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Made in the South Awards

Our good friends at French Broad Chocolates received some great news from Garden and Gun Magazine a few weeks back. Their panel of judges selected the Malted Milk Chocolate Bar as a runner-up in the Annual Made in the South Awards!

Beautifully packaged local chocolate! (courtesy Garden and Gun)

As you might have guessed, our malt is part of this lovely creation. Specifically, our unique Heritage Malt. Once we’ve cleaned the malt, we send it to our local miller, Carolina Ground where it is milled into flour suitable for mixing into the chocolate bar recipe. Three local businesses, southern farmers, rich flavor…what’s not to love?

Read more about this collaborative project here.

Happy Holidays!

 

Harvest Report 2016 – R.I.P. Endeavor

Our assistant maltster, Sam, has spent the last several months analyzing the various grain samples from this year’s harvest. We received two dozen samples from growers in four states. This year was by far the largest pool of applicants we had to choose from…really exciting to see the market for high-quality malting barley expanding in Southeast!

barley-sample1

A typical 1 pound sample of cleaned barley

Our in house testing procedures include germination energy, germination capacity, sieve analysis, and visual inspection for mold/blackpoint, etc. In addition to this work, we sent samples off to the Hartwick College Center for Craft Food and Beverage for further laboratory analysis. These data include protein, moisture, pre-harvest sprout damage assessment, and mycotoxin levels (aka DON).

As the sample data began to arrive, a few trends became immediately apparent…..

  1. Endeavor barley (winter 2-row) doesn’t work in the south! Every sample we tested, regardless of location returned very low RVA (Rapid Visco Analysis) levels. These results are consistent with significant pre-harvest sprout damage which renders the barley almost unusable for malting purposes. This is the second year in a row we’ve seen these results, a clear indicator that it is time to move in another direction.
  2. Newly developed 2-row varieties offer more promise for the future! Several private breeding firms have developed a host of new varieties that perform much better than Endeavor across the South. We got a chance to test malt a few of these and the results were really exciting. If all goes according to plan we’ll be able to make these available to the public by next summer.
  3. Thoroughbred will remain a staple for Riverbend! Pardon the pun, but this variety will remain our workhorse for the foreseeable future. Almost every sample exhibited strong germination rates and low levels of disease and pre-harvest sprout.
  4. Malted Seashore Black Rye is absolutely delicious! We can’t put a number on flavor (yet), but we were able to purchase enough of this heirloom variety to malt a few batches. This variety diverges from our Wrens Abruzzi with a more pungent bready/earthy flavor that can deliver a rich, honeyed note to a variety of beer and whiskey recipes. Read more about it here. Give us a call if you’d like reserve some…supplies are limited!
seashoreblackrye

Super tasty Seashore Black Rye.

Drinking is an Agricultural Act @ BevCon 2016

I must confess, I’ve reworked the classic quote from Wendell Berry more than a few times in my quest to connect our clients to agricultural side of malt. So I had to laugh when I got the invite to speak on a panel with the same title at the inaugural BevCon in Charleston.

bevcon-2016

I’m honored to share the stage with my good friend Sean Wilson from Fullsteam Brewing, Diane Flynt from Foggy Ridge Cider, Ann Marshall from High Wire Distilling, and Sara Clow from Grow Food Carolina. In short, an all-star cast!

We’ll be discussing the distinctive ingredients and the unique flavors that they bring to a wide variety of regionally-focused ales and spirits. I’ll be sharing a summary of this year’s harvest in an attempt to capture the “ups and downs” of growing grains for a niche market.

The conference will also feature a laundry list of the South’s premier brewers, distillers, bartenders, and restaurateurs throughout the three day event. You should definitely make plans to attend!

 

 

 

 

2015 Planting Update

Streaker oats being planted in Lenoir County, NC

Streaker oats being planted in Lenoir County, NC

As summer fades into fall, we shift our energies from analyzing crop samples to planning for the future. Winter grains are planted in October and harvested in May or early June throughout the south. Orchestrating the harvest, cleaning, and planting of these grains requires a tremendous amount of communication between the malt house and our network of growers. Working on a contract model helps us secure our raw materials for the upcoming year and gives the farmer peace of mind that he will adequately compensated for his harvest. This year we were able to expand our network to include new growers in Western North Carolina, Virginia, and Kentucky. See below for some highlights.

Carolina White Wheat – Hickory, NC  

We partnered with our friends at Carolina Ground to sustain production of this newly developed white wheat variety. To our knowledge, it has never been malted before and we are eager to see how it performs next summer…maybe the perfect addition to an all NC bourbon recipe?!

Streaker Oats – Kinston, NC 

We got a chance to experiment with this hulless oat variety in 2014 and fell in love with the flavor…think toasted almonds and top shelf oatmeal! After talking with several of our brewer friends we realized this ingredient serves as a “secret sauce” in everything from export stouts to Belgian farmhouse recipes. We were able to secure over a ton of certified seed and will hopefully have a strong harvest in 2016.

Endeavor Barley (2-row) – Heathsville, VA  (Mantua Farm)

While we have several farmers planting Endeavor for us this season, this farm is something special. This bicentennial farm is located in the Coan River watershed, a major tributary of the Potomac and was considered as a potential site for our nation’s capitol. The property is amazing, beautiful rolling land with a Colonial mansion that dates back to 1790! Our farmer has really done a great job of managing this land. Crop rotations, not till practices, and vegetated buffers all serve to limit nutrient and sediment runoff into the adjacent estuary.

This picture doesn’t do it justice, but the stand was already well established by early November, which will hopefully translate into a high yielding, disease resistant crop.

 

Mantua-2015-Endeavor

 

Homebrew Kits! Now Accepting Pre-Orders

Riverbend Malt House Rye Pale Ale Homebrew KitIntroducing Riverbend homebrew kits! We’ve developed an American-style rye pale ale recipe kit that showcases the range of our hand-made, floor-malted, artisan malts. The grain bill is a combination of our Pale and Heritage regionally grown barley malts, combined with a pound and a half of our Carolina Rye malt (the same stuff that went into the New Belgium Hop Kitchen RyePA) and a couple ounces of our specially-roasted chocolate malt. We’ve selected some popular American hop varieties (Bravo, Amarillo, and Cascade) to go in the kit, as well as a pack of Safale US-05, the well-known “Chico” strain of American ale yeast.

This fall, we’ll be launching a web store to sell this kit, and plan to release a series of all-grain homebrew kits over the coming year. Before we launch the web store, however, we’d like to offer our core fan base the first opportunity to pick up a kit.

The kit retails for $44.95 plus tax. The kit will come pre-crushed for your convenience. Please contact homebrew@riverbendmalt.com to place your order. Local homebrewers can arrange to pickup their kit at our production facility. Otherwise, we will set up shipping for out-of-towners.

As a bonus, we’ll offer everyone who places an order by Oct. 31st a coupon for 10% off their next homebrew kit purchase through the Riverbend web store!

We hope everyone is as excited as we are to see Riverbend malt in the hands of homebrewers!

Craft Brewers Conference Recap!

“Lotta talking, lotta drinking….lotta talking about drinking.” – Brian Simpson

That quote from Brian pretty much summed up what I was expecting when I first filled out my application for CBC 2014. I knew a few of my maltster friends would be there for our presentation as well as a large contingent of brewers from North Carolina. Beyond that, I had no idea what the week had in store for me.

However, as the conference drew nearer, something completely different began to unfold. The emails starting popping up…Mark from Deer Creek, Joel from Blue Ox, Curtis from California Malting, and many others were all planning to attend! Next came the meeting requests from the Craft Maltsters Guild Board of Directors. Before I knew it, the week was booked with committee meetings, dinners, and, of course, plans for brewery visits.

As the conference began and the meetings fell into place, an even larger cast of characters began to assemble. Our initial meeting on malt analysis and barley variety development was attended by an amazing array of researchers from North Dakota State University, the American Malting Barley Association, and the National Barley Growers Association, which was more than humbling. Better yet, they all arrived with a willingness to help the guild tackle our lengthy project list.

This initial meeting set the tone for the rest of week. The message was clear: the craft beer community supports the mission of the Maltster’s Guild and will foster its development in any way possible. Michael Pollan even plugged craft malt in his CBC keynote address!!

Craft Malt Sensory Workshop

On Thursday morning, the Craft Maltsters Guild held the Craft Malt Sensory Workshop. We were very pleased with the turnout – some 500 brewers came out to sample single malt beers made from five different craft maltsters! Pretty impressive given that the seminar was at 9am!

craft malt samples

Lining up for samples at 9am...

We were honored to have John Mallet introduce the workshop. Mallet is the head of brewing operations at Bell’s Brewery and author of the upcoming book Malt: A Practical Guide from Field to Brewhouse. To have his vote of confidence at the world’s largest beer conference really helped give some weight to what we were doing.

Christian Holbrook, Brewing Materials Manager at New Belgium, kicked things off by explaining some of the reasons why malt is so important: not only is it a big part of beer flavor, but it’s also an imperative requirement for yeast health. Brewers and maltsters should pay attention to malt size and assortment, DON, flavor, and a variety of measurable characteristics when selecting grain and malt.

Holbrook also encouraged brewers to connect with their local farmers and maltsters, to learn where their raw materials come from, and to “tell a story with your beer.” We hope to be part of that story!

Josh Cody of Colorado Malting Co. addresses the CBC crowd. See Brent?

In the presentation, we each (Brent plus our colleagues from Colorado Malting Company, Malterie Frontenac, Grouse Malting, and Valley Malt) introduced ourselves and our beer. Each beer was noticeably different, very lightly hopped so that the grain could shine through. As Bruno (Maltarie Frontenac) put it, “beer is made with grain; you should be able to taste the grain in your beer.”

Several different two-row varieties joined our six-row Thoroughbred and a Colorado-grown millet at the workshop. Several people we talked to were impressed with Grouse Malting’s millet beer. Valley Malt pointed out that depending on their source of barley, their malt may exhibit a faint strawberry or orange flavor. The strawberry notes were certainly noticeable in their sample.

Though we’re biased, we felt our pale 6-row malt did very well in the trial. It had a slightly spicy, grassy character that allowed the hops to come through nicely. Most importantly, it performed well in the brewhouse with a 79.7% extract, 9.5% protein level, and sufficient yeast nutrients (Free amino nitrogen) to assist with proper fermentation. All samples had good clarity.

craft malt analysis

Malt analysis from each of the five craft maltsters (plus Simpson's Maris Otter as a control).

Did you attend the Craft Malt Workshop? What were your impressions? Share in the comments!

 

The Craft Maltsters Guild First Annual Meeting

In a dark, smoky room in an old warehouse, a small gathering of rebels met for the first time to discuss their plans for world domination…

No, it wasn’t a meeting of anarchists, it was the first ever Craft Malt Guild meeting! Representatives from the malt houses mentioned above, plus several researchers and industry veterans met at Our Mutual Friend Brewery in Denver. John Mallet made another appearance, as did Tom Nielson, raw materials handler for Sierra Nevada. Again, we can’t tell how exciting it is to have these big-time brewers in our camp!

The Malt Guild discussed plans for the website, outreach, and ideas for using a $2,000 grant from the Brewers Association. We’ll keep you posted on that front! In the meantime, you can check out the Craft Maltsters Guild website and follow the organization on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. For breweries and malt houses interesting in supporting the maltsters guild and gaining access to members-only resources, please also consider joining the Craft Malt Guild as a regular or associate member.

1st Annual Craft Maltster Guild meeting at Our Mutual Friend Denver

1st Annual Craft Maltster Guild Meeting at Our Mutual Friend, Denver

—–

All of the energy and support from the Craft Brewers Conference served to validate everything that Riverbend and our fellow maltsters have been striving for over the past few years. We all seek to revive the grain growing economies of our respective regions and to give craft breweries new and distinctive malts to work with in the brewhouse. The result will be a more robust local economy and an expanded audience for craft beer.

It was quite an exciting week in Denver! Between our presentation at the Craft Brewers Conference and the very first meetings of the Craft Maltsters Guild, we’re really looking forward to where the craft malt movement is heading! Cheers!

 

 

Headed to the Craft Brewers Conference!

Colorado Convention Center blue bear

The famous blue bear is a great landmark when trying to find the Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver.

Brent is taking a break from our busy production schedule and heading out to Denver this week to speak at the 2014 Craft Brewers Conference. CBC is a week-long event attended by some 9,000+ brewing industry professionals and it’s jam-packed with seminars, meetings, tastings, demos, and events. Brent will be doing a presentation with the Craft Maltsters Guild at the Craft Malt Sensory Workshop, Thursday at 9am. While in Denver, the board of the Craft Maltsters Guild will be meeting to organize the various arms of the newly-formed non-profit and help plan out the future of the organization.

The Craft Malt Sensory Workshop (Thursday at 9am, Four Seasons Ballroom 1 & 2) is bound to be an informative seminar and an engaging tasting experience. Representatives from five North American malt houses will be on hand talking about their journeys into the world of craft malting.

Each of the five North American malt houses presenting at the workshop (Riverbend Malt House, Grouse Malting, Colorado Malting, Valley Malt, and Maltarie Frontenac) sent malt to be crafted into a beer specifically for the workshop. Each of the five beers were brewed using the same recipe at the New Belgium pilot brewery, but each feature a different  pale malt from the five malt houses. We’re looking forward to tasting how the terroir of our NC pale malt differs compared to malts from Colorado, Massachusetts, and Canada!

Will you be in Denver for CBC? Come on out to the Craft Malt Sensory Workshop or give us a shout on Facebook or Twitter to meet up!

Cheers!

 

Fall Planting Update – 2013

Brent and Tony discuss the field trials with Marvin Owings of the NC State Cooperative Extension

Preparation for our first round of plantings in Western North Carolina began several months ago at our roundtable discussion with the NC State Cooperative Extension and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Henderson County. These early meetings introduced us to two farmers, Jason Davis and Tony Hill, who were willing to experiment with growing malting barley in the mountains. Our initial meetings included a review of the 2012 Official Variety Trial (OVT) results from North Carolina and Virginia. Data from these trials serve as a guide to manage weed and disease pressure at crucial periods of plant growth.

As planting dates approached, we agreed upon a course of action that achieved a number of research and economic goals:

1)     Thoroughbred (6-row) Plantings – We chose this variety to work with in 2010 based on our conversations with the small grains researchers at the USDA and NC State University. This variety was developed from a malting quality variety called Plaisant (French 6-row variety) and performs well throughout the piedmont and coastal plain regions of North Carolina. Tony Hill agreed to plant 30 acres and Jason Davis has planted 12 acres right across from the new Sierra Nevada facility!

2)     Endeavor (2-row) Plantings – Historically, 2-row barley trials in Virginia and North Carolina have not supported commercial production due to high levels of disease pressure and low yields. However, the recently released Endeavor variety offers an exciting opportunity to bring a viable 2-row variety to the craft breweries of the southeast.

barley planting in NC

3)     OVT Plots – Jason Davis, owner of North River Farms, offered a small plot of land for researchers to conduct small-scale testing of more experimental varieties in our area.  Data collected from these plots will help guide the selection and development of new 6-row and 2-row varieties that thrive in our climate.

Check out this great article from Blue Ridge Now for more information on our plantings in WNC and see our Facebook page for more photos from the field trials. We’ll keep you posted on the progress this spring!

Field Notes – 10/24

Nailing down a planting date for the Endeavor took some careful planning. On one hand, we had to avoid heavy rainfall, on the other, we needed to beat the first frost. Looking ahead to next year, we had to get the barley in the ground so it wouldn’t interfere with Tony’s soybean crop. We settled on a day in late October for the planting and headed down to Hendersonville to witness a “day in the life” of a barley farmer.

Arriving at Tony’s farm on a sunny fall afternoon, Tony’s father was just finishing up tilling the field, driving the tractor in big, slow circles around the 10-acre plot. Life moves at a different pace out on the farm. So many of us are plugged into current events, email, a daily storm of activity…it seems much slower and more deliberate out in the field.

Tony was proud to point out that his dad is 91 years old and still working the land! As we scoped out the field the day before, Tony showed us a crop of tomatoes his son had grown and invited us to pick some before the frost. Working with a triple-generation, family business like Tony’s is exactly the kind of relationship we’re trying to bring back to the food system. It’s something that’s lost in most of the beer industry.

We know that the work we do out here will have a big impact in years to come, bringing the farming community together with the brewing community to build a robust, local beer economy. Tony mentioned that one of his friends is interested in growing for us…this is how we start a movement!

Tony plants seed for the Endeavor barley in Henderson County, NC.

WHO GOSE THERE?

Catawba Valley Brewing!  Todd and his staff took our malt in a new direction last week by developing a German Gose recipe with 100% Riverbend products.  This style dates back to the 1700’s and is a classic summer sipper for Germans.  While somewhat similar to a Berliner Weisse this style commonly incorporates salt and coriander in the boil for an interesting finish.

Brewing this style takes patience….it begins with a sour mash that allows naturally occurring bacteria on the grain to rapidly multiple over a 24 hour period.  The following days includes the more traditional mash/sparge/boil processes.  Expect low hop flavor and bitterness along with a session friendly ABV.  Read more about the style here.

Hopefully this will be on draft in Asheville sometime in September…we’ll keep you posted.

 

A classic style with a southern twist

 

RESEARCH TRIALS BEGIN … IN NEW ZEALAND?

Pinnacle barley grown in a research plot in Raleigh, NC

How did our barley get to New Zealand you ask? Turns out their climate is very similar to North Carolina’s, but their seasons are opposite ours since they are in the southern hemisphere. These conditions have set the stage for an exciting partnership between the two countries to develop new varieties of small grains at an accelerated pace.

Here’s how it works … Dr. Marshall’s team spent the winter cross-breeding 6-row and 2-row varieties. During this first year the Thoroughbred 6-row variety was crossed with a 2-row variety called Pinnacle(1). Seeds from the exercise were then shipped to New Zealand, where they were planted earlier this month. Once they mature in early October, the best examples will be harvested, cleaned and sent back to Dr. Marshall’s lab. They will then be entered into the on-going small grain trials conducted across North Carolina. As a result, we will have conducted 2 generations of trials within a 12 month period. What does this mean for local beer? … the short answer is that we will be 2 steps closer to developing a 2-row malting quality winter barley for the southeast. However, several years of additional trials will still be conducted before any one variety is released for commercial production.

Check back with us for updates on the international variety trials, we will try to post some photos of the New Zealand trials later this year.

  1. Pinnacle was recently developed by North Dakota State University in an effort to expand the geographic range of malting quality barley production into the Great Lakes region. It has already been utilized by large-scale craft breweries such as Bell’s.