Voyager Craft Malt and the Whitton Malt House are part of a growing series of linked businesses with their roots on the farm.
Story + Photos Ken Eastwood
The air inside the warm malting silo is thick with a heady aroma of honey-like sweetness and an earthiness like mushrooms or the soil after rain. Stuart Whytcross reaches down and scoops up a couple of handfuls of moistened grain that’s starting to go through the process of turning starches into sugars, creating a rich malt flavour that could be used by beer brewers, bakers or distillers.
Outside, a smoker is infusing red gum smoke into another batch, adding to the hundreds of award-winning malt types and flavours that Voyager Craft Malt makes at this 2-year-old facility at Whitton, in southern NSW. “It’s one of the smallest malthouses in the country, but a lot of the malts we do wouldn’t be found anywhere else in the world,” Stuart says.
Producing some 7000 tonnes of malt a year – mainly from barley, wheat and rye grown in the area, but also from native grains and other foodstuffs such as pumpkin seeds – Stuart and his business partner Brad Woolner offer their customers a chance to learn about different malt flavours and characteristics, to choose the best option. “As far as we know, it’s unique in the world,” Stuart says. “Prior to us becoming established, there were only a handful of different malt styles available in Australia.”
Both keen home brewers while working other jobs, Stuart and Brad set up a small not-for-profit brewing enterprise in Barellan, NSW, and discovered that malting was a bit of a secret business, with no link between growers and the end product. “People who have been involved in the whiskey industry for 35 years had never seen a malthouse before we came along,” Stuart says. Now malts are traced back to individual farms, and the farmers are invited along to launches of beers and spirits using their grain. “The farmers get a real kick out of it. To provide a vehicle for that is probably one of the most satisfying things we do.”
Voyager Craft Malt started 9 years ago, in a smaller facility, and for the first few years, Stuart continued his job as a schoolteacher. Now, like Brad and 7 others, he works full-time at the malthouse. Customers include 50 distillers and 200–300 craft brewers who buy their bespoke malts by the truckload, or in 25kg or 1-tonne bags.
The industrial malting area is part of a huge, multifaceted business conglomerate orchestrated by long-term crop growers and entrepreneurs Tim and Roger Commins, who have created a barley to bottle experience for visitors. On their property next to the malting facility is the Malt House, a large dining area, bar and whiskey tasting area. Diners can look out across the fields where barley is being grown while sampling some of the whiskeys and beers that use Voyager malt.
The complex also has a corporate conference area, a shop selling local produce, and 14 villas stationed around a pretty lake that offers aqua golf and tag-and-release fishing. It hosts weddings in the sculpture garden.
This story excerpt is from Issue #150
Outback Magazine: Aug/Sep 2023