Hopping into new brews; Strathbogie couple pay homage to John Barleycorn

Strathbogie brewers aiming to close the loop, from paddock to palate

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HOME BREW: Dave and Sandy Joyce have taken the concept of home brewing to a new level, at their Strathbogie property.

HOME BREW: Dave and Sandy Joyce have taken the concept of home brewing to a new level, at their Strathbogie property.

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Cider and beer being produced on one small Strathbogie farm.

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Cox's Orange Pippin, Yarlington Mill, Fox Whelp, Fuggles, Golding, Pride of Ringwood, Maris Otter.... there's a little touch of Olde England growing happily at Strathbogie, north-eastern Victoria.

The evocative names are for the apples, hops and barley, grown on the property of the Strathbogie Brewing Company. They all go in the company's cider and beer.

Dave and Sandy Joyce run the nano-brewery, which has an output of up to 49,999 litres a year. At the moment they are producing about 10 beers in bottles and kegs.

Together, the Joyce's are paying homage to the old English folk song, John Barleycorn, which celebrates the making of beer, through it's personification of the sowing, harvesting and eventual brewing of the grain.

Sandy said Dave had always been a home brewer.

When they first moved from Melbourne to Strathbogie they found it difficult to find work.

"It was a bit of a process - looking for employment in a country area is not that easy, and wanting to have a stable business, we could grow ourselves, was really important to us," Ms Joyce said. 'We have a love for growing things, so it was a natural progression."

She said the apple trees were among the first things they planed, after buying the property in 1992. Foxwhelp is a traditional bittersharp West Country cider apple, from the United Kingdom. A red skinned apple, picked in September, it was first recorded in 1600. Yarlington Mill, a traditional cider cultivar, is believed to have originated in Somerset.

The rootstock was bought from an Ardmona nursery, when the Joyce's first moved to Strathbogie, but growing the grain and corn took a little longer.

'We've been mucking around with that, for years, probably about four or five years ago, we got some seed, from the seedbank, and decided to look at some of the older heritage styles," Ms Joyce said.

"We are keen on doing things organically, although we are not certified organic, we try to do things that are good for the environment."

Stringent regulations, in the early 1990's, initially made it hard to set up a brewery..

"They really weren't set up to help micro-breweries, at that stage," Ms Joyce said.

Mr Joyce said his home brew 180 litre fermenters were batch size, but he bought variable capacity tanks, with the help of a Victorian government grant.

'They are like a wine tank, so you can shift the lid, so you can but different sized batches in, as long as its not over 180litres, so I was brewing 18litre batches - so it was 10 times bigger, and it really wasn't that hard," Mr Joyce said.

"I jumped in small steps, that wasn't the complex bit.

"Probably learning how to count yeast, and making sure I had the right amount, where probably more technical, compared to what I was doing as a homebrewer."

The wrong amounts changed the flavor of the beer - too much would mean the brew would ferment too quickly, and too little and the beer "struggled to finish.

"It made a unique beer, and it tastes great and I look at it, taste it, drink it, and think it, and say, nah, I can't change this any more, it tastes great - it's where I want it to be."

Mr Joyce said he was creative, in sourcing products, for his beer - including using the 19th century Rouge de Bourdeaux red wheat, used as a bread flour by French bakers for centuries.

Maris Otter barley is a cross of Proctor and Pioneer varieties, the only one ever bred purely for its brewing capabilities.

Mr Joyce said he acquired the Rouge de Bourdeaux wheat from a local baker.

"He got a small amount of seeds, he grew them on in his veggie patch, and then wanted to make the jump to a bigger volume of grain," he said.

'We grew it out for him, and kept some as tax, for growing it for him."

We grew it out for him, and kept some as tax, for growing it for him. - Dave Joyce, Strathbogie Brewing

He'd read that red wheat was the right one to brew with, "and it really did make a difference.

"We've moved away from the white wheat, to the red wheat, and it really has made a difference."

There was one last thing, in completely closing the paddock to bottle loop.

"There's still bits and pieces, the hardest one, so far, has been to malt our own barley," he said.

"So in different beers, for example the Cream Ale, we grow 50 per cent of the grain, but because we can't produce our own malt yet, we use bought malt for that.

"But we grow all the hops in that one."

He said he and Sandy used green hops, freshly picked from the vines, in some of their beers.

'It's like using fresh herbs in your cooking, rather than dried herbs."

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