Barley to beer, adding value the Voyager Craft Malt way

“Even though I was growing barley at the time, I never once thought what can I turn this into. Sadly I was much the same as the 99% of other farmers and the product we grew was nothing but a faceless commodity”. - Stuart Whytcross Voyager Craft Malt

The Voyager Craft Malt story is one of friendship, innovation and continued idea refinement. This burgeoning craft malting business is run by two mates: Stuart Whytcross and Brad Woolner who grew up growing barley on neighbouring farms in Barellan, NSW Australia. Their friendship saw them drinking beer together, and over the years their passion for beer began to flourish. 

Instead of just drinking, they became involved in making and began some serious home brew projects, travelling the globe seeking out different ingredients and refining their brews. This obsession soon had them thinking about the different options they had to put their hard earned research to work. 

After experimenting with a variety of projects the pair decided to focus on producing malted barley for craft brewers. Placing emphasis on provenance, their malt traces the ingredient back to the farmer who produced the grain, a very exciting development for craft brew in Australia. 

Turning their commodity barley, into malt has presented many challenges along the way. Here are some of the lessons they have learnt on their business journey thus far;

Research and resources are key; With large breweries being the traditional players in the malting game, the Voyager pair have had to navigate an industry which is producing malt in what they describe as ‘strict, mass produced routine in mega factories’. The pair have put in lots of time researching how the value chain worked for processing large amounts of malt and then more time deconstructing that model to work out how they could make the numbers work for small batches. 

Researching and developing a new product based on small batches, although exciting, has required extensive research and financial resources. As Stuart explained “everything takes longer and is more expensive than expected”. Producing a commodity with no added value requires a certain amount of capital. Taking it to the next level and processing requires more. 

Prototypes and projects can help to define and refine your niche: Throughout their business journey the Voyager pair have continued to refine their business idea. In early 2014 they had grain transported to be malted under contract. The freight charged made the process unprofitable, however they did learn important steps regarding malted barley preparation. Together they also started the Barellan Beer project using their own barley, they malted it and turned it into commercial beer. Left over malt was then sold off to brewing buddies, allowing them to test the market. Soon they were flooded with inquiries and orders from a range of craft brewers, distillers and home brewers. Highlighting to them that the demand was there. 

Do the numbers and focus on the end goal: Voyager are focused on full product traceability. They did not want to have to blend grains from different paddocks to fulfil orders. They saw the development of direct relationships with brewers as vital to the business success. This has driven them to develop a malting plant that will produce high quality malt on a small scale. They have seen growing interest from venture capitalists as their idea flourished however they are focused on keeping things small with both being 50% shareholders of Voyager Craft Malt. As Stuart explained “the more people become involved, the more product we need to make”.

Despite the challenges faced thus far, if you are interested in turing your commodity into a value added product Stuart has some advice. “Do it… it’s a really exciting time to be involved in agriculture…Words like terroir, provenance and independent are becoming more prevalent and important to consumers”.

**Image courtesy of Voyager Craft Malt**

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