Growing malting barley for the craft beer industry
Doug Michael is a 5thgeneration malting barley grower who, along with his wife Gabi, have built and developed their own malting operation supplying a growing number of boutique breweries around New Zealand and overseas.
Malting has a long history in New Zealand. The first malts were being produced as early as the early 1800s.
The malting process causes the harvested barley grain to germinate (setting in motion a process that the plant normally does) and then stopping the process at a precise time.
There are some key steps in the process:
Steeping – the grain is prepared for germination by taking on moisture.
Germination - the germ starts to develop and changes inside the grain.
Kilning - used to halt the germination activity.
Roasting – to add complexity and flavour to the malt
Gladfield Malt began 12 years ago when Doug and Gabi were looking to add value to what they knew was an exceptionally good raw product they were growing on Gladfield farm, near Dunsandel in Canterbury.
The Michael family has been growing malting barley for five generations. In the early stages the property was part-sheep and barley. Doug had been selling their raw barley to Malteurop – a global malting company with a plant in Marton in the North Island.
In the early 2000s the Michaels could see there was an opportunity to supply craft brewers because the only large scale malt producers weren’t particularly interested in the local craft market. Small independent breweries had traditionally sourced their malt overseas.
Doug says there weren’t too many craft brewers, and they were resistant to using New Zealand malts, because they had the idea it had to be imported to be a quality product. Doug says they were lucky to get alongside a few key brewers who were enthusiastic about their venture. Early customers for Gladfield’s malts included Emersons, Harringtons, Renaissance and Three Boys.
Gabi explains the original equipment for Gladfield’s malting business came from an unused plant at Leeston. In 2004 they bought the equipment and moved it onto their home farm. In 2005 they produced their first batch of malt - grown and processed on the farm.
Ongoing demand for new malt varieties encouraged Gladfield to invest in new equipment, including a $2 million roaster they bought from the Czech Republic.
Big breweries don’t use a lot of roasted, coloured malts, but craft brewers love them. At the start they were a very, very small market. The couple found that as soon as they could supply a full range of malts, the market took off and they had the cash flow to survive and develop.
Gabi is especially proud that the range covers wide variety of beer styles, from wheats to stouts, and brewers are developing new beers to exploit new malts.
Gladfield farm is now focussed on growing barley on their 165 ha. They plant in both spring and autumn to spread the risk. As they’ve grown and developed, they’ve started sourcing barley from other local suppliers to add to the volume they can produce on their own property.
The couple believes the next step in New Zealand craft brewing will be driven by drinkers rather than brewers. They’re predicting that malt will become as much of a focus as hops. The challenge going forward is educating both the consumers and brewers.