The Riverina town of Barellan is looking to a beer to boost tourism – and highlight the quality of its homegrown barley.
A year ago, avid homebrewer and school teacher Stuart Whytcross, who grew up in the small town 50km east of Griffith, had the idea to start up the Barellan Beer Company. It’s a brewery with a difference because it’s a not-for-profit – the money raised from the one beer they’ve made goes straight back into the company.
He had dreams of starting a craft brewery but admitted his home town was probably too small to support one. But he figured that maybe they would support one that supported the town, through using only locally-grown barley and only selling the beer on tap in town.
And support it they did. A crowd-funding campaign to raise money brought in more than twice the $15,000 Stuart estimated they would need to get things rolling. That allowed him to brew the one commercially available Barellan beer: a 3.9 per cent ABV golden ale – a beer that you could call ‘‘single origin’’ in that it only contains malt from Barellan farmers.
‘‘Farmers look after the grain for seven months and make sure they’re producing a quality product but for them to have to just chuck it out the front gate and have no real connection to it from then on is really sad,’’ says Stuart, who grew up on a barley farm.
‘‘We’ve used three different farmers’ grain in the project and I get a real thrill out of the satisfaction they get when they give someone a beer that they know their barley’s gone into.’’
Making the Barellan Beer Company’s Golden Grain Ale isn’t cheap, considering they have to send the barley to Melbourne to be malted and then have it sent back again. But, in a move that could save some money through removing the need to send the barley to Melbourne, there’s a plan to set up a malting business in the town that will sell the single origin malts to other craft brewers.
However, at the end of the day, says Stuart (pictured third from left below with members of the local community), the focus of the Barellan Beer Company isn’t really on making money.
‘‘We’re breaking even but the real value is for the tourism and the promotion of our town,’’ he says. ‘‘For that reason we only ever envisaged the keg product would be available in Barellan to entice people to come into our town.
‘‘Once they try the beer, hopefully they get a counter meal at the pub, get some fuel or check out the museum. A lot of the shopkeepers have been telling us they have people saying, ‘We came to Barellan to try the beer and thought we’d come in and say g’day’.’’
For the foreseeable future, the only way to taste the Golden Grain Ale is on tap at either the Barellan and District War Memorial or the Commercial Hotel where you can sit and sip the beer while looking across the road at silos and fields of barley. There was a run of bottled beer, and the demand is there to warrant doing it again.
‘‘We’re trying really hard to get it back into bottles because we’ve had a lot of demand for it from right round the country,’’ says Stuart.
‘‘People have heard the story and want to stock it. But it’s a big step for us to go from a volunteer not-for-profit where we’re not employing anyone to getting a massive run of bottles done and running warehouse and distribution.
‘‘It’ll certainly happen but it might not be until mid to late next year.’’
For more on the Barellan Beer project, check out their website.
About the author: Glen is a full-time journalist who also writes about beer at the blog Beer Is Your Friend. He is also totally crap at writing short biographies that appear at the end of stories.