SOUTH Australian brewer Coopers has made the single largest investment in its 155-year history, building a $65-million malting plant at its Regency Park site.
Opened by SA governor Hieu Van Le on Thursday last week, the plant gives Coopers full control of a key input in the brewing process and an additional income stream.
“The integration of a maltings at Coopers will provide the company with a greater control over malted barley supply and the opportunity to expand malt extract sales,” Coopers managing director Tim Cooper said.
“This is a long-term strategic asset with potential of generating income and cost savings for more than 40 years. The investment has been aided by the growth in Coopers beer sales, which have grown at a yearly rate of almost 9pc for the past 24 years.”
Construction began in February, led by local South Australian firm Ahrens, with Swiss manufacturer Buhler providing the key malting equipment.
Dr Cooper said the 54,000-tonne capacity was selected “to achieve a suitable manufacturing cost per tonne”, with Coopers using 17,000t annually and the rest sold to other brewers.
Coopers maltings manager Doug Stewart said in addition to domestic customers, brewers in Korea, Japan and Thailand were also on the company’s radar, with about 80pc of production sold for the next six months.
Dr Stewart said Coopers used Commander (70pc) and Scope (30pc) barley, but would likely move to Compass – once accredited – as well as La Trobe and Spartacus. A small amount of Schooner barley was also being malted for craft brewing.
“At the moment we’re sourcing barley through the market, rather than direct from farmers, but we want to build relationships with farmers,” Dr Stewart said.
“From a marketing perspective it’s quite good because I think it’s a nice story that you’re in touch with the people growing the raw material.
“We’ve had grower groups through and they really appreciate seeing where their barley might, or even will, end up in the future.
Coopers’ last foray into the malting game was as a majority shareholder of Adelaide Malting Company, which was sold in 2002 to pay for the brewer’s move to Regency Park.
Purpose-built plant offers ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity
For Dr Stewart, being able to see the brewer’s new malting plant go from concept to reality was a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity.
“This is a maltings designed by brewers,” Dr Stewart said. “It’s been designed by the end user, so all the features a brewer would like have been incorporated here.”
He said the plant had been designed to cope with Australian conditions.
“Most maltings are made to cope weather 80 per cent of the time, so once the thermometer hits 35 degrees, a lot of maltings would be out of control, but this maltings will be chugging along just beautifully,” Dr Stewart said.
Barley is delivered into one of six 510-tonne silos, then the six-day malting process begins in three 60t steeping vessels.
“The first part of the process is steeping, in which the barley is alternately immersed in water and aerated to bring the moisture content of each barley grain from 10pc up to 40pc,” Dr Cooper said.
The steeped grain is then transferred into one of four 180t germination vessels, where the hydrated barley grains germinate under tightly-controlled conditions.
“The final part of the malting process is kilning,” Dr Cooper said. “Germination stops, and the moisture content of the malt is reduced to less than 5pc.”
Malt will then be transferred into the brewery as needed via an elevated conveyor (pictured left).
Water for the plant will be drawn from a saline underground aquifer and desalinated onsite. About 4000 litres of water are required for each tonne of malt produced.