craft brewers conference

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!


Although we’re waiting on a few more pieces of the expansion project to arrive (thanks to January’s awful weather), the basic framework of our new system is in place and we’re making more malt more efficiently than ever before. Here are a few of the components that have helped us increase our capacity.


Bucket Elevator

One of our three bucket elevators is in place and it is rocking! We’re able to load two tons of grain into a steep tank in less than an hour.  Here’s Brian rigging it up:

malt house

Brian Simpson hooks up a new bucket elevator.

Bigger Steep Tanks

The new steep tanks each hold about 4000 pounds of dry grain. In addition to the capacity increase, we have improved the design to allow for increased air exchange during the dry phase of each steep cycle. Thanks to ProSteel for custom-building these bad boys for us!

Steep Tank 1, by ProSteel

Bigger Germination Room

The increased square footage of the new germination floor will allow us to make up to 8,000 pounds of malt per batch. For scale, here’s Brian and Craig with our first two-ton run of barley on the floor – a 4,000 pound batch! Just wait ‘til we fill up the rest of the room!

Our first 4000 lb. batch of barley!


The “crown jewel” of the expansion, our new kiln features several improvements over the old design. Not only is it bigger, but the heating elements bring us up to temperature in minutes instead of hours. Our custom-designed control system allows us to manage fan speeds, temperatures, and air circulation with the touch of a button, whether at the malt house or on the road. Here’s Brent and Brian loading the kiln with barley!

Brent and Brian load the new kiln with barley.

So what’s next?

We haven’t retired our buckets and shovels just yet. We are waiting on a conveyor system to load the kiln more efficiently. The additional bucket elevators will also be installed to connect the debearder to the larger seed cleaner and packaging line.  Our plan is to clean and package full batches in 4-5 hours once everything is installed. Wish us luck!

There comes a time in most every business owner’s journey when they have to decide: are we going to really commit and take this thing to the next level? For us, the answer was yes.

We knew from the beginning that for this operation to be successful we’d have to scale our production. We’ve already made a lot of progress, from the early 500 pound batches up to our current runs of 1250-1400 lbs. But we’ve run out of room to keep growing incrementally — it’s time to make a big jump.

This summer, we started planning the changes that will enable us to produce malt in proportions that will keep our customers satisfied year-round. As we find our malt in more beers and bigger batches, the increased capacity will allow us to work with new brewers across the state and throughout the South.

Here are some of the changes that have been happening over the past six weeks:



These new storage racks will hold up to 100 tons of bulk grain storage, plus capacity for 15 tons of finished malt. Along with our increased storage, we’re going to start packaging our malt in one-ton “Super Sacks”, which should make things easier for some of our larger clients. For those who work with 50 lb. bags, we’ll still be using those too!

expansion update

Can you spot our new sign?

Steep Tanks

We can’t wait for our new, shiny, 1,500-gallon steep tanks to arrive from our local fabricator (ProSteel). These are where the grain will steep for three days, soaking up the water that will signal it’s time to grow.


Germination Room

Our new germination room will give us much more space than we had before. Once it’s been deep-cleaned, we’ll be able spread some 8,000 pounds of grain on the floor to germinate. While we could look at buying automated or mechanical rakes for turning all that grain, we’re going to stick to traditional floor malting as it imparts additional flavor and character to all of our products. Applying this approach to a much larger batch will take more time and effort to manage, but the quality and flavor will be worth it!



Over the past two years we’ve learned a lot about building and maintaining a small malt kiln. Our first few (failed) attempts in 2011 led us to implement a vastly improved ductwork design and a stronger fan. Once we got the basics taken care of, we teamed up with our friends at Control Specialties, Inc. to help with automation and process controls. Byron Watkins and his team have been invaluable to us, helping maintain our current kiln and designing the next one. Kiln 3.0 will mark a tremendous leap forward for us in terms of capacity, automation, and efficiency.

Putting the final touches on the insulation.

This new fan’s gonna purrrr as it blows warm air through the kiln.

Seed Cleaning Machine

Thankfully, our current debearder has the capacity to grow with us, so we were able to “save” some money on that front.  However, a new, high-capacity seed cleaner was definitely in order. A refurbished beauty (circa 1960) is set to arrive in late December and should allow us to clean the entire 8,000 lb. batch in less than 2 hours!


The Great Unknowns…

You must be thinking, “Wow, these guys have this thing completed dialed!” Not so fast my friend. We’ve got some new equipment coming in that we’ve never worked with before. Bucket elevators, v-belt conveyors, bagging scales…the list goes on and on.  We know that they’ll fit and what they are supposed to do, but we still have to put them into action! Stay tuned to the Kiln Blog — I’m sure we’ll have a few good stories to tell.


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.

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.


Looking for a way to sample homegrown ales and lagers  from across North Carolina?

nc beer month

Join us at the Thirsty Monk in downtown Asheville this Friday (April 26th) for NC Beer Month where we’ll be co-hosting our first tap takeover.  This event offers an incredible opportunity to sample a variety of beer styles made with Riverbend’s products.  Some of these will even be new to us!  A little backstory is provided below to whet your appetite.


1) Weeping Radish – Maibock
A classic style from NC’s oldest microbrewery.  Nick and his crew brewed this one back in January and it has had plenty of time to lager and is in top form for NC Beer Month.  The grain bill for this traditional fest beer includes our Pilsner, Pale, and Heritage malts.


2) Weeping Radish – Doppelbock (2012)
The 2011 release of this beer included malt from our first batch ever produced!  The 2012 version marks the second year of this locally focused release and clocks in around 8% ABV.   Hops are provided by Echoview Farm in Weaverville and a majority of the grain is sourced from Riverbend.  Just like the Maibock, this one has been conditioning for several months and has developed a rich malt character.


3) Top of the Hill – Plott Hound Pale Ale
This well-balanced brew features a blend of New Zealand hop varieties and an array of Riverbend products (Pale, Heritage, Appalachian Wheat, and Carolina Rye) which create a complex, sessionable beer with notes of peach and pineapple.  Everyone in Chapel Hill is really diggin’ this release and the second batch is already in the fermenter!


4) Fullsteam – El Toro Cream Ale
A classic, easy drinking cream ale from one of our favorite breweries, this one was our first “flagship” release back in early 2012.  The guys at Fullsteam craft this one with 90% Pale Malt and 10% corn grits for a truly local flavor.   Be sure to put this summer sipper and your list this Friday.


5) Steel String – Rubber Room Session Ale
These guys are opening in Carrboro in early May with an interesting lineup of IPAs and Belgian inspired offerings.  I got to taste a few things out of the fermenter when I visited and am looking forward to this one!  Motueka hops and our Carolina Rye should make for an excellent session beer.


6) Aviator – High Voltage Pale Ale
This one comes out swinging with 7.2% ABV and a generous dose of Columbus and Cascade hops.  This beer marks our first statewide release and may be available in 22 oz. bottles later this summer.  Look for Aviator’s complete line of products around Asheville by early May!


7) Trophy Brewing/Haw River Farmhouse Ales (collaboration) – Saxiest Man Alive Saison
For those in the know, Busy Bee is the spot for craft beer and great food in downtown Raleigh…why do I tell you this? Because the same gentlemen (Les Stewart) behind Busy Bee is now brewing some delicious treats just down the street at Trophy Brewing.  Les teamed up with Ben from Haw River to create this little jewel made from 100% NC ingredients (including the yeast!).  Ben has been working on some pretty interesting yeast propagation projects in his hometown of Saxapahaw (near Chapel Hill).  You’ll get to taste the results of his efforts in this hoppy Saison that uses pine needles in the boil for an added kick.


8) Wicked Weed – Smoked Saison
When Walt told us he was planning to have our malt smoked by the guys at 12 Bones Smokehouse here in Asheville, we knew it was going to be a special beer.  This one was released to rave reviews just a few weeks ago at their tap room.  This one is rich and complex with just the right amount of smoke in the finish.


Looking forward to seeing everyone out at the Monk…Cheers!

Once we built up some inventory in the malt house, we turned our attention to developing all grain homebrew kits for the holidays!

homebrew kit

Our first batch of homebrew kits!


This kit blends our freshest, artisan malt with a classic West Coast hop schedule to create a nicely balanced ale.  Our Pale and Heritage Malts account for 99% of the grain, with just a pinch of Chocolate Malt added for color adjustment.  IBU’s are equally balanced between early and late additions to create a beer with just the right amount of bitterness and plenty of aroma.


This kit features our Appalachian Red Wheat Malt.  This malt utilizes an heirloom variety of wheat dubbed “Turkey Red”, which has been grown in the South for hundreds of years!  The grain bill is topped off with our experimental Pilsner malt and a bit Heritage Malt to create a light bodied beer with complex malt character.  Subtle bitterness is provided by 2 additions of Hallertauer hops.


All of the grain (with the exception of the Chocolate Malt) is malted by hand and uses North Carolina grown, organic barley and wheat.  All of the malt and hops included in our kits are shipped in nitrogen-purged, vaccum-sealed bags to maintain optimal freshness and flavor.  All of the grain has been milled to our specifications.  Each kit also includes a dry yeast packet (Danstar Munich Wheat or Safale 05), so you have everything you need to brew!

Vaccum sealing the freshly milled malt.


$39.95 (plus NC Sales Tax, shipping, and handling costs)


Cash, Check, or Credit Card


My Sunday began MUCH earlier than I care to talk about….up and out the door by about 7AM!  Why the early wake up call?  I was scheduled to take part in a roundtable discussion at the Sustainable Agriculture Conference in Greenville, S.C.  This discussion featured our friends from the NC State Organic Grains program in addition to Jennifer Lapidus from Carolina Ground, L3C and a representative from Organic Valley Cooperative.  We touched on the basics of grain farming in the Carolinas as well as some of the emerging markets for these products.  In short, the market potential is tremendous as NC/SC are net importers of grain from around the globe!

After the conference, I met a buddy for lunch at The Trappe Door, just down the street from the conference site.  This place was an incredible find!  Great belgian beer selection featuring  the appropriate glassware…always a plus for me!  The food was also well done, although I’ll stick ketchup for my fries (although the array of flavored mayonnaises were interesting).  Be sure to check these guys out the next time you are in town.

My third, and final stop was Grape and Grains for a “Meet the Maltster” event.  The owners, Ken and his wife Jennelle, operate SC’s only licensed brewery/winery/homebrew shop and are big fans of our malt.  I brought in one of my favorite recipes for the event, a beer I call “Bottomland Brown”, which features our Carolina Rye, Heritage Malt, and sorghum molasses.

Soon after my arrival, the place filled up with interested homebrewers, aspiring professionals (Will and Meredith from Brewery85 and Don from Quest Brewing), and some yeast researchers from Clemson University.  Plenty of beers were offered up for tasting and comment..some pretty incredible stuff all around!  Here is a partial list…

Ginger Cream Ale, Dr. Pepper Stout, Belgian Dark Strong, Belgian Golden Strong, Imperial ESB, Oak Aged Barleywine, local hard cider, and a wild yeast IPA.

busy Sunday

A vial of yeast slurry harvested from a local nectarine.

The yeast for that IPA was harvested from a nectarine grove (?) in SC and gave the beer a really interesting tart cherry flavor.  Not brett driven or bacteria driven, but very approachable.  So much so that we decided to use the same strain to ferment 5 gallons of our Bottomland Brown.  We used a standard Northwest Ale yeast strain for the other 5 gallons.  This should make for an exciting East Coast vs. West Coast comparison in a few weeks!

Many thanks to Ken and Jennelle for hosting me for the afternoon.  Stay tuned for details on the release date for Bottomland Brown.

Wow!  Hard to believe we’ve been malting for over a year at this point.  Over the past 12 months we’ve encountered all of the typical “start up” problems, cost overruns, permitting headaches, inefficient supply chain issues, etc. all of which contributed to a roller coaster ride.  Aaah, but now we’ve hit the sweet spot.

Now, you are probably asking yourself, what is the “sweet spot” for a malt house?  Well, it has a lot to do with climate control.  Our barley likes a cool, humid space to germinate.  While we knew this was important on day 1, we did not achieve full control over our germination room’s climate until many months down the road.

This penchant for climate control extends into the kilning process.  When we started, we had insufficient heat and air flow to kiln large batches.  This meant that our output was far below what it takes to “break even”.  The only solution was to spend more money….new fan, more heaters, more duct work.  The end result is a 10’x10′ that works like a Swiss watch.

Together, these pieces of the puzzle now contribute to a (relatively) smooth running machine that kicks out 7-8 batches of high-quality, artisan malt per month!

Where are these batches heading?  To several local breweries around Asheville this fall!  Stop by the Wedge for an NC Pale Ale (featuring Echoview Farm hops!) this weekend and raise a glass to your local grain farmer, hop grower, and maltster….we’re working hard to create a new craft beer economy throughout our state.

circle 'round the sun

A delicious, dry hopped NC Pale Ale…now available at the Wedge

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



Meet Craig…the latest addition to the Riverbend team

In order to handle the recent influx of orders, we’ve recently hired Craig Weitzel as assistant maltster.  Some of you may already know this gentlemen as a member of the Bruisin Ales team here in Asheville.  His interview and subsequent job offer stem from a casual conversation at the shop and within a few short days he was helping us rake the malt!

Craig hails from the west coast beer mecca of San Diego and has a fairly exhaustive knowledge of America’s craft beers and a true passion for the industry.  As with many of us, he jettisoned his degree (in Accounting) to work in the craft beer world.  Also an avid homebrewer, we have plans for him to assist in the R&D side of the business as well.  His Rye IPA will be available for sampling at this year’s Asheville Food and Wine Festival along with a Belgian Saison that I’ll bring along.

We are really thankful to have him on board as we work to meet the demand for fresh, locally produced malts.  Please welcome him to the NC beer community!