Riverbend Malt House pledges to provide the area’s craft brewers with locally-farmed, artisan malts that bring depth and character to their passion, while greatly lessening the local industry’s impact on the planet.
Currently, the malted products market is dominated by large‐scale producers located in the western United States and Europe. They ship millions of pounds of two-row and six-row barley on an annual basis to clients on every continent. These mass operations require grain to be purchased on a global-commodities market and shipped thousands of miles. As a result, an enormous amount of fossil fuel, water, and petrochemicals(1) are used to produce a majority of the craft beer currently consumed throughout the world.
We are the alternative to these practices. We have personal relationships with local farmers and regional brewers. By supporting the local farming economy, we provide guaranteed returns on an annual basis. We work closely with our farmers to implement best management practices (BMPs) that reduce sediment and nutrient loading to the adjacent streams and waterways. As a result, the average number of food miles(2) associated with each batch of malt will be reduced from 3,000 miles to 300 miles. This equates to a reduction of 4.5 tons of carbon emissions for every truckload of grain(3).
- Petrochemicals – any chemical derived from petroleum sources including a large number of pesticides, insecticides, and fungicides commonly used in large-scale farming operations.
- Food miles – the distance food is transported from the time of its production until it reaches the consumer.
- Calculation based on 40,000 lb capacity of a typical 18‐wheeler averaging 6 miles per gallon.
Why doesn’t anyone use North Carolina-grown barley to make craft beer? It turned out that there was no infrastructure to connect local farmers to the dozens of craft breweries across the state. And get this: most of the barley produced in our state has been used for animal feed … not exactly an appetizing start to a delicious pale ale! It is our passion to develop a local food system for North Carolina’s craft breweries and to provide a durable economic engine for our state.
In the beginning, the learning curve was steep. We dove into agriculture production schedules, variety trials, malting procedures, and the global commodity market to wrap our arms around all the facets of creating locally produced malt. Thankfully, we were able to reach out to the North Carolina Agricultural Extension Agency, United States Department of Agriculture, and Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, who connected us to farmers, grain brokers, and researchers. After we established these invaluable relationships, we focused on malting techniques and production methodologies currently in use throughout the United States. This led us to Rick Wasmund and the Copper Fox Distillery in Sperryville, VA.
Rick, his mom, and business partner, Sean, produce malt for their award-winning whisky using traditional floor-malting techniques. They worked with researchers at Virginia Tech to select Thoroughbred barley, a locally sourced, six-row variety as the primary grain for their production. During a training session at their facility, we learned the logistics of malt production and storage. We left there determined to produce high-quality malt the old-fashioned way – on the floor. We came back from that Virginia trip with 200 pounds of smoked malt, which we used in a number of homebrew trials. While the smokiness proved a bit overpowering (think liquid cigar!), the body, mouthfeel, and overall brewing efficiency observed during these trials helped propel us closer to developing the concept of a local malt house.
As we moved into to 2011, we spoke to a number of local brewers to gauge interest in the use of six-row barley. Positive feedback from these conversations proved invaluable and we began to recruit investors.
As of this writing, we’ve expanded from our original, 1500 lb. system to producing 12-16 tons of hand-crafted malt every month. Follow the Kiln Blog for the latest news from Riverbend Malt House!WE ARE …
I used to be an environmental consultant and still occasionally moonlight as one. Chasing this profession meant that I sat through a lot of school, got a few degrees to hang on the wall, and added a few letters after my name. Then the development bubble burst and I started to see the world through a different lens. This lens helped me focus on developing my current career, one that bridges the gap between farmers and consumers by creating a local food system. When I’m not turning malt, I manage Riverbend’s sales and R&D. And when no one is watching, I slip out the back door to enjoy our wonderful mountains with my wife and daughter.
Like Brent, I spent quite a bit of time getting degrees and working in the consulting world. After a stint helping to operate a biofuels business, I realized that starting my own sustainable business was where my passion was evolving. The burgeoning beer boom in Asheville seemed like an obvious draw for many reasons – the most important fact being that it was an opportunity to help local craft brewers stand apart from the rest of the country by offering a locally-sourced product. When I am not working with malt, you might be able to find me out running on one of the many trails in Western NC.
When I’m not raking, vacuuming, palletizing, or cracking whips, I basically do the same thing at home (minus the whips part). I have a wife and one-year-old son who make him laugh and keep him very busy. I love to create, so aside from malting and homebrewing I also run a mean kitchen. Just be warned, don’t get me started on the state of Mexican food from any place outside of my native San Diego. Once the dust settles, and all is quiet in the Weitzel household, I usually pour myself a nice beer, relax in my office chair…and slay dragons on my Playstation. All while listening to obscure European metal!
I assist in all malting processes and am keen to utilize elements of my Sustainable Development degree to help Riverbend grow as a business and further develop a local food system for craft beer. When I am not at the malt house. I can be found goofing off in the woods, playing music, or having a beer in town.
Riverbend works with an ever expanding network of growers within North Carolina, Virginia, and Kentucky. Our goal is to source 100% of our raw materials from within a 500-mile radius of the malt house. Each year we select the highest quality grains from this network as the first step to creating a local, artisan malt.
We invite anyone interested in joining our network to contact us directly to learn more about our requirements. The small grains we purchase meet specific criteria for protein content, size, disease, moisture, and germination rates.