I know next to noth­ing about the makeup of beer when I find my­self seated in a com­bine har­vester next to Si­mon Nitschke of Arable So­lu­tions, with bar­ley fly­ing into the har­vester be­hind us.

We’re gath­er­ing the crop in Si­mon’s fields in Mar­ton, to send to the nearby Mal­teu­rop pro­cess­ing fac­tory. Mal­teu­rop is one of only two malt­ing fac­to­ries in New Zealand and pro­cesses malt for many of the beers we drink in this coun­try, from those pro­duced by big op­er­a­tions such as Lion and DB Brew­eries, to craft brew­eries in­clud­ing Garage Project and Pan­head.

Ear­lier, Mal­teu­rop op­er­a­tions man­ager Glen Sim­monds showed us around the ex­ten­sive fac­tory, where pro­duc­tion never stops. “Bar­ley qual­ity is vi­tal,” says Glen, as are op­ti­mum pro­cess­ing con­di­tions.

In this age of cel­e­brat­ing ‘real food’, not many peo­ple are aware that beer is as real as it gets. The re­cent New Zealand Beer Sur­vey, con­ducted by the Brewers As­so­ci­a­tion of New Zealand, found that 58 per­cent of beer drinkers do not know what goes into beer or how it is made, and only 16 per­cent know that most beer is 99 per­cent sugar free. The fact is, beer is made up of just four key in­gre­di­ents: wa­ter, malted bar­ley, hops and yeast, and many New Zealand beers use lo­cally sourced in­gre­di­ents and are free from preser­va­tives.

Si­mon’s fam­ily has been grow­ing bar­ley for Mal­teu­rop since it opened in 1980, and Si­mon learnt to har­vest while he was at school. “It’s al­ways been in the fam­ily,” he says. “We’ve al­ways grown grains, al­ways been re­ally pas­sion­ate about it.” He stud­ied crop pro­duc­tion be­fore restart­ing the fam­ily busi­ness after his fa­ther closed it for a stint. He says it works best as a fam­ily busi­ness be­cause of the long hours. Some­times he works un­til mid­night – the bar­ley har­vest waits for no one.

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