'Big boy' steps in to save brewers’ bacon

Oamaru brewer Michael O'Brien thought he had struck out.

A lack of demand had wiped out the availability of organic malt in New Zealand and the 100-litre Craftwork Brewery he runs with partner Lee-Ann Scotti was forced to import organic pilsner malt from Germany.

But Emerson's Brewery in Dunedin came to the rescue and last month secured an organic malt supply for the micro-brewery.

"They basically saved our bacon by being the big boy stepping in,'' Mr O'Brien said.

Gabi Michael, of Gladfield Malt, in Dunsandel, called Mr O'Brien last summer to tell him they were going to have to stop supplying organic malt.

Gladfield could not find a buyer for its minimum order of 5tons a year.

While 5tons was "actually quite small in the malting world'', there was no way Craftwork Brewery could use nearly enough organic malt to fill an order.

"It's a dying trend, unfortunately,'' Mrs Michael said.

Mr O'Brien, who also works as a traditional hand bookbinder, wrote an open letter to "The Brewers of New Zealand'' in which he urged them "to have a big think about this important and symbolic issue''.

He wrote that as organic production of New Zealand-grown barley malt ceased, "meanwhile coffee, for example, has gone to organic free trade as normal rather than as an aberration. Beer drinkers have never been so discerning as they are now and spoilt for choice. Top restaurants and their chefs also vie for local and/or organic product, which is no longer seen as weird but better, fresher and tastier.''

Emerson's Brewery sales and marketing manager Greg Menzies said senior brewer Jim Falconer saw the letter in the magazine Pursuit of Hoppiness and brought the idea up.

At the brewery's 5000L brew house the inevitable spillage was about 5tons a year.

A phone call was made to Gladfield Malt to secure the 5ton order.

Whatever was not taken by the supplier's existing clients would go to Emerson's for use in its new 1200-litre micro-brewery.

Yesterday, Mr Menzies said he hoped Mr O'Brien would come to Emerson's to brew a beer with the organic malt in collaboration with their brewers.

"Michael's been a friend of the brewery for a long time; he's the person that the Bookbinder beer is named after,'' he said.

"He's just a friend of the brewery, so it's friends helping out friends.''

Before the turn of the century, Emerson's Brewery gained acclaim for its organic pilsner, but the expanding brewery could not source enough organic malt for the quantity of pilsner they started to brew.

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