From humble beginnings, Voyager Craft Malt in the Riverina region of New South Wales, has grown fast and become the preferred choice for many local brewers. And now they've enjoyed major award success overseas, becoming the first maltster based outside the US to claim a gold medal at the Malt Cup.
Gold was awarded to Voyager's Veloria Pale Ale in the Pale Ale category, in a competition run by the Craft Maltsters Guild in Montana. The operation's co-founder Stu Whytcross (pictured above left with fellow founder Brad Woolner) told The Crafty Pint that not only was it great to take out top spot but it was also special to have won with that product.
“We’re really stoked to have taken it out, particularly with the malt that we did it with,” Stu says. “It’s the malt we started with: it’s an old Australian variety and a variety that’s really all about flavour."
Veloria – its name a nod to the Pixies – uses the Schooner variety of barley, which was developed in Australia and released in the 1980s before later falling out of favour in the face of higher-yielding crops. When it came to launching Voyager, Stu says as a homebrewer and a farmer he saw plenty of potential in it.
“It’s our most popular malt and the one we’ve really been pushing and stuck hard with from the start,” he says.
For this year's competition, the Malt Cup welcomed 58 entries from malthouses around the world, across the Pale Malt, Pilsen and Pale Ale categories.
“This year was kind of coined the battle of the base malts," he says.
The competition is now in its third year and, according to Stu, there isn’t really anything else that’s comparable to it in the world of malting. Voyager first entered last year – the first time the awards were open to maltsters outside America – with the team eager to receive feedback on the quality of their product.
“Knowing that our malts are being judged by some of the best maltsters in the States," Stu adds, "and knowing the quality of some of the craft malts coming out over there.”
The judging process is a lengthy one; they sent malt to America around the start of spring last year, with judging involving both a lab and sensory components.
“What’s really great for us from the lab component and the analysis we get is that it compares us to all the other malts that were in the competition,” Stu says. “To see how our malts sit in the industry and how it compares to everything else is just really valuable feedback to us.”
The sensory component of the competition features experts from a range of backgrounds, tasked with picking apart every aspect of the malt.
“They do it all,” Stu says. “They’ll do the visual on the malt, chew on the malt, and put it into a wort and do sensory on that. And then I believe they’ll do it on a finished fermented product too.”
Beers and spirits featuring Voyager's malts have enjoyed awards success in the past, but for Stu and the team at Voyager this one feels particularly special.
“We do get a lot of satisfaction when beers that our malts are in have medalled or won a trophy and it’s the same with spirits," he says. "But for our malts to be judged on the malt alone is great for our team.
"They've all been over the moon – it’s been really nice.”