Maltsters, Michigan, and Musings

Motor City Malt

Motor City Malt

A friend recently shared the African proverb, "If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” The power of these words resonated as I stood waiting eagerly for a silver car to approach the arrival lane at the Detroit Airport. It was 9:00am and the friendly, familiar face behind the wheel was Twila. We hugged, scrambled luggage into the trunk, and departed on our short but malt-filled journey throughout Michigan. Twila and I glanced at each other and smiled at our feat. Escaping from a malthouse and family is about as hard to execute as a trip to the space station. Our mission? Explore the beauty of Michigan, meet maltsters, and drink beer.

First stop was one hour away in Shelby. We met met up with Ashley McFarland to visit with Tom and Dan at Motor City Malt. The malthouse tour was awesome and we talked about winter barley, discussed debearding, and left with our bellies full of toasty malt and cold cut sandwiches. Next stop was Kalamazoo for a talk about Taste of Place at Bell’s Brewery. The flavor that comes from a region, like Michigan, can be distinct and we tasted that in the malt worts made from Bell’s farm’s malt. Compared to a commercial 2-row Metcalf blend, this malt was complex and had notes of vanilla, perfume-like aroma, and a ruby rich color. While drinking beers afterward, talking about the local impact of Marris Otter in the UK, a brewer chimed-in to say that this was just the beginning of a bright future of Michigan made malt and beer.

Getting served a beer from Larry Bell.

Getting served a beer from Larry Bell.

The next morning we slid into the Honda, figured out how to get a better music situation going in the car, and took off for a long day of driving and visiting malthouses. First stop was Pilot Malt, right outside of Grand Rapids. The guys at Pilot have grown over the past few years and their malthouse was another one to marvel at. Lots of beautiful barley from this year’s crop, getting stacked up and stored and a thoughtfully assembled lab that many maltsters would love to have. As we traveled north the roadside became dense with trees, the temperature cooled, and the landscape demanded our attention. Empire Malt was our next stop, nestled in the otherworldly place of Sand Bear Dunes on Lake Michigan. Alison greeted us and showed us inside her malthouse. Situated on a farm with hops, barley, hay and fruit growing around it, this malthouse is a piece of art welded together with skill and love. Alison also had beautiful barley grown from this part of Michigan and is just getting started making delicious malts that showcase the beauty of this land she loves. Us three women stood for hours as the sun went down, sharing the passion we share for malting. This passion was expressed by talk about airflow rates, beta glucanase, and steep schedules. As fast friends do, we pinky swore to stay in touch.


Empire Malt near the beautiful Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes

Empire Malt near the beautiful Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes

The fresh cool air and waning moon provided us with everything we needed to sleep deeply that night. We awoke to the sunrise, played in the dunes and then made the quick ride to Traverse City to visit Jeff at Great Lakes Malting. With a friendly smile, Jeff handed us safety glasses and started showing us around his malthouse under construction. It was dreamlike. Shiny stainless everywhere and turners, yes turners, in both of his 2-ton germ/kiln beds. Jeff has other enviable equipment like a diaphragm pump, water treatment systems, and lots of automation. There is no doubt that great malt will be made there.

As we pulled into the departure line at the airport, Twila and I hugged and smiled. It was a whirlwind but epic adventure and one that pressed a re-start button for each of us. Energized our malting spirits. At times, running a malthouse can be exhausting, beat at your spirit, and make you question, “Why am I doing this?” By taking the time to step outside of our own malthouses and connect with our fellow maltsters we clearly saw that the frustrations, the accomplishments, and the vision is not ours individually but a shared experience with a broader community of people. We are going together. We are going far.  . . . 

A Poem

I heard this poem last night and wanted to share it. 



When we eat the good bread,
we are eating months of sunlight,
weeks of rain and snow from the sky,
richness out of the earth.
We should be great, each of us radiant,
full of music and full of stories.
Able to run the way the clouds do,
able to dance like the snow and the rain.
But nobody takes time to think that he eats
all these things, and that sun, rain,
snow are all a part of himself.

When Mother Nature Speaks

When Mother Nature Speaks, it can be easy to ignore the whispers of Mother Nature; gentle breezes on sunny days or even misty mornings followed by an overcast sky. Here in the Pioneer Valley we seemed to have had what seems like a very mild summer with very few hot, oppressive days. For a farmer and maltster these whispers of mother nature are music to our ears. They mean that our crops were not being subjected to harsh conditions which will negatively affect our crops. 

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National Organic Brewing Winner

I started home brewing in 2005 and have been brewing organic beers since 2007. I have been a Malt of the Month member since 2012. For the last seven years Seven Bridges Cooperative in California sponsored the National Organic Homebrew Challenge and this year I entered 3 beers and won 3 awards. I won first place for a Classic American Pilsner and a Kolsch and third place for a German Pilsner.

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Oat Pale Ale

By Nicholas Gagnon


I recently had a chance to hang out with the guys at Trillium Brewing Company while they were brewing up One Boston, a delicious, hoppy IPA with a good amount of Valley Malt crystal oats used in the recipe.  I felt inspired to do something similar and when the Munich Oats came out I had to give this a recipe a whirl.  Feel free to substitute hops for what you have available or prefer.    I wanted something citrus/mango/fruit/resiny....your taste may very.  You'll notice there is only a bittering addition to get up to around 55 IBU's (RAGER) during the boil.  I whirlpool for 15 minutes and then stand for 20 so the “steep” addition goes in at whirlpool and stays in the kettle at about 35 minutes near boiling (200F ish).  I get great oil, flavor and aroma from this method and the dry hop.

Oat PA

10-A American Pale Ale

Size: 5.5 gal

Efficiency: 70.0%

Attenuation: 80.0%

Original Gravity: 1.064 (

Terminal Gravity: 1.013 (

Color: 11.49

Alcohol: 6.68% (

Bitterness: 55.6


13 lb Valley Malt Pale

1.5 lb Oat Malt

0.79 oz Magnum (14.5%) - added first wort, boiled 60.0 m

1.5 oz Ahtanum (6.0%) - steeped after boil

1.5 oz Simcoe® (13.0%) - steeped after boil

1.5 oz Amarillo® (8.5%) - steeped after boil

1.5 oz Citra™ (12.0%) - steeped after boil

1.5 oz Citra™ (12.0%) - added dry to secondary fermenter

1.5 oz Amarillo® (8.5%) - added dry to secondary fermenter

1.5 oz Simcoe® (13.0%) - added dry to secondary fermenter

Mash Schedule:

Mash-In for a temp of 152F.  Rest one hour and Sparge.


Ferment with a clean Ale yeast like US-05, WLP001, WY1056 or alike.  For a different take a nice dry English strain like WLP007 might be good.


Buying Local

I was inspired this week by our customer, Chris Lohring from Notch Session. He posted on his blog about the death of the seasonal beer and how it may be easier find to a brewery's summer seasonal in April rather than July or harvest ale in July instead of October.

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