IT OCCURRED to me when I read the blurb of yet another craft brewer from the stunning High Country in Victoria talking up their proximity to the hop plantations of the King Valley – are we doing enough in the grains industry to promote high value domestic opportunities?
Surely beer is a case in point. We have a product that is 99.9 per cent barley, with a gentle wash of hops to add some bitterness, yet where is the talk of the barley?
The Crown Lager commercials that kicked-off in August last year and featured Australian barley growers, went part of the way towards educating consumers on the paddock-to-plate provenance of beer, but there is still far too little made of our stunning barley when it comes to beer.
Where are the craft breweries located in our barley producing regions, our Arapiles Ale or our Balaklava Bitter?
Our grain producing regions do all the heavy lifting on this front, but it’s the scenic areas with little real connection to the beer making process which are reaping the benefits.
We could take a leaf out of the wine industry's book - it has created good local spin-off benefits from the core industry.
While it's true many famous wine zones also have the benefit of proximity to capital cities and beautiful scenery, there are many areas, such as the Coonawarra in South Australia, that are a long way from big centres of population and don’t have any must-see natural attractions, yet generate healthy tourist numbers.
Where is the industry marketing of our beautiful barley – both in-crop with the white heads swaying in the breeze in the early summer sun or of the grain itself, bright and white and one of the highest quality barleys in the world?
With the increasing thirst for product information from consumers, surely there is also scope for "single origin" beers – those made with one specific variety, an all-Baudin or all-Gairdner mix in the same way as wine as marketed by variety.
The move away from a bulk commodity would also provide opportunities in the wheat sector, where there are already embryonic small-batch millers, making flour for artisan bakers to exacting standards, using wheat with appropriate end-use characteristics (and quite often an appealing back-story for consumers).
I appreciate the bulk market is always going to make up the vast majority of our national crop, however, in this day and age, identifying and seizing opportunities is critical and I feel there may be some in capturing the current zeitgeist surrounding boutique food production.