24 Hour Barley People

March 5, 2022, by James Smith

24 Hour Barley People

You'd struggle to find much common ground between the Madchester scene of the late 80s and the Margaret River region of today, yet the intent behind a new beer launching this weekend shares something of the Happy Mondays' spirit of pushing the pursuit of enjoyment to its very limits.

On the face of things, if you were told Rocky Ridge had brewed a barleywine it might not seem much of a cause for raised eyebrows – even in a state where #barleywineislife has more advocates than anywhere else in Australia. After all, they've brewed barleywines before, regularly take their beers into double figure ABVs, and are responsible for dozens of new releases every year.

Yet Master Of Kettles is as much an experiment – a case of "What if...?" – as a beer. It's also one that helps shine a light on the brewery's ongoing mission to celebrate local and independent producers. And, let's cut to the chase here: it also features a 24-hour boil.

Now, if you're a brewer with any level of experience, or a beer lover who knows a bit about the beer-making process, you may well be picking your jaw up from the floor right now. Or if you're someone who loves to drink good beer but has no idea how it goes from raw ingredients to the can in your hand, then some context would be handy.

The boiling stage in brewing typically lasts around an hour; in some cases with barleywines or imperial stouts it can be two hours or more. In very rare cases, brewers will push beyond this if they're looking to create a dense, high in alcohol beer, but 24 hours – an entire day and night – well, that's something we've never come across at The Crafty Pint.

Which begs the question: "Why?"

And the person with the answers is Rocky Ridge founder Hamish Coates. On the one hand, he says they wanted to push the upgraded brewery installed last year "to its absolute limits". On another, they wanted to see how far they could go with a beer featuring nothing but basic pale malt: could they obtain the sort of character in a barleywine that usually requires the addition of specialty malts without including any in the grist?

"I've always been really curious what flavour and aroma we could get out of base malt," Hamish told The Crafty Pint. "I've always been pretty big into using process and technique to get flavour.

"The main ingredient in a barleywine is malt, and most of the time the complexities come from the layering of different malts; this uses just the one malt."



As they were brainstorming ways to push the upgraded kit, and make use of the second kettle they'd installed, they wanted to come up with a way of making a barleywine "exceptionally different" to anything they'd brewed before. A 24-hour boil would achieve that goal, but also allow them to see how far they could push the Maillard reaction in their base malt.

"The risk was we'd end up with scorched wort," Hamish says. "We needed a nice, gentle, rolling boil, topped up with fresh wort so it never got too toasted."

The malt itself was sourced from a farm in Kulin, around four hours drive inland from the brewery. The barley grown there by Brendan Savage is Australian Sustainable Produce certified, thus in keeping with Rocky Ridge's sustainable practices.

"We've been working with them for just over a year," Hamish says, pointing out with some excitement that there's also a couple of small craft maltsters coming online in WA in the next 12 months.

"With this beer, we've just taken the base pale malt and have used four times the amount we would normally use – 2.2 tonnes in a 35 hectolitre batch – with four top up mashes."

The logistics involved go beyond the need to keep topping up the boil: Hamish and head brewer Ross Terlick spent around 30 hours in the brewery overseeing the process right through the night, in part so there were always two people onsite for safety reasons, but also because there was a need to get some rest along the way.

Hamish worked his usual day to get things started before Ross joined him later one, with the pair then switching two hours on, two hours off through the night, either resting or getting on with other brewery admin when not overseeing the boil, until the rest of the brewing team joined them the following day.

Despite the lengths to which they had to go, Hamish describes is as "a phenomenal process that we would try again, but we need to work out how to less time and energy intensive".

"The big lesson for us is that it can work," he says, "and also that we can adjust the kettle easily enough. We figure we could get the same result in eight or nine hours if we do a double mash at the start then put first runnings from the first through the second."

As for the beer itself, they took samples at three stages, which you can see in the photo at the top of the article. The first, early on, tasted like a typical, simple wort – "Not a huge amount of character," according to Hamish – and the second after nine hours, at which point toffee and caramel flavours were becoming present.

By the time of the third sample – after a full 24 hours – he says they found "these massive stewed fruits, like Christmas cake batter, I guess, and none of the harsh, acrid finish" he finds darker and roasted malts can create in such beers.

"Really heavily roasted malt can have a harsh astringency, but we found just this beautiful, rich wort that was full of flavour without anything negative going on."

With just a small amount of hops added right at the end of the boil, then 60 days in an ex-Cognac foeder, Master Of Kettles is very much in the English style – a celebration of malts as opposed to the US variants that up the ante with hop character and bitterness – and is being debuted at today's Mountain Culture Rauchbier Festival in Katoomba.

If you'd like to taste what we have to assume is an Aussie first, there are kegs heading to key Perth venues such as The DTC and Petition, and it will be available in 500ml cans too.

"It's very much a beer for sharing," says Hamish with suitable understatement. After all, to borrow from the man who penned 24 Hour Party People, too much 16 percent ABV barleywine and you'd be twisting your melon, man.


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