Spirits on the apple isle are soaring — with more than 80 distilleries in Tasmania and in addition to more than 30 craft breweries.
- A Tasmanian malt house is struggling to keep up with demand for local barley
- The state has become a whisky capital — as distillers continue to expand, they are chasing local malt
- Provenance is key to the state’s booming craft beer and spirits market
A key ingredient in the production of both beverages is malt barley.
The challenge for both the whisky and craft beer industries is securing long-term supplies of local malt.
Boortmalt, the world’s largest malting company, which has a long history of supplying the big breweries in Tasmania, is changing its approach to accommodate the state’s expanding beverage market.
The French-owned business operates a number of plants across Australia, including Joe White Malting at Devonport in Tasmania’s north-west, which it took over in 2019.
Simon Robertson, the company’s regional merchandising manager in the Asia Pacific, said one of its barley storage facilities in Devonport is at capacity for niche malt buyers.
“Obviously we only get one shot each year to buy the barley,” Mr Robertson said.
“Ultimately we want to not only supply the Tasmanian craft industry with local malt, but it’s also taking it to the mainland, branding it as Tasmanian and, if we can get consistent supply, taking it to the corporate guys as well.”
The business is currently trialling a new distilling variety of barley, which is designed to have a much higher predictive spirit yield.
That is music to the ears of Tasmanian distillers.
“We are an industry in a significant growth phase,” Whisky and Sprit Association president, Cameron Brett, said.
“Not a lot of those are overly large, but there are some big players entering the market.
“And no doubt, there will be greater demand for malt going forward.”
Mr Brett said Tasmanian malt produced very creamy whisky and, for many distillers, it was an important part of their brand.
He said the industry had huge potential in the next five to 10 years.
“Joe White are certainly happy to sit down with us as an industry, have a look at our future growth and try and get some sort of supply guarantee,” Mr Brett said.
Craft brewers also after local malt
Willie Simpson has been brewing under the Seven Sheds label at Railton, in the state’s north-west, for more than a decade.
He said in the past it was difficult for the craft brewers to access local malt because demand from the big breweries had been so strong.
“I know there are places in New South Wales and New Zealand, where grain farmers have seen the benefit of value-adding maltings; Or someone has seen the opportunity to set up a speciality maltings and contacted farmers to grow strains they want under contract to them.
“At the moment we’ve only got one maltings in Tasmania, but there’s certainly room for someone to look at a more specialised niche one down the track.”
Andrew Turner is setting up a new brewery in Burnie called Communion.
“If we grow it here and its a good product, we’re crazy not to use it,” he said.
“Some people have preferences for different companies and different styles.
“Same with hops — there’s a great list of Tassie ingredients that we’re really keen on.”