Homebrewing was an integral part of our early development and we are excited to celebrate National Homebrew Day on May 7th!

I started homebrewing back in Wilmington with an old 5 gallon pot and igloo cooler. I cobbled together a gravity system with old chairs and end tables in the driveway for those early brews.  I always tell people that I had “Dogfish Head Syndrome” when it came to recipe design. Whole fruit, spices, and other adjuncts were all on the table….and I had no business adding these things! A particularly gnarly batch of Winter Warmer comes to mind…way too much ginger!

Then I picked up a copy of “Brewing Classic Styles” by John Palmer and “Designing Great Beer” by Ray Daniels. These two books marked a sea change in my approach to brewing. Out with the spices and in with the classic, fresh ingredients! Zeroing in on ingredients and process improved the quality of my beer in just a few short months!

The hobby gathered steam as I began diving into podcasts like Brewing with Style from The Brewing Network. The show, hosted by Jamil Zainasheff, takes a deep dive into each style, explaining the history, ingredient selection, and important process tweaks necessary to reproduce more technical styles.

All of the accumulated knowledge and experience came in handy as Brian and I began to explore the world of malting. As Brian often points out, I was hesitant to malt a 6-row variety as it was not the preferred barley in a vast majority of the styles I had explored. However, I did understand flavor contributions and brew house performance….which quickly changed my mind about Thoroughbred. Just a quick mill adjustment and we were getting great flavor and decent extract from our early test batches. We entered one of these in a homebrew contest and were chosen by Mike Karnowski from Green Man (now Zebulon Artisan Ales) as his favorite!

 

This is just one of the “happy accidents” that got us where we are today. We look forward to sharing more memories as we explore our 10 year history over the next few months!

 

Here’s the original recipe….

RMH – Pale Ale Malt (4.0 SRM) 86.30%
Vienna Malt (RMH Test Batch) (5.0 SRM) 5.90%
RMH-White Wheat (4.0 SRM) 3.90%
Cascade [4.50 %] – Boil 60.0 min 37.7 IBUs
Cascade [4.50 %] – Boil 15.0 min 5.0 IBUs
Cascade [4.50 %] – Boil 0.0 min 0.0 IBUs
Pacific Ale (White Labs #WLP041) [35.49 ml]

 

 

We launched Riverbend in 2010 with the intent of building a more sustainable supply chain for craft beer and spirits production. The first page of our website included a declaration of support for our local farmers and the planet. We pledged to pay living wages to our farmers for their grain and have made good on those promises year after year. 

 

In honor of Earth Day/Month, we thought we’d take a deeper dive into the environmental impact of sourcing grain from our local grainshed. Back then, we spoke a lot about food miles…the amount of miles an item travels between where it is grown and where it is consumed. That language is still relevant today. We average about 300 miles between our growers and our malt house. Almost all of our products are sold back into this same footprint. 

 

The footprint analysis looks much different for large-scale producers around the globe. For the sake of simplicity, I’ve chosen to stay within the United States and compare the impact of using Wyoming grown barley to our supply chain. 

 

Northern Wyoming to Malt House to Asheville = 1,978 miles

Assuming 6 miles per gallon via 18-wheeler, this trip generates 7,378 pounds of carbon emissions per 44,000 lb. truckload.

 

Farm to Riverbend average = 300 miles

Assuming 6 miles per gallon via 18-wheeler, this trip generates 1,119 pounds of carbon emissions per 44,000 lb. truckload.

 

Based on our current production, we’ll handle 70 to 80 truckloads of grain this year. These efforts will result in a net reduction of 230 tons of carbon emissions per year.

 

These types of reductions are happening because our customers are choosing to support local, family-owned farms. 

 

Can we do better….absolutely! We are currently conducting an energy audit of our facility to improve efficiency. After that we’ll dig deep into water use and see what can be done to reduce our consumption on that front.

We work hard to produce consistent, quality malt. As part of this process, we send every batch to a third party lab which provides us with a full Certificate of Analysis (CoA). A recent review of a discrepancy in color, prompted an interesting discussion between the two laboratories that we use, Montana State University Malt Quality Laboratory and Hartwick College Center for Craft Food and Beverage.  Cheers to Hannah (MSU) and Aaron (Hartwick) for the their thoughts and edits on this post!

 

To provide some background, each component of the CoA has a standardized methodology associated with it that was developed and approved by the American Society of Brewing Chemists (ASBC). All laboratory testing follows these guidelines. However, different equipment, staff, and testing conditions can lead to variations in results.

 

How do our intrepid scientists address this potential problem you ask?

 

They employ rigorous internal and external quality practices to ensure both precision and accuracy in test results. . These include 1) participation in the ASBC Lab Proficiency Program – regular testing of blind samples with comparison of results across 19 labs from the US and Canada and. 2) daily in house control charting  to catch any inconsistencies on the spot. 

 

It is important to note that this level of effort helps define and control the acceptable levels of variability within each lab, but does not eliminate it!

 

Let’s look at a few examples that illustrate this point…..

 

  1. Color – As we’ve grown, consistency in this department has become paramount. Brewers (and their customers!) have expectations regarding the color of their finished products. If we miss in this department, problems can arise quickly. Note that a normal difference  between labs can be up to 0.6 SRM. Given this information, we typically allow for a swing of 0.5 SRM in our base malts.

  • Extract – Another “hot button” topic for larger breweries. Lower extract/efficiencies equals lost revenue at a measurable scale. A variability of 1.4% could mean the difference between winning a contract or making a price concession. We have recently updated our specifications on the website to reflect a “minimum” rather than an absolute percentage to reflect this reality.

 

Understanding and accepting this variability comes with the territory of working with an agricultural product. Definitely something for both maltster and brewer to keep in mind when discussing final results!

 

If you are interested in learning more about this topic, The North American Craft Maltsters Guild is hosting a Malt Analysis webinar on March 25th!

https://craftmalting.com/events/member-webinar-meaningful-malt-analysis/ 

 

The typical variation for the most common malt tests are listed below: 

 

The “repeatability” (r95) is the maximum expected difference between two test results on the same sample from the same lab.  

 

The “reproducibility” (R95) is the maximum expected difference between two test results on the same sample from different labs.

r(95)

(within lab)

R(95)

(between lab)

Moisture (%) 0.2 0.8
Extract (%, dm) 0.4 1.4
Beta Glucan (mg/L) 20 50
Friability (%) 3.0 7.0
Soluble Protein (%, dm) 0.2 0.6
Total Protein (%, dm) 0.2 0.4
FAN (mg/L) 7.0 40
Colour (°ASBC) 0.2 0.6
Diastatic Power (°L) 10 30
Alpha Amylase (DU) 5.0 15

The art of creating good malt out of bad barley has not yet been discovered.

  • Robert Free, 1888 (UK Barley Breeder)

Craft Malt Conference – Summary

Wow! What an exciting few days for the craft malt community! Three solid days of technical presentations and happy hours all done from the comfort of home. I’ll admit that I had some concerns about the digital fatigue factor of a multi-day event housed exclusively online. I’m happy to report that our community came out in force, keeping the discussions lively and informative. And yes, more malt puns in the chat box than you could imagine!

 

Ken Grossman, founder of Sierra Nevada, served as our keynote speaker. Ken presented a fascinating history of their brewery that was truly inspirational. I think everyone watching saw something they could connect with in his slides….the repurposing of equipment, backyard DIY, and long hours to get the job done. Seeing where they started and following that thread to their beautiful brewery in Mills River really got attendees excited about the possibilities of growing their business!

 

Given the virtual nature of the event, the organizers where able to compile an international list of speakers. We were treated to presentations from Crisp Maltings, Simpsons Malt, and Hugh Alexander from the United Kingdom. All provided an interesting mix of technical and business advice.

 

The plant breeding talks were another highlight for me. I find the intersection (or lack thereof) of the nearly decade long process of bringing a new variety to fields while anticipating customer demand and market trends to be fascinating. How do researchers improve their odds of success? In a word, flavor. Many breeding programs are incorporating test malting and brewing data into their selection process. This offers an exciting opportunity for the craft malt community to participate in bringing a new generation of varieties that deliver great specs and novel flavor characteristics.

 

The evening schedule was packed with themed happy hours. I got a chance to host the a craft malt themed “show and tell” on Wednesday that was really special. We had an international group that included attendees from Norway, Argentina, Japan, England, all of whom were sipping on craft beers or spirits made with their products. How cool is that?!

 

While definitely not the same as in person, this event succeeded at reconnecting and invigorating our community. Big thanks to everyone involved in putting this together.

 

If all goes according to plan we’ll be back in person in Portland, Maine in 2022. Look forward to “seeing” everyone in person and virtually!

 

  • Brent

 

 

 

 

 

Inside the Matrix….Beta Glucan and Arabinoxylan

𝛃-glucan is a glucose polymer that is found in the cell walls of the endosperm. 𝛃-glucan along with another non-starch carbohydrate called arabinoxylan (or pentosan) comprise more than 70% of the molecular weight of these cells.

High 𝛃-glucan levels in finished malt can lead to a laundry list of headaches for brewers, so it lands squarely on the shoulders of the maltster to manage the degradation of these polymers. In truth, we are simply setting the stage for a variety of enzymes to go to work breaking down these matrices. 

Steeping the grain to approximately 45% moisture with adequate fresh air delivery is the key first step. This hydration activates the aleurone layer to synthesize hydrolytic enzymes such as 𝛂-amylase, 𝛃-glucanase, and pentosanases which are released into the endosperm. Cell wall degradation quickly follows and 𝛃-glucan is solubilized. This process continues over the four day germination period. Maltsters focus on delivering large amounts of humidified air and maintaining cool temperatures in the grain bed to support this enzymatic digestion. The final kilning step stabilizes the enzyme package, making them available for use in the mash.

The success (or failure) of the maltster’s efforts in this department are reflected in the 𝛃-glucan levels concentration reported in the Certificate of Analysis. These levels are reported in milligrams per liter. This methodology primarily captures the longer chain polymers that represent the high molecular weight portion that contributes to filtration issues and stuck mashes in the brew house.

In the United States, most brewers look for this concentration to be below 100 mg/L. However, European brewers accept much higher levels, sometimes exceeding 250 mg/L. This discrepancy could be a result of the need for rapid filtration among the larger breweries in the United States. 

Arabinoxylan levels are not reported in the CoA, but are present in all cereal grains but found in highest concentrations in rye. These carbohydrates play a significant role in determining viscosity and filterability rates for brewers. Published research has documented levels exceeding 300 mg/L from samples that registered ~50 mg/L 𝛃-glucan. In other words, that stuck mash could be a result high molecular weight arabinoxylans and not 𝛃-glucan.

So what can we do as maltsters to drive degradation of arabinoxylan? The answer is not much. Early enzymatic activity within the endosperm is focused on stripping sections of pentosan away which allows access to the 𝛃-glucans beneath. Current research has documented the presence of a xylanase inhibitor that develops midway through the germination stage which reduces further degradation. Some have suggested that the introduction of exogenous enzymes would aid in this function.

Just something to consider the next time you are dealing with a slow runoff or stuck mash!

-Brent

The beer community has been asking (begging?) since 2015 for more and different craft lagers to enter the market. Looking back at 2020, I think we got there!

Was it COVID that pushed the industry to make the final leap? The ability to store for longer periods of time definitely made sense given the volatility of retail in the early spring and summer.

Was it hop fatigue? Not likely, the dominance of the IPA continues to define the space, occupying >50% of the market.

Regardless, I saw a steady stream of releases that offered a fresh take on classic styles. Custom, craft malts melded with traditional yeasts and modern hopping techniques and ingredients combined to breathe new life into this category.

A few of my favorites are listed below……

I’m Not a Robot Kellerbier – DSSOLVR/Wooden Robot
Super cool collaboration that yielded a beautifully balanced offering. Fresh baked biscuits with a touch of floral character and lemon zest from Mt. Hood and Spalter Select hops. A result of malt selection (ours!), water chemistry, and brewhouse technique.

 

Pil-Zen – Fonta Flora
I knew Todd and his team had something fun up their sleeves when we received a credit check request from Numi Tea in California. The resulting beer was Pil-Zen, a 5.2% pilsner aged on jasmine green tea. The floral notes of tea provide the aromatic signature for this beer. I paired it with spicy peppercorn catfish from a local Thai restaurant. Perfect combo!

Sunseeker – Green Man
This beer folded in a custom, ultra-pale Pilsner malt that we put together for Green Man. The recipe for this one is probably the most traditional on this list. German yeast, crispy cracker based malt character, and noble hops. This beer was scored a 99 (out of 100) by Craft Beer and Brewing, one of only a handful to receive this score the entire year!

Hope everyone has a safe and prosperous new year!

 

Planning for a successful batch of malt or brew day starts with a Certificate of Analysis (CoA for short) which provides a tremendous amount of information about the malt you will be working with. In the early days, these laboratory analyses were cost prohibitive for us….costing upwards of $300 a sample! Thanks to the good people at Hartwick College and Montana State University we are able to test every batch we produce.

What does this mean for our customers? More consistency and transparency. Maltsters use these data to guide our operations on a daily basis. In this first installment, I’ll cover extract from the maltsters and the brewers perspective.

Extract levels, commonly presented as Fine Grind Dry Basis, or FGDB, attest to amount of fermentable sugar that is available. Modern expectations for extract should exceed 79% for 6-row barley and 80% for 2-row barley. If we have a poor crop year with low test weights (<46 lb./bushel), these can be challenging to achieve. Good harvests make our jobs a little easier!

If we see extract levels declining for a good lot of barley, we can make several changes to our production plan. For example, we might choose to extend germination to allow more time for the cell walls to be broken down into additional starches and simple sugars. The trick is balance. If we go too far, soluble protein levels may increase beyond acceptable levels. This could translate to a thin, watery beer.

Brewers will use this number to determine how much malt is required to achieve a target starting gravity. Some quick math can help translate FGDB into extract potential…

Extract potential (S.G.) = 1 + (FGDB/100)*0.04621

The 0.4621 multiplier in the formula is the extract potential of sucrose (1.04621), against which all extract is measured. For example, Batch 2073 of Southern Select with a FGDB of 81.4% results in a calculated extract potential of  1.03761. Roughly 37.6 points per gallon.

Having this data available can help avoid unexpectedly high or low starting gravities that might negatively impact customer expectations, judging performance, or cost considerations.

Hopefully, this series will provide some interesting insight into how maltsters use CoAs to make process changes throughout the year in an effort to delivery consistent, flavorful products!

  • Brent

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll be honest, I was not a fan of smoke beers. To me, they all came in one flavor….campfire. I could pick it out of whatever I was drinking and just couldn’t get past it. Never did I go back for a second pint.

 

With that as the backdrop, I helped launch our smoked malt program a few months back. This move was driven primarily to support product requests from our distillery customers. Little did I know this would open doors to all kinds of interesting projects.

 

The finished beers I’ve tasted with these new products have really opened my eyes to new ways that smoked malt can be used. The malts serve more of a supporting role adding depth and complexity without dominating the conversation. I’ve picked up notes of walnut oil, honey, dark fruit, and black cherry as we’ve mixed and matched different woods with different malts.

Shane unloading a fresh batch of Pecan Smoked Pilsner

 

Check out a few of the highlights below…

 

Pecan Smoked Wheat

I knew we had a hit with this one as soon as I tasted it! Since there is no husk on a wheat berry I was skeptical of how much flavor pickup we could achieve. Happy to report I was wrong!

 

Tasting notes:

The rich, bready texture of our standard Appalachian Wheat melds perfectly with the honeyed, dark fruit notes contributed from the smoke.

 

Cherry Smoked Vienna

This one was a special request from a distiller. Cherrywood provided by the good folks at Carolina Cookwood (Upstate SC).

 

Tasting Notes:

Our Vienna contributes a wealth of sweet aromatics ranging from cake batter to vanilla and honey. Surprisingly, the wood contributes a slightly tart, black cherry finish that balances the sweetness. Somebody needs to try this with a brett beer!!!!

 

Fig Wood Smoked Base Camp

Our friends from Bhramari Brewing brought over some foraged fig wood for this batch. Gary and I pulled up our camp chairs and hung out while the fire the crackled. This conversation gave rise to the MoonSong Virtual Beer Festival that we collaborated on.

 

Tasting Notes:

Base Camp supplies notes of honeysuckle and bread crumb that were enhanced by the fig wood smoke. More dark fruit and floral aromatics were observed post smoke. This malt went into a Helles style lager collab with Hi-Wire, Terry’s Big Adventure. The finished beer reminded me of Schlenkerla Helles (which doesn’t actually use smoked malt). The fruit was complimentary…..so good I ordered a second!

 

More to come as we expand this program in 2021. Feel free to reach out with your ideas….we are always open to suggestions!

 

  • Brent

It all comes back to geology

– Brian Simpson

 

When Brian and I worked together as environmental consultants, that quote was a common refrain. Brian, being a geologist, always took smug satisfaction in the fact that his chosen field had a significant impact on mine (stream and wetland restoration). In short, you have to understand what is going on underneath the surface before you can restore your target ecosystem.

 

As it turns out geology also plays an important role in the terroir of wine and possibly barley. The parent or source material for a soil type contributes to the drainage rate, nutrient retention, and pH. Research has shown that well drained soils promote accelerated rates of photosynthesis which translates to higher sugar concentration in grapes. Soils with elevated levels of potassium and calcium also promote the accumulation of sugar. Slightly alkaline to neutral soils promote nutrient uptake which is essential for plant growth and fruit quality.

Do these same factors impact barley flavor?

 

The short answer is we think so!

 

Early on, we noticed subtle differences in finished flavor from barley grown in different states. Malted Thoroughbred from coastal Virginia was typically grassier and floral. Malted Thoroughbred from Kentucky displayed a richer, earthy flavor. The Virginia barley was grown in sandy, well drained soils in a microclimate that is warmer and sunnier than the Kentucky site. Could that explain the difference in finished malt flavor? 

 

At the present time, we are working with five barley varieties that are being grown in three distinct physiographic locations. Coastal Plain, Upper Piedmont, along with the Ridge and Valley section of the Appalachians in Eastern Tennessee. This covers sandy marine deposits, clay loam of volcanic origin, and silt loam from ancient limestone.

 

Elevations range from 50’ to almost 1,000’ above sea level. This contributes to an average difference of 8 degrees Fahrenheit across the region. Average rainfall varies from 47 to 52 inches. Harvest dates range from late May to late June. 

 

In short, we have different geomorphology, notable climate variations, and soil composition coupled with an expanding catalog of barley varieties…..all of the building blocks to establish a strong case for a Southern Terrior.

 

Who knows, maybe we’ll have an Appalachian Appellation in the future….stay tuned!

Over the past 6 months, we’ve worked with several of our customers across the Southeast to brew beers that give back to those in the service industry that have been impacted by COVID-19. A small gesture that we hope demonstrates our support for the community. These projects have kept us connected and energized during these trying times.

We plan to keep things rolling as we head into the next phase of the pandemic. Feel free to reach out if you’d like to work on a project to benefit those in your area!

Stay Home – Hazy IPA

Brewed in collaboration with Bhrarmari, DSSOLVR, Archetype, New Belgium, White Labs, and Twin Leaf here in Asheville. Proceeds benefited the New Belgium Restaurant Relief fund.

 

6ft Never Felt So Far – Hazy IPA

Brewed in collaboration with Good Word Brewing down in Duluth, GA. Todd and his crew were doing some really great work in the early days of the pandemic, transforming their restaurant into a soup kitchen to feed their staff and community. We jumped in to put this beer together with proceeds benefitting Botttle Share, who supports service industry workers in the Atlanta metro area.

 

Stay True – West Coast IPA

Round two of our Asheville focused collaboration. We brewed a larger batch over at Archetype and distributed through local channels. Proceeds directed to the New Belgium Restaurant Relief Fund.

 

Kindred Spirits – Modern IPA

Brewed with our friends at Ancillary Fermentation in Cary, NC. This one benefitted the NC Restaurant Relief Fund.

 

Barley Moon – Heirloom Lager

Brewed with Revelry Brewing Company in Charleston, SC. This one features our malted Bloody Butcher Corn, which contributes some nice spice character to this classic style. Proceeds will be directed towards Pay It Forward Charleston who has been distributing food to service industry workers over the past 6 months.

 

  • Brent