learning aboot malt

Brian checks out a fresh batch of 2-row malt

Greetings from Winnipeg! Brent and I just completed our second week of malt training at the Canadian Malt Barley Technical Centre. Our typical day starts with 3-4 hours of lecture in the morning, followed by “hands-on” work in the malt house or lab  in the afternoon. The lectures have covered everything from the biochemistry of malting to world market conditions. These lectures have been presented by a variety of staff members who have decades of experience in the field of large-scale malting and brewing operations.

In addition to the lectures, CMBTC has also performed a comprehensive malt analysis on several samples we brought from North Carolina. While I won’t bore you with the specifics, the take home message is encouraging….our 6-row barley is comparable to commercially available varieties!

Whats next you ask?….We’ve got 1 more week of training where we tie the finished malt to brewing process. This will give us the tools we need to work with our clients to produce high-quality craft beer. We will also tour a large commercial malt house that produces 90,000 tons of malt a year!

After that we’ll be back in Asheville to resume construction at the malt house.  Maybe we can get together for pint, eh? (Sorry, couldn’t resist using the other Canadian language joke)

The development of local food systems is essential to creating a durable and sustainable economy in our region … A recent article in Grist Magazine highlights one of our key partners, Carolina Ground (aka NC Organic Bread Flour Project), who is forging their own food system for organically grown wheat in our state. They also do a little name dropping on our behalf. Check it out here.

New Zealand

Pinnacle barley grown in a research plot in Raleigh, NC

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

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

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

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

Wow!! what a warm welcome from the Asheville beer scene. We entered our “Appalachian Pale Ale” in this year’s Just Brew It! Homebrew Event, sponsored by Just Economics. It garnered rave reviews from the judges and attendees. This beer was produced using 85% locally grown and malted barley and hops, provided by Echoview Farms. In keeping with the warmer weather, our APA was designed as an “All Day IPA” with a floral, slightly citrusy hop aroma and flavor without sacrificing mouthfeel or body.

Big NewsIn preparing for this event, we had humble expectations based on the strong homebrewing culture in Western North Carolina. Given the strong field of entries, we were honored to be one of only 5 entries to be brewed commercially!! We were selected by Green Man Brewing Company for a full production run that we hope will happen in early Fall 2011. We also received an “Honorable Mention” from Highland Brewing Company and look forward to working with them on a brew in their new pilot-scale system.

Overall, this event was a strong vote of confidence for Riverbend Malt House and our quest to make a truly local beer. Stay tuned for more big news on the Green Man release!