Craft Malt – A Revival of Local Ingredients and Traditional Methods
Ten years ago, the “all local” pint was impossible. Now, interest in local sourcing is creeping into everything we eat and drink.
The local pint is still a tall order. Hops and malt production were centralized to the mid and western parts of North America in the 19th century. Any remaining regional malting was swept out by Prohibition.
Today just a few companies make most of the world’s malt. Hey-craft brewers, sound familiar? Just as the brewing world was dominated by only a handful of choices for many decades, so is the world of malt.
Less than seven years ago, we started seeing people gear up to make malt local again. These entrepreneurs are coming from backgrounds in farming, engineering and brewing. Many are taking short courses in malting science and diving deep into the craft through experience. They are learning about their craft from user feedback, historic malting books, and each other. Following in the footsteps of craft beer, the scale is tiny in comparison to industry. The product is sometimes inconsistent and the process is most likely inefficient. This emerging industry of the Craft Maltster is presenting new opportunities for both local family farms and craft brewers. Farmers from New York to North Carolina are now able to grow malting barley and sell it directly to their local malthouse. Brewers are finding a new creative outlet in working with local malts, many that are unique varieties of barley adapted for their region. If we dare compare to the wine world, we would call this terroir.
Starting a malthouse is an enormous challenge. Currently there are not any manufacturers of small scale malting equipment in North America. Many Craft Maltsters are repurposing equipment from other industries such as dairy, wine and maple syrup. Some malthouses are specifically floor-maltings, where grain is steeped and then laid on a cool floor to germinate for a handful of days. Others are employing an all-in-one steep-germination-kiln unit where grain is loaded and kept in one stainless bin for the entire malting process. Others are using rotating drums to turn the grain as it germinates and kilns.
Throughout time, malting equipment has undergone many improvements. Most standard industry malthouses employ the saladin method where all three steps are separate and grain is conveyed between each step. Floor maltings that have been in operation for centuries still exist in the UK. There is no system or equipment that is best. The process of modifying grain into malt can be done many ways. Each malthouse, whether large or small, will have it’s own process that is unique to them. This is part of the beauty of this industry.
As each Craft Malthouse has popped up around North America in the last seven years, we have seen 10 more wanting to start. Will everyone succeed? Most likely not, but the future for Craft Malting and Craft Beer is bright. We are here to make a positive impact in our local communities and the craft beer community as a whole.
Mission Statement: To promote and educate the general public about the tradition of craft malting in North America. We provide educational opportunities to its members and the general public, and uphold the highest quality and safety standards for Craft Malt.