From paddock to pint
Drinkers of Victoria Bitter, Carlton Dry and Pure Blonde will soon be able to better trace where the beer, or at least the barley in it, comes from.
Under a deal struck between Asahi Beverages and a group of NSW barley farmers, 40,000 tonnes of the crop is being sold directly to Australia's largest brewery, Yatala, in Queensland.
In a similar way to consumers tracing garments back to the sheep that produced them, beer drinkers can learn where the barley in their brew was grown under Asahi's expanded tracking program.
The grain is one of the main ingredients for beer and affects its colour, taste, aroma and even foam.
NSW farmer Andrew Ostwald is one of those Yatala has signed up to to buy from.
It's given the "barley fanatic" from North Star near the NSW Queensland border, another reason to celebrate.
He's already "got alot of grain coming in" and of the five tonnes of barley he harvests this month, expects most will go to Asahi.
"It gives us a direct market," Oswald says. "It's brilliant, and gives us peace of mind knowing it's staying here going into our beer.
"The barley from my property will be used to brew Victoria Bitter that's enjoyed across Australia and beyond.
"You can guess what beer I've now got in the fridge."
To be sure, Oswald's cooler is well stocked and with a dozen thirsty staff working to strip his crop it's just as well.
"They all seem to dive into that fridge at the end of the day," he tells AAP with a week to go on harvest.
Asahi Beverages, which owns Carlton & United Breweries, already runs a similar program in Melbourne with the Abbotsford brewery sourcing directly from Victorian farmers.
This latest deal will mean 70,000 tonnes in total will be sold straight from Australian farms to the beer producer.
Yatala brewing manager Garry Menz says there's a list of reasons drinkers are interested in the origin of their drop.
"We will be able to trace the barley back to the farms and working with the farmers ... we'll be able to monitor protein levels," he explains.
"It will give us the ability to select particular varieties for different beers."
Ostwald agrees: "We can tell drinkers what variety comes from what paddock and how much of it."
Under the deal, Asahi says growers will be able to adapt their barley as needed.
In other words, Menz says, better barley will mean better beer. "We'll be able to understand the barley quality which will lead to improvements in beer flavour and consistency."
The PURE Grain Network, which connects growers with breweries, represents 25 farmers across the country and helped strike the deal.
CEO Stuart Tighe says it's a win-win.
"For the consumers it will allow ... the ability to trace raw materials in particular the barley that goes into the beer all the way back to the field," he says.
That includes the data associated with it, from water use efficiency to the carbon footprint of the farm.
Tighe says the program will help improve efficiency too.
"Any time you are growing something with a particular customer in mind makes you a lot more focused and can give you a purpose of why you are doing it.
"As an example, if a rainfall event happens 60 days before harvest as opposed to 120 days, what difference does that make in the malting process?"
"Does that mean you can use less water or more water? There's the ability to trace lots of different data to create efficiencies."
He says farmers like to know there's a pathway where they can see value in the data they're presenting with the product.
It's a system Tighe would like to see extended to crops like wheat, which ultimately ends up in biscuits and bread.
Asahi, meanwhile, is looking at expanding its project further into Tasmania.
That's potentially good news for fifth generation producer Will Bennett, who hopes his crop will eventually be brought into the Pure Grain network.
"It cuts out the middle man and means we're able to provide the traceability of it," he says from his home in Ross, in the island state's midlands.
"That's really important to us."
Bennett's NSW crop is already part of the Asahi deal. He also grows barley on six thousand hectares he leases at Boggabri.
Harvest is about to kick off there amid hope the farm will produce about ten thousand tonnes of barley, the bulk of it to go straight to Yatala.
"We're growing the product with the customer in mind ... the consumers really want to know what they're consuming, where it comes from, what it's treated with," Bennett says.
"Traditionally the grain would go to a big bulk handler and it would all get co-mingled with everybody else's grain and be unable to be traced."
With luck, selling directly to the brewer will also mean extra money in the bank.
"If they can afford to pay a bit more, that obviously means a lot," he says.
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