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

 

 

We’ve heard it since the beginning…..it can’t be local enough!

– Brent Manning

 

We’ve offered locally-sourced malt for almost a decade now. While this practice marks a notable improvement in the carbon footprint associated with producing craft beer and spirits, others want to take it one step further.

That is where contract (aka toll) malting enters the conversation. Toll malting allows our customers to bring grain from their family farm to the malt house and then back to the brewhouse or distillery, allowing for a true taste of home to be infused into their products.

 

We recently completed a project with Pretoria Fields Collective out of Albany, GA that helped them connect the dots between their farm and their fermenters. We worked with their farmer to manage variety selection and crop management during the growing season. Following harvest we worked with their brewer to develop two different malts that could be utilized throughout their product line.

 

“Working with Riverbend on a contract malting project allowed us to utilize our estate grown barley in several special projects over the past year” said Dee Moore Head of Brewing Operations for Pretoria Fields. “Integrating these special malts into our production aligns with our core values of sourcing as much as possible from our local, family-owned farm.”

 

What’s involved in the process you ask? Read on…..

 

Initial Consultation – September

We work with winter grains, so the best time to kick things off is late summer. We can provide guidance on variety selection, required acreage, and handling recommendations.

 

Crop Management – October – May

We’ve forged a partnership with researchers from NC State and Virginia Tech to provide the technical background necessary to produce high-quality grain. Producing great barley doesn’t happen by accident and we’ll do our best to connect you to our network of resources.

 

Harvest – June

After months of watching the crop, it is time to test and evaluate the harvest. We’ll walk you through the finer points of quality evaluation and give you an honest opinion on what is possible with your grain.

 

Malting – August

Assuming quality specifications are met, we’ll take delivery in late summer. From there, we’ll run the batch(es) through our system over the course of seven days. This might produce a great, multi-purpose base malt or something special that is included in annual “estate” offering.

 

We’ve handled a wide variety of small grains and love a challenge. Give us a call if you have a project in mind!

 

  • Brent

 

Each crop year is distinctive and offers a teaching moment. Our intake process remains the same, the results are always different.

In previous years, we’ve seen warm, dry springs drive rapid growth and early harvests. Mother Nature delivered a long, cool spring across the Southeast this year. These conditions supported steady stand growth and maturation. This slow growth pushed harvest back to late June in some spots across our network.

Overall, quality levels are looking good for 2020. Very little issues with DON (vomitoxin), good test weights, low protein, and plump kernels. However, high levels of dormancy were reported in both 2-row and 6-row barley varieties. This was likely driven by the below average temperatures that the crop experienced.

As you may know we work with 2-row Calypso and Violetta barley varieties. Our stalwart, Thoroughbred, remains part of the mix. Modern 2-row barley varieties are typically bred to have little to no dormancy. However, Calypso and Violetta have moderate levels to help weather our summer rain showers.

Dormancy refers to the period of time after harvest in which germination levels are suppressed. This trait can be both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that it will often be ready to plant and grow without issue in the fall. The curse is the potential for pre-harvest sprout damage to occur. When this occurs, the barley begins the malting process in the field and can perform erratically in the malt house.

We gauge the severity of this issue by comparing germination levels from samples that have been “steeped” in 4ml with a sample that includes a small amount of hydrogen peroxide. The peroxide breaks dormancy and shows us how many kernels are viable.

So what do we do with this information?

Quite simply, we wait. We continue to run pilot steeps and 4ml germination tests in the lab until we see 90+% levels. Most likely we’ll be able to work with the 2020 harvest by mid-September. Thankfully, we have enough material from the 2019 harvest to maintain production.

 

PS – Be on the lookout for the return of our Streaker Oats, we just received our first shipment today and will be malting them soon!

 

  • Brent

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