provenance [noun]: the origin or source of something.
American writer, Wright Thompson’s new book, Pappyland: A Story of Family, Fine Bourbon, and the Things That Last colourfully describes the history of bourbon in the US; how a sin tax imposed by Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton to repay the cost of the Civil War resulted in Kentucky becoming the bourbon capital of America, thanks to tax-evading corn farmers.
Thompson details the immense effort distiller Julian Preston Van Winkle III undertakes in developing the highly sought after Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve; as he attempts to capture the distinct flavour profile of that year’s ingredients, yet still produce a spirit that will be desirable in 20 years time. With their famed 23-year-old expression fetching over $20,000 for a single 750ml bottle at auction - celebrating provenance pays.
Excitingly, Gippsland is becoming home to an ever-growing number of craft brewers and distillers. Currently, 13 independent breweries and distilleries have been established within our region, fuelled by a consumer base thirsty for provenance, flavour and quality. Together with artisan bakers, these beverage producers share the story of the seasonality of our land via unique flavours, which are sought out by locals and tourists alike.
And yet malt, a key ingredient in beer, many distilled beverages, and artisan bread often has to be brought in from outside Gippsland, sometimes even internationally. Which is wild when you consider that there are belts of grain production in our region. Grains, such as wheat and barley, that could be transformed into malt to then create delicious high-value products to be enjoyed in moderation (including bread - we know how easily a fresh loaf of Seasalt sourdough can disappear in a single sitting!).
The following is an interview with Ben Gebert, of Food and Fibre Gippland Inc, who shares the partnership approach of Smart Specialisation to developing a collective craft malting facility:
Gippslandia: How will the facility benefit the brewers and distillers of Gippsland, and will it have benefits for those beyond the region?
Ben Gebert: The facility, if proven to be a viable venture, will provide high-quality, locally-sourced malt to the region’s businesses. This will add to their unique provenance stories, generate new industry in the region and create a potential new avenue for other members of the value chain (such as grain growers) and also provide opportunities for tourism in the region.
As a region not well-renowned for grain production, if this facility were proven and able to utilise a portion of the grain grown here to generate a new, value-added business venture, this project could act as an exemplar for other regions to model.
Why is the ‘collective’ structure of this new facility important?
Maximising the benefit of any project to members up and down the value chain has been a core focus of the project stakeholder group. A collective structure grows the pie; facilitates mutual benefit; creates multi-sector buy-in; and strengthens the region.
Hypothetically, say I’m a talented homebrewer; a couple of mates and I are thinking about all pitching in to create a batch of craft beer. We plan on responsibly drinking a few, but also sell a few cases to recoup costs (while adhering to all relevant liquor laws). What should I know about this project?
The project invites any interested parties to reach out - we’d love to involve you in the Innovation Group that sets the project’s direction.
With summer coming, we’re conscious that you and your mates are
probably going to get quite thirsty if you’re hanging your hat on malt
from this project being available quickly. We’ve still got some way to
go in proving the feasibility of the concept, and have a number of
pieces of evidence to gather.
This process is important, as with a price tag well in excess of $1 million for the plant itself, it’s critical that we do the pre-work to ensure that any money that might be put towards the project maximises the benefit for the region.
To be able to use product grown and processed right here can only strengthen our regional identity.
Chris and Gabrielle Moore of Orbost’s beloved Sailors Grave Brewery have been project champions and stakeholders through the feasibility process, and Gab had further insights into the benefit of the proposed facility:
At the heart of the beers we make is the desire to express a
sense of place and time. We do this through storytelling and with the
fruit and botanicals that we use.
Unfortunately, the main ingredient in the story, grain, is
sourced from all over the place and it is mostly without provenance. To
be able to use product grown and processed right here can only
strengthen our regional identity and help build resilience against
[future] national and global disruptions.
[The project] has the ability to create a new product that tells a
story about East Gippsland and is backed up by the potential to create
new skills and economic and opportunities for the area.
Co-operative structures have had some bad outcomes recently, but
at their core are mutual benefit and shared interests. If a
micro-malting facility is set up collectively it will allow local
farmers to transition to malt quality grain cropping with the confidence
of guaranteed prices.
And, if those same farmers can work alongside brewers, bakers,
distillers and maltsters, it will enable the development of specialised
skills and products unique to our region.
We can’t lie, there’s a solid thirst developing as Ben shares what he believes the proposed East Gippsland malting facility could mean for the whole region:
If proven, it would be a testament to cross-sectoral collaboration. It has the potential to offer a unique, high-value product that benefits a myriad of businesses; has the potential to be incorporated with an educational offering, and could give Gippslanders a taste of what it looks like to establish a new, niche industry in their backyard. I’m excited by it and I’d hope that it would excite others too.
Ol’ Pappy Van Winkle was well aware of the importance of provenance when he started distilling all those years ago. He must have had some foresight too, as he was able to continue his business throughout prohibition (his whiskey was ‘medicinal’). The Collective Craft Malting Facility isn’t open and ready to celebrate yet, but with healthy momentum continuing through the enquiry phase, you get the sense that there could be an exciting new Gippsland industry brewing.