Thursday 9th Apr, 2020

Coopers build world’s best bulk malting plant

Coopers has been named the 2019 Maltsters of the Year, thanks to a new maltings plant. ABHR speaks to Doug Stewart, Maltings Manager, to find out what went into the company’s winning facility.
Image: John Kruger

Coopers has been named the 2019 Maltsters of the Year, thanks to a new maltings plant. ABHR speaks to Doug Stewart, Maltings Manager, to find out what went into the company’s winning facility.

Coopers is one of Australia’s oldest family-owned breweries in Australia and has been producing beer for more than 150 years.

Its brewery can be found in the South Australian suburb of Regency Park. It officially opened in 2001, with a $40 million price tag to include all of the new equipment, building and relocation, and aims to combine traditional recipes with high tech equipment.

“In 2017, the company opened a $65 million malting plant at the Regency Park site to ensure Coopers could continue brewing beer that its founder would be proud of,” says Doug Stewart, Coopers’ Maltings Manager.

The plant has a working capacity of 54,000 tonnes of malt per year, 16,000 tonnes of which is used by Coopers, with the rest sold to mainstream and craft brewers. It is currently operating at around 100 per cent capacity, but the design has been future proofed to allow this capacity to double if needed.

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Custom features have allowed Coopers to reduce steeping times, water usage and kiln gas during the process, while still being flexible enough to produce single origin malts for the craft beer and distilling sectors.

As a result of the technological offering, Coopers was named the 2019 Maltster of the Year at the World Barley, Malt and Beer conference in Warsaw, Poland, by an international jury of brewing supply chain members.

Dr Stewart says it was a remarkable result to win such an award, given that Coopers’ maltings had only been in operation for just over a year.

“Being named joint Maltster of the Year ahead of major international operators in only our second year of operation underlines our commitment to innovation and quality,” he says.

Dr Stewart was involved with the design from the very beginning, bringing with him around 15 years of experience in managing similar facilities. He looked at what had worked well and what didn’t in other maltings in order to inform design decisions.

“In particular, we paid a lot of attention to the steeping. It’s the first step in the malting process (followed by germination and kilning) and is critical for the final malt quality,” he says.

Automation was a high priority, which is why most of the cleaning processes can be undertaken with the touch of a button.

“We’ve got three steeps, with each using two brewery style spray balls. This is high end equipment you might see in a fermenter, which is part of Coopers’ brewing philosophy coming into the maltings,” Dr Stewart says.

All of the transfers, which typically use conveyor belts to protect the grain, also use automated spraydowns where other plants may perform this manually.

The design of the plant has taken temperature into account. The malting process can be highly sensitive to different levels of heat, and in the South Australian climate, heatwaves of more than 40°C are not uncommon.

Dr Stewart says it’s important to keep the malting between 17°C to 20°C, and to ensure it can maintain that range, significant effort has been put into the plant’s temperature control system.

“When water comes out of the aquifer, it’s usually around 32°C and we can chill that down when needed, which is something that not all malting plants can do,” he says.

“The entire facility is amazingly well designed when it comes to heat. For example, on one of South Australia’s record-breaking hot days, I was in Brisbane. I was able to log on and check the germination vessels and found that even in the intense weather, all of them were at the perfect temperature.”

Another included design feature is a wetting screw, which wets and pre-washes the barley. This removes all of the dirt and dust before the grain go into a warm pre-steep to facilitate water uptake.

Additionally, waste steam is generated from the brewery’s cogeneration unit that generates electricity on the site. The steam, which would have just been lost to the atmosphere, is captured and used to heat water and preheat the air going to the kiln. This saves around 33 per cent of the plant’s energy use.

Dr Stewart says that Coopers’ commitment to quality had extended to the aesthetics of the plant, distinguishing it from the normal “agricultural” look of most older maltings around the world.

“We made sure an architect was involved in the design phase and had discussions about colour, brickwork and lighting to tie the malting plant with the brew house. It uses the same floor to ceiling windows, floor tiles, and more. We took the aesthetics of the plant really seriously,” he says.

“Our goal is to provide unique maltings, designed by brewers for brewers. Because of this, we focused heavily on creating high levels of hygiene, automation and process control that goes above and beyond.”