When a local paper reported that nearby farms had started to grow grains for bakeries, we thought about using these grains to make truly local beer.
The next step from field to glass was the malthouse. The closest one was Wisconsin.
Just like you cannot make bread from wheat unless it has been milled, you cannot make beer from barley unless it has been malted.
We learned most malts going into craft beers are produced on a massive scale by a handful of mega-malthouses on the other side of the country or across the world.
This shocking revelation seemed like a great opportunity. Could we start a business that would turn a faceless commodity into a locally grown product? Really, how hard could that be?
In early 2010 Andrea started to talk grain with local farmers and began to select varieties of barley with breeders from the mid-west. The goal was to figure out what varieties would grow best in New England. A total of 25 acres of spring barley were in the ground by April and the clock started ticking. Now we needed a malthouse.
We bought and read many textbooks on malting. Ideas for designing a 1-ton malting system formed and reformed in Christian’s head. As the barley was harvested in July, the system was being built. Come September we starting malting our first commercial sized batches of malt.
Lots of questions kept us up at night. Will we find farmers willing to grow barley? Can we grow malting barley in New England? Can we figure out how to make good malt? Will anyone even want to buy our malt? If they do, will the beer taste good?
The answers to these questions: YES. YES. YES. YES. YES.
In fact, the response from both farmers and brewers has been overwhelming.
We quickly learned that malting 1-Ton per week was not going to be enough.
In early 2012 we upgraded our malting equipment to a system capable of 4-Ton per week. This is our current production size although plans to grow are in the works.
Just as malting has become our passion, so has farming.
Traditionally the maltster was responsible for securing a steady supply of quality barley from local farmers. In order to do this well, the maltster must be intimately connected with farming barley. As we learned more about farming, it became apparent that we also wanted to farm ourselves. I mean, really, who doesn’t want a big green tractor?
In 2012 we started farming 35 acres at the Northampton Community Farm. Our lease has been extended for another 5 years and we have acquired an additional 35 acres of land to farm in Northampton and Hadley. On these 70 acres, we are growing our grains organically. Since soil health is our priority, we are growing crops in rotation.
In any given year only 1/3 of the land will be malting grains, 1/3 legumes, and 1/3 veggies or corn. The legumes like black beans, soybeans and clover will help add nitrogen to the soil and break any disease cycles that come from only growing plants in one family.
We are looking to sell soybeans and corn to dairy and animal farmers as animal feed. Currently there are no local sources of organic animal feed and so this will hopefully be helping to close another gap in the local food system. The type of corn we are growing can also be sold to distilleries for bourbon. Of course, we plan to try malting some as well.
Owner/Maltster is a PE who has over 10 years experience as a mechanical engineer and project manager.
Owner/Maltster who has experience as a small business owner and entrepreneurship educator.
An avid homebrewer, professional brewer, and now Maltster-in-training at Valley Malt. Nick is our liasion for homebrew shops.