“We saw a lot of craft breweries popping up but what we could never get our heads around was why we weren’t getting into it as malt barley producers,” AG Schilling & Co’s Mark Schilling says.
“Why is this any different from the wine industry – they grow grapes and they turn them into wine so why don’t we make our own beer from the barley we grow?”
The family farming business grows grains and legumes across more than 2000ha on South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula, which is about 150km northwest of Adelaide in a region renowned for producing world-class barley.
Schilling grew Banks barley, which is still going through the accreditation process, in 2017 and had it malted at Voyager Craft Malt in New South Wales last year before sending it to Clare Valley Brewing Co. who made the Yorke Premium beer under contract.
The first 800-litre batch of Yorke Premium’s Malbro Mid was made in September while a second 1600-litre brew, which has gone into a mixture of kegs and stubbies was put down at the start of this year.
The Kolsch style session ale has an ABV of 4 per cent and uses Fuggles and Target hops to provide a subtle bitterness and spice.
The barley was grown in a single paddock at Agery on northern Yorke Peninsula on a share farm worked by AG Schilling & Co and owned by the Adelaide-based Hallo family trading under the name Malbro Pty Ltd.
Schilling says the first batch was mainly given away but Malbro Mid is now starting to be distributed to restaurants and community clubs mainly on Yorke Peninsula.
“We had something like 380 people come and visit us last year and it’s always nice at the end of the exercise to show people what you’re doing,” he says.
“It’s a bit hard to show people that you grow wheat and barley –it’s just wheat and barley – but when you pull out a beer they go ‘how good is that’?
“The Yorke Premium name was chosen so we could bring brand recognition back into play – we’re growing beautiful stuff here but we just never hero it.
“The Barossa Valley has been doing it for 30-odd years, the Coonawarra does it, McLaren Vale does it, so Yorke Premium aims to do the same thing.”
AG Schilling & Co grew 400 tonnes of Banks barley in 2018, which Schilling hopes to have malted at Coopers in Adelaide this year.
“Banks fitted a lot of our criteria, it’s a good variety and we felt it had the right attributes for the craft beer market so we used it.
“We’ve been talking to Coopers and we’re doing some malt trials with them so hopefully Yorke Premium will be able to supply them with barley to get malted and we’ll be able to buy back some of our barley to make beer to sell under our brand name.
“Everyone’s tastebuds are different but what we found with the Malbro Mid is it’s just a good drinkable beer that appeals to most people and the only way we’re going to survive is to have some volume go through.”
Schilling and his wife Merridee have just returned from the United States where they looked at a malting plant. They have also visited more than 30 breweries in South Australia where Schilling says they were disappointed to find the majority using malt sourced from overseas, particularly New Zealand.
Schilling is also a part-owner of private breeding company Grains Innovation Australia, which is developing a number of barley varieties specifically targeted at the craft beer industry.
“We’ve been growing varieties in Australia that are suited to the bulk beer market – not the craft beer market,” he says.
“A different type of malt barley is required and we are now starting to identify those varieties.
“I don’t want to do a brewery because everyone’s doing breweries but I want to help craft breweries take a better product to market.
“The main reason I did the beer was to gain credibility in the marketplace … our whole end game is supplying the breweries with malt.”
“I want the brewer to be able to have access to provenance barley so he knows where it’s coming from – traceability is key to any food in today’s world.”
Schilling is no stranger to value adding on the farm. AG Schilling Co also has its own grain storage, processing facilities, seed cleaning and packing plant and freight arm. It is also an importer of agricultural components and a manufacturer of “Last Supper” mouse bait. He has also partnered with celebrity chef Simon Bryant and Janette Schulz in consumer facing food company Dirty Inc, which features several legume products grown by AG Schilling & Co.
However, he says the beer was one way of engaging with “city folk” to get them interested in agriculture.
“That’s what we don’t do very well – explain what we do in agriculture but we think this is some way of doing it.
“My ultimate goal is to have farm tourism because when you have different products there is actually something for people to come and see now.
“We do all of these things currently but we just don’t showcase it and I think that’s one thing we’re striving towards.”