From soils to schooners

Local ginger gives extra kick to beer


Horticulture
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Local ingredients and a commitment to bettering the community are the secrets behind the success of the Bargara Brewing Company.

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KEY INGREDIENT: Farmer Anthony Rehbein, Bunda Ginger with a packet of ground ginger, alongside Bargara Brewing Co founder Jack Milbank with a Ginja Ninja.

KEY INGREDIENT: Farmer Anthony Rehbein, Bunda Ginger with a packet of ground ginger, alongside Bargara Brewing Co founder Jack Milbank with a Ginja Ninja.

GINGER beer tends to conjure up Enid Blyton-style scenes of picnicking children in the English countryside on tartan blankets.

This is not that sort of ginger beer.

At 4.8 per cent alcohol by volume (ABV), this is a serious craft beer.

This is Ginja Ninja, a beer whose brewing is as clever as its name.

The official description of the beer is: "A unique all grain 'proper' ginger beer. Brewed with pale and RedX malt, three additions of fresh, locally grown ground ginger from Bunda Ginga and back sweetened to produce an amazing, aromatic, rich, refreshing full bodied signature ginger beer."

It's the creation of The Bargara Brewing Co, a micro-brewery established in the Queensland horticulture hub and sugarcane region of Bundaberg.

Bargara is a coastal community about 10 minutes drive from the town centre.

While there are some major sets of ocean front units, the beach areas still rub shoulders with nearby farmland. 

The love of the location in some way influenced the decision to establish a micro-brewery by founder, Jack Milbank.

"It's not really about owning a brewery. It's about readdressing the money to stay in the community and not sending our profits offshore to multinationals," Jack said.

Brewing beer is not as much of a deviation from Jack's background as an agricultural scientist as it might seem.

"It's still just using biology to produce food," he said.

This included developing a strain of yeast from macadamia nuts.

BREW CREW: The Bargara Brewing company now serves more than 13 different beverages including stout, ale, hefeweizen, lager and cider.

BREW CREW: The Bargara Brewing company now serves more than 13 different beverages including stout, ale, hefeweizen, lager and cider.

His dealings with farmers helped establish a database of those who could supply high quality local ingredients.

That in turn led to a natural association with fourth generation farmer, Anthony Rehbein.

Ginja Ninja's secret weapon, the thing that gives it a kick (pun intended), is Anthony's locally grown ginger.

Along with wife Kate, Anthony manages Bunda Ginga and Hummock Produce, growing watermelons, ginger, pumpkins, potatoes and a small amount of sugarcane.

The business not only produces raw ginger for the food sector but processed products such as ground and pickled ginger, plus crystallised "ginger bites".

As with most savvy operators these days, all products can be purchased online through the company's website.

GOOD DIRT: Anthony Rehbein with some of his raw ginger which derives its highly regarded flavour from the rich, red volcanic soil of the Bundaberg region.

GOOD DIRT: Anthony Rehbein with some of his raw ginger which derives its highly regarded flavour from the rich, red volcanic soil of the Bundaberg region.

In fitting with the harmony of the product, the ginger is grown "a hop, step and a jump" from Bargara itself.

The temperate climate, reliable water supply and rich volcanic soil provide the ideal mix for growing ginger.

The beer utilises a Queensland ginger variety that has high oil content.

"What's special about it is the flavour profile it holds even after it's dehydrated," Anthony said.

The raw product is processed within 36 hours of being harvested by hand.

As far as he's aware, Bunda Ginger is producing the only Australian-grown dried ginger on a commercial scale.

It (Australian ginger) is a bit like air conditioning- once you've experienced it you never go back. - Anthony Rehbein

Jack was Anthony's agronomist, which led to many discussions about ginger.

"We knew we had a quality product which we could then turn into another quality product," he said.

Anthony said after tasting an initial batch of his dehydrated ginger compared to an off-the-shelf imported variety, it was clear the local product was superior.

"It was then we knew we had a winner," he said. "It (Australian ginger) is a bit like air conditioning- once you've experienced it you never go back."

Anthony said the taste is one thing but even the aromatic qualities of fresh ginger indicate a superior product. 

The business began from a trial plot of ginger in the early 2000s.

From there the family developed the Bunda Ginger brand and has continued to turn the heads of foodies.

VALUE ADDED: A sample of the Bunda Ginger product range.

VALUE ADDED: A sample of the Bunda Ginger product range.

Earlier this month, Bunda Ginger was awarded a gold medal in the prestigious Delicious Produce Awards for its ground ginger product.

"That has given us some credibility and really cemented for us that we are on the right track," Anthony said.

Ginja Ninja has continued to gather fans since the brewery opened two years ago.

The Bargara Brewing Co encapsulates the new wave of boutique beer drinkers, where it's as much about trying something new as it is about savouring the moment and atmosphere.

The brewery (The Brewhouse) has catapulted to local renown for business drinks or a leisurely get-together.

The stainless steel vats are in full sight for all customers to see as they sample their Turtle Lager, Great Barrier Beer, Drunk Fish Pale Ale, Phat Heffa, Goldihops or several other left-of-centre beverages.

We want to do good, not just taste good. We want to use the best to produce the best. - Jack Milbank

The Bargara Brewing Co may be considered a micro brewery but it has not been afraid to expand its wings.

Part of that strategy now includes exports. This month, 29 establishments in Korea started serving three of the beers on tap.

Having conquered beer containing local ginger, Jack has now conjured up other creations including a blueberry ale, a pumpkin ale and a lemon myrtle cerevisiae (a Spanish beer), all made from local products.

"We use local products wherever possible," Jack said.

The building of the Bargara Brewing Company's, The Brewhouse.

"So instead of just producing an unimproved product like barley, we are making a value-added finished product which increases the value of the inputs."

Jack said he considers it to be a community owned brewery that is giving back and improving the city.

So far it has created 15 new jobs and attracted some high profile clientele.

It was on the "must visit" list when Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull visited Bundaberg earlier this year as a bright light of local innovation.

"We want to do good, not just taste good. We want to use the best to produce the best," Jack said.

  • This story was part Rabobank’s Knowledge Bank feature. To read more stories, visit the Knowledge Bank.
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