
About 12 months ago, the Pipers then approached the The Welder's Dog team of Tom Croft, Daniel Emery and Phil Stevens about working together.
The Welder's Dog team had already launched their brand three years ago with a home-made alcoholic Farmhouse Ginger Beer.
"It was a meeting of minds where we talked about what we were were looking to achieve and what they were looking for in their business," he said.
"We love craft beer and loved the idea of working with local brewers to produce something special."
While they are still in the trial phase, they are coming to understand that each variety does exhibit distinct flavours and they have the ability to exploit the unique varietal characteristics of different malt barley varieties sourced from a single origin and harvest.
"We can offer them full traceability of their product right back to farm and field," he said.
"We will be able to grow specific barley lines that will produce the exact flavour they want.
"Down the track we would like to think we could develop our own varieties specific to us."
The Welder's process
When the barley is harvested, a meticulous level of detail is required for cleaning and purging the headers to prevent contamination between varieties. It is then transported to the 'Auburn' silos where samples are collected from each load for quality analysis.
Each variety is stored in a separate silo, all of which are monitored for grain temperature and moisture. The barley is cooled and, if required, dried by fans installed in each silo. Maintaining the grain in a cool and dry condition enhances each barley's distinct quality and helps prevent insects taking an interest.
Once ready, the barley is then transported from Auburn to Voyager Craft Malt for malting. The finished malt is then transported to The Welder's Dog Brewery in Armidale for conversion into craft beers.
- The Welder's Dog craft beer can be found across the state but they also have their own bar at Armidale and Tamworth.