The Brewers Guild presented the Morton Coutts Trophy to Gladfield Malt at its 2015 awards session last month.
In the Guild’s words, “The Morton Coutts Trophy is a prestigious award designed to recognise outstanding innovation and/or achievement in the brewing industry of New Zealand”.
Gladfield Malt’s win follows five generations as barley growers, 11 years as maltsters, major investment in new equipment, and a programme to develop and produce new malt varieties.
Husband and wife team Doug and Gabi Michael operate the business from rural Dunsandel, 45km southwest of Christchurch on the widest, flattest part of the wide, flat Canterbury Plains.
“We were growing barley for the Canterbury Malting Co.” Doug says. “Eleven years ago we could see there was an opportunity supplying craft brewers because Lion and DB owned the company and they were making it very difficult for craft brewers to get a malt supply.
“There wasn’t too many craft brewers, and they were a bit resistant to using New Zealand malts, because they were used to the rubbish the local malt companies had supplied in the past. They had the idea it had to be imported to be a quality product. We were lucky we had a few key brewers on side who backed us all the way.”
Doug says Gladfield’s first customers included Richard Emerson, Harrington’s, Renaissance and Three Boys. Ongoing demand for new malt varieties encouraged Gladfield to invest in new equipment, including a $2 million roaster and an on-site lab.
“The roaster was a huge jump forward. Big breweries don’t use a lot of roasted, coloured malts, and craft brewers love them but they’re a very, very small market. We said stuff it, let’s just do it, and if it doesn’t work we’ll have to go and milk cows! But we found that as soon as we could supply a full range of malts our market took off and we had the cash flow to look at making an ever greater range.”
Gabi says there are many good examples of beers featuring Gladfield Malts. Initially reluctant to name favourites, Gabi says some examples highlight the products especially well: 8 Wired’s Hop Wired; Three Boy’s Red Ale (Shepherd’s Delight malt); Hop Federation (“a phenomenal showcase right across the range”); Emerson’s; Sprig & Fern; and more.
She is especially proud that the range covers wide variety of beer styles, from wheats to stouts, and brewers are developing new beers to exploit new malts such as Shepherd’s Delight and Aurora. “Fiordland Lager from Invercargill Brewery just uses a single malt – you don’t have to go overboard with speciality malts.”
Doug believes the next step in New Zealand craft brewing will be driven by drinkers rather than brewers. “I think malt will become as sexy as hops. We’re trying to educate brewers and we’ve got a ten-year plan to do that. It needs to be driven by the drinker, because if they start to demand a type of beer the brewer has to meet that demand.”
He says the challenge for craft brewers is to understand the brewing process in detail, to match big brewers’ consistency. “Our lab tests everything we release and we offer [an online] Certificate of Analysis for every batch. We know only 10 to 15% of brewers log in and get that data. You have to measure what you do to improve it. Don’t go spending thousands on a big fermenter if you haven’t spent a couple of hundred on a good pH meter first.”
Declaration of interest: the writer was on the Morton Coutts Trophy judging panel.