Part Two of a 4-part series
THE imposing yet dignified buildings at the Mittagong Maltings have long fascinated locals and passers-by.
The Maltings suffered setbacks and ceased production in 1980 and now, sadly, the complex looks derelict. Its rich heritage and essential spirit and style are conveyed in this series of articles.
Established by the Malting Company of NSW, the first malthouse at Mittagong commenced in August 1899 to produce malted barley, an essential ingredient in the beer-making process.
The company's prospectus stated that "arrangements have been made for securing the services of a manager who has successfully carried on a malting business in New Zealand for many years". This was George Lintott and the other six directors were all prominent in Sydney's beer, wine and spirit trade with close connections to Tooth & Co.
Two of the directors were Tooth & Co employees: W B Mitchell and Arthur W Tooth, who was head brewer. The Sydney press reported that the new maltings product would be "mainly absorbed by Messrs. Tooth & Co, by whom the enterprise was practically initiated".
The prospectus confidently stated that the venture was "likely to prove an exceedingly lucrative investment" and investors agreed. Within 24 hours of the company being floated, all 30,000 one-pound shares were sold.
Chairman of the board was George Judah Cohen, a prominent Sydney banker, financier and company director who had a reputation for financial acumen and hard work. He had been Chairman of Tooth & Co from 1889, and stayed in that role until 1929.
Arthur W Tooth was undoubtedly influential in the selection of the site for the Maltings. His country residence was at Mittagong and now forms part of Frensham School, housing the library.
The malthouse comprised one barley floor, grading and cleaning machinery, two germinating floors and two kilns. The labour force was recruited locally and from Sydney. Local brickworks supplied at least some of the bricks. A new rail siding was completed in September 1899.
The company hoped to stimulate farmers to cultivate more barley and thus reduce the dependence on expensive imported malts, but did not receive very great support from local barley growers. Most of the raw grain still had to be imported from New Zealand.
Efforts to encourage cultivation bought little response and, by 1903, the shortage of grain was such that the company had to suspend operations until the following year.
In 1905 the company accepted an offer from Tooth & Co to purchase the assets and the original concern was wound up.
Tooth & Co vertically integrated the Mittagong site into its own brewing operations and progressively expanded the plant's capacity to meet forecast growth. The original malthouse was duplicated in 1906 with a mirror-image structure on its northern side. Large malt storage silos were provided in 1907. The barley growing campaign continued, this time bringing about such an increase in supplies that a new grain store was erected in 1913.
In 1916 a third malting unit was erected across the creek and the entire works employed an average of 27 men working up to four shifts daily.
From 1916 until 1942 the three malthouses were in more or less continuous production with additional ancillary buildings erected and improvements in amenities provided. A light rail and pedestrian bridge provided a crossing point over the creek to link the units.
With flowing creek and water ponds, a bucolic, park-like setting was deliberately created to add romance to an industrial complex that contributed to a most appealing end product - well-brewed beer.
This bucolic setting was not matched, however, by the working conditions in the malthouses - to be dealt with in next article.
To make beer, brewers use water and barley to create a sweetened liquid (called the wort), which they flavour with hops, then ferment with yeast. This process turns a field of golden grains into refreshing beer. The basic process may be simple but the execution is highly sophisticated.
To produce the malted barley, the Mittagong complex used a traditional English floor system that was labour intensive, expensive and a highly specialised trade learned only from direct experience.
Even though more modern methods came into use, the traditional process endured at Mittagong, reflecting the conservatism of the early Australian brewing industry that had its roots in England where traditional and closely guarded unique methods produced the finest beers.
The process carried out at Mittagong was, therefore, more of an art than a science and relied heavily upon the highly specialised and traditional, unique skills of the head maltster.
To be continued.
This article compiled by PHILIP MORTON is sourced from the archives of Berrima District Historical & Family History Society, Bowral Rd, Mittagong. Phone 4872 2169