In recent years, the hop industry has seed a shift away from breeding for high alpha acids and bitterness (what the big guys want) to more flavor and aroma. The malt industry is starting to make the same transition. Barley breeding has historically produced strains that produce more yield and are more disease resistant. The barley is sent to a few gigantic maltsters to produce the range of malts comercial and homebrewers use. There are a few special varieties of barley that make their way into malt (think Maris Otter) and some maltsters have been producing malt that is made using historic methods, like floor malting. BUT there are now a small number of craft maltsters that are producing small batches of malt, creating unique flavors, and malting grains mostly for their local brewers.
What makes craft malt so special?
Craft maltsters produce malt on a small scale. Some members of the parent organization, the Craft Maltsters Guild, produce as little as 5 metric tons a year. Some produce as much as 10,000 metric tons. This sounds like a lot, and it is. By comparison, Rahr Malting, in Minnesota here, opened an expansion late in 2016 that increased their Shakopee facility by 70,000 metric tons! Again, this increased their production by seven times what the largest craft maltster makes. Rahr now produces about 460,000 metric tons a year.
Craft maltsters source local ingredients. The Craft Maltsters Guild states that over 50% of the grains processed by craft maltsters are grown within 500 miles of the malthouse. Some malthouses even grow their own to be turned immediately into malt. This allows them to experiment with different varieties that are not widely grown and make specialty grains.
Craft maltsters are also independently owned. With buyouts and mergers in the beer industry making the news every week, the same is happening on farms and other food production facilities. The Craft Maltsters Guild supports malthouses who want to stay independent and produce special products for their neighbors.
Since craft maltsters are independent and use local ingredients, they can tell you right where the grains come from. What harvest, what farm, and even what field.
They also have the ability to try new techniques. The process in malting can make a significant impact on the flavor of the malt. The different production techniques can conserve resources while making high quality products.
What craft malsters are there?
At the moment, there is only one craft maltster in Minnesota that is a member of the Craft Maltsters Guild. Vertical Malt Company is up in Fisher Minnesota. There are other craft malt houses in the Midwest; North Dakota and Michigan being a few of the closest. There are also more opening.
We have group accustomed to the variety of hops that can impact our beer. Why not do the same for the malt? Search out unique malts and try some malt from craft maltsters.
Other information and links:
- Craft Maltsters Guild
- Vertical Malt Company
- Master Brewers Podcast: 056: The Craft Malt Revolution
- Experimental Brewing Podcast: Episode 50 – Purge Your Beer of Boring MaltContains an interview with craft maltster Seth Klann of Mecca Grade Estate Malt in Oregon
- Article: Rahr Malting Becomes World’s Largest Maltster – The Duluth Experience