spring issue | volume 7
About five years ago in the mountains of Central Virginia, farmer Barry Wood began pondering a malting facility after learning that distilleries and breweries desire local ingredients. On his 300acre working farm (in the family since the 1800s), he increased his acreage of barley, wheat and rye and added a new business, Wood’s Mill Malt House. The malting facility currently produces 4,000 pounds of malts per week, with a commercial drum roaster, recently upgraded, that can produce specialty malts such as crystal, biscuit, chocolate and black patent. This fall, Wood’s vision expanded with the opening of Wood Ridge Farm Brewery. “Barry is adamant that 100 percent of the beer is made from malt or grain grown here,” explains Cory Hall, operations manager at Woods Mill Malt House. “Hops and yeast will continue to be sourced from outside the farm and state, but the soul of our beer will always be Virginian.” The cross-pollination between Wood’s farm and the brewery has inspired a wide variety of crops: two-row winter barley including Endeavor, Violetta and Calypso; two-row spring varieties; and six-row Thoroughbred and Quest. The farm has also played with a hullless barley variety, red and white wheat, rye and oats, plus sorghum, buckwheat, corn and millet for potential gluten-free beer or other fermentation purposes. When Erik May started Pilot Malt House in Michigan in 2012, he was inspired by two things: quality and narrative. “We began for the same reason craft breweries started— we believe we can do it better,” May says. At the same time, he saw that the narrative of beer’s ingredients—such as who grew it and where it was harvested and processed—fell short of the colorful tales behind the breweries. “The craft brewing world is proof that the flavor and uniqueness and narrative behind [the businesses] matter,” he says. So he worked to add narrative as well as quality to the ingredients. Now, Pilot Malt House is putting their motto, “Fueling Craft AgriCulture,” into action in Loudoun County, influenced in part by Virginia’s pro-business attitude and its craft beer culture. Though the 8,000-squarefoot facility is still under construction, Pilot has already developed relationships with Virginia grain growers. “We’re not manufacturing malt here in Virginia yet,” May says, “but we’re shipping Virginiagrown grain to Michigan for malting.” Another maltster, Big Trouble Malting and Spirits in Petersburg, is working towards a 2017 opening.
GROWERS To be successful in marketing products as local, maltsters need nearby growers—not an easy proposition since the largest barley-producing states are in the north and west of the nation, while farmers in southern states contend with hotter and more humid conditions. At the announcement of the opening of Pilot Malt House, then-Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Todd Haymore said, “[Gov. Terry McAuliffe] has made increasing the craft beverage industry part of my strategic plan as secretary of ag and forestry. I’m treating craft beer, distilled spirits, wine, just like I treat soybeans, corn, and all the other commodities out there. We’re working to help it grow.” To this end, says Ben Rowe, “Barley breeders are working with Virginia farmers to create varieties that will thrive in this area and working with brewers to ensure those varieties have the qualities and attributes that make good beer.” These breeders include Virginia Tech researchers, who are developing malt varieties optimized for southern and mid-Atlantic farms. Finding the perfect crop for the climate will involve variety trials of winter barley and spring barley, two-row (typically considered optimal for brewing) and six-row, scientific testing, management techniques, and so forth—all with an eye towards providing adequate yield for the farmer and quality product for the brewer. Successful varieties so far include Endeavor, a two-row winter barley, and Thoroughbred, a high-yield, six-row winter barley. One of the Commonwealth’s most wellknown growers, Billy Dawson, brought three decades of growing experience to the market, then worked with the realities of climate, scientific advances and marketing trends. Dawson began his attention to local products with bagged corn, then Virginia sunflower seeds, and later barley, rye, wheat and oats destined for distillers and brewers. Dawson’s operation has found success in attention to the local market, including as principal grower for Copper Fox malting. Local grains and malts are worthless, however, without willing customers. “The big change since last year is that we are starting to see more and more use of Virginia grain at Virginia breweries,” says Ben Rowe. A recent large-scale example of this is Hardywood Park Craft Brewery’s VIPA— Virgindia Pale Ale. Nearly five years in
business, Hardywood introduced only its third flagship beer, an IPA brewed in part with heirloom Virginia barley (from Copper Fox and Billy Dawson) plus Virginia hops. Today’s beer culture has created the perfect storm: consumers support products made with locally sourced ingredients, while industries, agriculture and even governments are willing to play the game. Craft breweries and their fans are the beneficiaries.
Tennessee Malts in the Works
Batey Farms in Rutherford County is working towards producing malted grains for the Tennessee market. The eight-generation family farm has a history of changing with market needs. The farm, which has been known its pork products since 1807, also grows crops such as wheat, soybeans and corn, adding berries, sunflowers and pumpkins to the fields as well as a farm store and a seasonal corn maze. “We changed with changes,” said John Batey. “Change was something you got to do to continue.” Growing and malting grains—including wheat, barley and rye—could become part of that refrain of change. “We are growing malt grains this year, partnering with Riverbend [Malt House in North Carolina] on the malting of those grains,” said Batey’s son-in-law, Brandon Whitt, who supports the appreciation of locally sourced food. “Our malthouse will be developed after we efficiently see that we can grow the grains here on site to support the malting process.”
The launching of Tennessee's First Craft Cidery