Beer is emerging as an a surprise helper for some of the region’s drought-hit farmers.
Not the amber liquid itself, but a byproduct of its production, which three Illawarra brewers are sending to cattle farms in the region to help get the stock through the hardest drought in many farmers’ memory.
Early in the brewing process the grain – mostly barley, sometimes wheat – is cooked to extract the sugars. When the solids are separated out afterwards, what is left over is a sludgy concoction of softened grains which cows don’t mind at all.
And with many of the region’s farmers forced to find alternative feed sources to keep their stock alive when grass isn’t growing in the paddocks, the barley “porridge” can help out.
With hay going past $300 a bale, farmers have been taking loads of orange peel, watermelon rind, whatever they can find.
Illawarra Brewing Company founder David McGrath said he was pleased to be able to support three different farms in the region with the spent grain generated from their North Wollongong operation.
Five Barrel Brewing head Phil O’Shea said he gives about 600kg a week to a cattle farm in Gerringong, with used yeast and hops mixed in for added protein.
“Over summer that will probably increase to about a tonne a week,” he said,
“For us it’s a mixture of convenience and helping out a local farmer. The best thing we can do is find someone who can make the best use out of it, which in this case if a farmer and his cattle.”
Bulli Brewing Co owner and brewer Michael Peloquin said he enjoyed taking his grain down to a dairy farm at Albion Park – an arrangement that began before the drought took grip and has continued since.
“I have always given my grain to him,” he said.
“I come from the country, I grew up on a dirt road, and I really enjoy getting down there to take the grain to him, and see the cows.
“I wish I could bring him more, but we don’t brew that often; we’re quite small and new.
“I guess it’s like a porridge for them. They love it.
“It’s nice because the hot side of our brewery is old dairy tanks I’ve had repurposed and fabricated … now the grain goes back to cows.”