In lagers, brewers ask the raw materials to do the heavy lifting.

  • Randy Mosher

 

All over the craft beer landscape, we are seeing a steady expansion and exploration of the many classic lager styles and I couldn’t be happier!

 

This Wet Hopped Kellerbier from DSSOLVR and Wooden Robot is my personal favorite combination at the moment.

I'm Not A Robot - DSSOLVR - Untappd

 

This topic is always a fun one to have with our customers. Most have strong opinions on which malts (and which malt house) should and should not be included in the grist for classic Czech Pilsner. We thought it would be helpful to provide some guidance from our perspective.

 

Helles vs. Dortmunder

 

A great Helles puts malt complexity, not sweetness, at the forefront. Hop character is typically muted, taking a back seat to a blend of biscuits, crackers and fresh baked bread flavors contributed from a carefully crafted blend of malts. Our classic Pilsner is a good bet for this style. It provides the crisp, cracker backbone that can be enhanced with a small addition of our Heritage, Vienna or Light Munich. These three malts combine to develop great complexity even at low starting gravities. Our good friends at Arches have recently gotten rave reviews from a similar grist. Article link: https://www.ajc.com/blog/atlanta-restaurants/beer-pick-try-heritage-helles-from-hapeville-arches-brewing/kC4a3o9me0yAXycJOzTkAN/

 

Dortmunders punch things up a bit on the ABV and call upon an additional 10-15 IBUs of noble hops. Southern Select is your go to for this one. More malt character and a little more color provide a great cornerstone for this recipe. Finish the grist with ~25% Light Munich and a dash of our Dark Munich. The two Munichs will deliver pronounce baked bread and honey notes with just the right amount of toast.

 

Czech Pilsner vs. German Pilsner

 

The traditional Czech Pils is revered for its softer, rounder malt character which deftly balances the firm bitterness from the Saaz hops. Color can be slightly darker than the German version which opens the door for our Southern Select to shine as the base malt of choice. The bready notes will play well with the soft water profile, while the green tea/herbal finish will complement the earthy spice from the noble hops.

 

The German Pilsner leans into a more crisp, dry finish where Noble hop character is more of a dominant player. Base Camp Extra Pale is an excellent choice for this style.  We kiln this malt at cooler temperatures than Southern Select, limiting color development while providing just the right amount of grainy sweetness. The cleaner profile of this malt combined with a slightly elevated mineral level in your brewing water will set the table for excellent attenuation.

 

Vienna Lager vs. Marzen

 

A classic Vienna lager should bring greater depth of malt character, highlighting notes of caramel and fresh baked cookie. Noble hop character is present, but malt is definitely the star. For a lighter colored version, try an even mix of our Heritage and Pilsner malts. The Heritage contributes a touch of caramel and toast while the Pilsner adds just the right amount of grainy, sweetness. The color won’t be dark to meet style guidelines, so just keep this one in the taproom!

 

The Marzen takes even deeper into the “malty” rabbit hole. Traditional recipes layer Pilsner, Light Munich, and CaraMunich for a more intense mix of bread crust, caramel, and toast. The trick is balance, if the brew tips into a cloyingly sweet finish then drinkability can suffer. A safe bet is to steer clear of crystal/caramel malts in your recipe.

 

For a 100% local Marzen, go with 45% Base Camp, 45% Light Munich, and 10% Dark Munich. Our Dark Munich is very similar to commercially available CaraMunich, lots of dark fruit and toast.

 

Cheers to all of customers for taking part in reviving and exploring these styles. Can’t wait for the round!

 

  • Brent

After more than two months of quarantine, the good people of North Carolina are gearing up to enter Phase II. I wish I could tell you I’ve had loads of time for deep introspection and reflection on our way of life and what the road ahead looks like for craft beer….it hasn’t happened.

 

I’ve spent the last few months reaching out to our customers throughout the Southeast. Each day brought a mix of good and bad news with no clear trends. With one exception, everyone seemed to be doing something to help out their community. Sanitizer production in the distilleries, participation in the All Together collaboration project, volunteering to help first responders. You name it…the craft beer and craft distilling industries stepped up in a big way during challenging times.

 

As reopening is now allowed, they are confronted with new regulations that will undoubtedly require more staff attending to fewer patrons. Many will be forced to make major shifts in their business models to remain open.

 

So what can be done?

BUY LOCAL.

 

We’ve said it so much, it has almost lost its meaning. We can’t let that happen.

Dollars spent at local taprooms over the next few months will recharge not just that individual business, but the community it worked so hard to support. Remember, dollars spent at local businesses stay close to home. 48% of that tip you leave the bartender will end up in the cash register of the taco place down the street. For comparison, only 14% of the dollars spent at big box stores recirculate locally.

 

This fundamental truth is crucial to restarting our local economies. While more government aid may be coming, the early rounds were not a good fit for many restaurants and breweries. They need us to step up and support them this summer!

 

Make no mistake, it will feel and look different in the taproom when we reconvene.

 

Many may elect to continue to supporting through to-go and delivery options.

 

Either way, spend your beer and spirits dollars with your local purveyors. It will honor their efforts and support the community that we all worked so hard to create.

 

Cheers,

Brent

 

 

Beer, The Pint That Helps Keep People Together:Insights Gained while Studying for Certified Cicerone

Needless to say, due to current world events I am definitely spending a lot more time at home for the good of mankind. Being in quarantine has given me the unique opportunity to start studying for my Cicerone Level 2, so I have begun diving into the study materials. The first book I picked up was Tasting Beer by Randy Mosher and even though I am well into the book there were a couple quotes that have stuck with me from the very first chapter.

Civilization as well as civility thrive where there is a pot of beer. Beer brings people together on common ground, and has been doing so for thousands of years.

It is my belief that squeezing people into cities generates a certain amount of itchy friction, but this can be eased by a social lubricant like beer, served up in that other beloved institution, the tavern, which appeared not long after beer.

Alcoholic beverages have helped civilization stay together in unity practically since nomads settled. The phrase that really hit me the hardest was beer brings people together on common ground. Thinking back on my experience in and out of bars, taverns, and pubs led me to meet an unbelievable wide array of people. Rich or poor, I have been able to sit down and have a drink while exchanging ideas on common ground which have led to some incredible conversations. The tavern may have evolved through the years but its purpose remains the same. Creating a place where people from all walks can come in and just unwind after a long day.

All that being said, it really got me thinking about the unity needed currently as the world struggles through the COVID-19 pandemic. Thinking about how we still need our five o’clock beer at the end of the day to knock the edge off. More than ever, this virus has put us on common ground in the fact we all need ways to cope with more stress and even loneliness. Sometimes a drink is the perfect remedy to combat the stress of what is currently going on in life at an individual level. We as humans are a social species that craves social interaction with others. One way is to plan a virtual happy hour or bottle share. Let the alcohol release some endorphins and serotonin while catching up with some of your friends – everyone needs this at some point. Every Wednesday Riverbend has an employee happy hour that I am extremely grateful for and even though I am most likely the newest member of the team coming on through this mess, getting to know my team and having people to talk to end the day on a good note makes me feel much closer to the team. Ultimately, it’s creating a space that brings different people on common ground, lets us be social, and unwind with some friends after a day of work.

I will end with one last note, beer has helped create a sense of community ever since the concept of community was created. Riverbend will continue playing its part by sourcing the best local grain, malting that grain the only way we know how, and distributing it to our awesome brewery and distillery partners. All so the consumers can have a way to release and enjoy a drink to help keep people close in this time where communities can be fragile. Now, back to my studies!

— Tyler Adams

Are you curious about how we source grain here at Riverbend Malt House?

As the first malt house in the Southeast, we are proud to be a North Carolina company, and we are committed to growing a vibrant grain economy in our local region. How do we define “local”? We consider the Southeast (a roughly 500-mile radius from Asheville) to be our “grainshed”.

We source our grain from this region for three principal reasons:

High-Quality Grain

We place great value on sourcing the highest quality grain available in the region. Year after year, we work with our farm partners to select the best barley and other small grains in the Southeast.

It is vital for our business to work with the best quality grain available to us. We perform rigorous in-house testing and send harvest samples off to a third-party lab at Hartwick College in New York to ensure our raw materials meet our specifications. The Southeast can throw us some curveballs in this area. Some years, we have seen nearly all our contracts meet spec when our farmers avoid storms at harvest. In other years, we have been unable to accept close to half of our contracted amount due to harvest conditions that impacted malting specs. It’s important to us to build a safety net, sourcing from farms throughout the Southeast, to ensure that we have access to high-quality grain despite unpredictable weather and harvest seasons. A big rain event at harvest might lower yield, test weight, or cause pre-harvest sprout. It may also negatively impact many other important specs for malting.

We have also worked with our partners over the years to improve our malting barley stock in our efforts to provide high-quality malt in the styles expected by our customers. While our explorations with two-row varieties go as far back as 2014, it wasn’t until 2018 that we were able to source the volume of high-quality two-row barley needed to add these products to our lineup. It took a few growing seasons of testing out different varieties to discover the ones that are well suited to our climate and can consistently meet our malting-quality specifications.

Our Farm Partners

When we first started out, there was no established market to look to. It was no easy task to find farmers willing to take on the necessary risk involved with growing and supplying malting-quality barley. At first, only a few were willing to make a commitment to us.

Billy Dawson, in the Northern Neck of Virginia, was a pioneer in the production of malting quality grain in the region. He saw an opportunity to work with us and supply high-quality barley, and took on significant risk jumping into this new market with us. Sadly, Billy passed away a few years ago, but we continue to work with his family and business partners at Bay’s Best Feed.

Similarly, we have worked with Billy Carter for several years to source the Wrens Abruzzi Rye we use to make Carolina Rye malt. Billy grows this heritage variety for us as well as for milling companies in the region due to its unique flavor profile and in spite of the low yields and tough growing conditions. We are happy to be able to work with Billy to provide a market for this grain and support his farming operation in Eagle Springs, North Carolina.

We value the relationships we have built over the last ten years and hope to continue growing alongside our partners who have been with us from the start. We can’t thank our farm partners enough for everything they have done to help us produce the high-quality malt we are known for today.

Our network of partners now includes farms in North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and South Carolina. We look forward to maintaining these relationships in the years ahead.

You! Our Brewing and Distilling Customers

We take our responsibility to serve our customers seriously. Sourcing from a variety of sub-regions in the Southeast helps us to ensure we can meet your needs, providing high-quality malt year after year. It also allows us to meet customer demand for grain grown within the borders of the state you brew or distill in.

If you’re looking for a product sourced from your state, get in touch with us! And, of course, if you’re looking for high-quality malt from the Southeast, we definitely have you covered. We’re here to help and we love working with you on your new and exciting projects!

This time of year, we get a chance to take a breather and look back. I spent close to 2 months on the road this year covering conferences, sales, grower relationships and everything in between. A wild ride to say the least!

This year’s list (presented in chronological order) was driven more by experiences than by an individual pint or bottle. Let me explain…

Steinbock – Fonta Flora/Zillicoah collaboration 

I waited patiently for this one to be released. I’ve gotten more into classic German styles over the last year and this Doppelbock project got my attention. Brewed with our Munich malt and boiled with hot rocks, the finished beer was loaded with dark fruit and caramel notes. The finish was balanced and the beer was remarkably drinkable for the 8% ABV.

It was a chilly February night in the Zillicoah taproom and I remember feeling a great sense of pride that our malt could help bring something like this to life. Developing new products on new equipment was a huge challenge for our team in late 2018 and the two Munichs (Light and Dark) represented a breakthrough for us in many ways. The Doppelbock style offered the perfect platform to showcase their unique flavor profile and the guys at Fonta Flora and Zillicoah knocked it out of the park!

The experience reminded me of my friend Sean Lily Wilson from Fullsteam’s quote “There are beers for conversation and beers for contemplation” this one falls squarely in the latter category.

 

Oenobeer – Liberati in Denver

 This was a great meal. Matt and I joined one of my buddies from college for an exploration of oenobeer at Liberati in Denver. We were in town for the American Distillers Conference, giving us the opportunity to explore the city without the foot traffic associated with CBC.

Liberati specializes in wine/beer hybrids and old-world Italian cuisine. Think nut brown ales blended with Viognier grapes and stouts paired with Cabernet Sauvignon complimenting house-made mushroom fettuccine. The grape contributions ranged from a modest 10% to over 40% with varietals being sourced from every region you can imagine. We tasted through each of the 13 offerings which included classic English, Belgian, and American styles. Their current menu features a NE DIPA with Malbec grapes!

Being a weeknight, things were a bit slow and the staff started to turn up their favorite 80’s music to liven up the mood. This set the stage for a serious “name that tune” contest between the three of us, sprinkle in a few college memories and you have the makings of a perfect evening.

 

 

Cultura – Wicked Weed

A long-awaited release from the good people at Wicked Weed. I got an invite to attend a pre-release party at the Funkatorium. Cultura represents a series of three blends of spontaneously fermented beer that have been aging for over three years. Add to that three fruited variants and you have the makings of an intriguing evening!

Andrew and Jen, two of the crew that brought these lovelies into existence walked me through each of the six offerings. We compared tasting notes and reminisced about where we all were when these beers first came to life. The earliest batches were inoculated right there in the Funkatorium parking lot back in 2016. The grist for these brews featured our Pilsner, Appalachian Wheat, and NC-grown raw wheat. Simply put, these beers represent a true sense of place….a 21st century version of a (mostly) forgotten historic style.

I left with a 750ml of Blend 3 fruited with Muscadine Grapes which I paired with my smoked turkey on Thanksgiving. My family loves a good “food story” from Asheville, so I couldn’t resist sharing this one with them!

 

 

Kind of a “blissed out” cliché at this point, spend your money on experiences not things, but these memories will resonate more than any whale that I ever tracked down in my earlier days of craft beer fandom.

Hope that each of you can find similar inspiration in this industry as we enter this new decade.

Cheers to everyone for the love and support during 2019!

 

Brent

Last night was special. Once a year we open our doors to our friends across the Southeast for some beers, cocktails, and delicious food. It is a small gesture of thanks for all the support we’ve received in our efforts to build a food system for local malt.

Many that showed up brought beers to share, stuff that they were proud of…..think of it like a local malt themed bottle share!

I got a chance to sample farmhouse ales from a new customer in Tennessee, a lager from Georgia, and a two lovely spontaneously fermented beers from our own backyard. The barrel gins from Oak and Grist and the Chemist were also a treat!

For some, it is their first time touring a malt house and it is really fun for us to watch the light bulbs turn on as they connect with the blend of art and science that is malting. Malt has always taken a back seat to the sex appeal of hops, but we try our best infuse the story with heart and a few well-worn jokes about the early days.

Watching the community interact, sharing ideas and planning future collaborations is what it’s all about for us. Full blown beer festivals can be chaotic, we shoot for a relaxed vibe that fosters deeper discussions. We hope that folks come away with a better understanding of our craft and the myriad ways it can benefit their efforts in the brewhouse or distillery. We left with a renewed sense of purpose and commitment.

I want to take this opportunity to give a HUGE shout out to our staff that worked diligently to have the malt house looking spotless for the event. You guys rock!

Big thanks to everyone that provided the drinks for the occasion….I had a blast curating the tap list.

Check it out…..

 

Brewery Beer Style
Zebulon Artisan Ales L’Internationale Biere de Garde
Birds Fly South Prepaid Hustle Hazy IPA
Wicked Weed Appalachia IPA Session IPA
Green Man Festbier Lager
Twin Leaf Paradigm Shift Corn Lager
Bhramari Neon Ghost Hazy IPA
Anderby Pilsner Lager
Pretoria Fields Rye Charles Rye IPA
Albright Grove Lequire Table Saison Belgian Saison

 

Plus wine from the Biltmore Estate and craft spirits provided by the Chemist, Eda Rhyne, and Oak and Grist.

 

We look forward to seeing everyone again next year!

 

Cheers,

Brent

I feel like those inside the craft beer industry have been pushing for the “Year of the Lager” for quite some time. I don’t think we’re there yet, but forward progress is being made. Enter the inaugural edition of Lager Fest hosted by Resident Culture Brewing and Casita Cerveceria. This year’s lineup featured some heavy hitters…..Suarez Family, Russian River, Hill Farmstead, Heater Allen, just to name a few. As I made my way around the event, I was struck by the variety within a very narrow style window. 4.5-5% ABV and 15-30 IBUs and 3-6 SRM. Noble hops vs. new world varieties. Some offerings were bright and crisp, others delivered more biscuity malt character. I also enjoyed the opportunity to access a Russian River tap without a line!

As you might imagine, I have a keen interest in the role local malt can play inside of the growing lager trend. This industry heavy event offered an excellent opportunity to explore the space and pick people’s brains. Some brewers I spoke with were looking for flavor and character reminiscent of the classic continental Pilsner malts while others got excited about the terrior of Southern-grown barley varieties. This divergence offers both an exciting opportunity and a challenge for the craft malt industry. #1 – mirror the flavor profile and consistency of the legacy malt houses #2 – highlight the flavors of your region.

At Riverbend, we can address both through the development of custom malt program. To date, we’ve focused on single origin/single variety lots which deliver the bready sweet profile of a continental Pilsner. Blending different varieties and adjusting kilning temperatures add complimentary elements of honeysuckle and green tea.

What about the market demand?

The rise of attractively priced 15-packs of craft lager are shifting customer expectations for the style….making it tougher to sell 4-packs for $10+. This trend also makes it challenging to include premium craft malt in the recipe.

If we want a truly local lager our challenge is craft a beer (and a marketing campaign) that draws the customer into a conversation about the ingredients. Maybe that is accomplished with a name or branding that speaks to a sense of place or history. Maybe we need an eye-catching dry-hop regime (gasp!). Or maybe a new branding element that helps differentiate your product from others on the shelf. Something like the new “Certified Craft Malt” seal from the North American Craft Maltster’s Guild, perhaps? Learn more at www.craftmalting.com

 

 

 

 

 

There is no playbook, there is no map, and there is no net. We have been growing this business steadily since 2011 while navigating tumultuous seas of shifting market demands, agricultural infrastructure development, and crop failures. 2018 brought us face-to-face with the challenges of scaling each of these simultaneously and we did what we always do, make the road by walking.

The 2018 harvest was the most painful we have experienced to date. Painful? How so?

Mother nature socked it to us. The rain started in early May did not let up until mid-summer. For every inch of rain that falls in that period fungal growth increases and quality suffers. In most years, a central theme or problem area arises with the crop and we are able to adjust our process and move forward. 2018 brought us three distinct problem areas!

DON (deoxynivalenol)
This is a by-product of Fusarium Head Blight, a common disease that occurs in a wide range of small grains. Once infected the head of the grain shrivels and a mycotoxin can be produced. This mycotoxin can have negative impacts to human health and shelf stability in beer. We have a maximum limit of 1 part per million (ppm) for the barley we purchase. Maintaining this standard for the 2018 crop required us to decline a tremendous amount of locally-grown barley.

Figure 1. Diseased 6-row barley

Water Sensitivity
This one is a bit tougher to pin down. Water sensitive barley responses very differently to traditional steeping regimes than a normal crop. This can lead to an over-steeped or “swamped” batch where germination is erratic and uneven. The end result is poor extract and the potential for off-flavors is increased.

How did we tackle this? Testing, testing, and more testing! Water sensitivity is also a moving target where levels can increase or decrease with time, so our lab was busy for several months. We ran dozens of small-scale batches with different barley varieties and states of origin to determine an optimal steep schedule and grain mixture. The end result was a highly “personalized” steep schedule for every batch of malt we produce.

Figure 2. Mini steeps in process

Test Weight
Test weight has traditionally been used a general marker for overall quality of a small grain. A bushel of barley weighs 48 pounds. Excellent quality barley may exceed this, while lower quality grain will fall below that threshold. Wet conditions around harvest time can reduce the amount grain fill that takes place. The end result is lower test weight. For the 2018 harvest, we worked with our seed cleaning partners to adjust their aeration rates and screen selection to isolate the plumpest kernels. This resulted in a bit more loss, but maintained overall quality.

2019 Outlook
With more rain falling, we’ll be keeping an eye on our barley stands across the region. Our growers were able to plant everything we’ll need, but too much rain can stunt growth during the crucial early growth stage.