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.

The last few weeks have been an exciting time at the malt house. In addition to our expansion announcement, we’ve been working with our network of farmers and researchers to coordinate this year’s harvest. Several key regions received torrential rains, making harvest challenging. A few farmers were able to harvest and gently dry the grain in the bins to preserve germination…. others dodged storm clouds to cut the crop at the appropriate moisture. We are now waiting patiently for our samples of 2-row and 6-row barley to arrive for testing!

I also took part in not one, but two field days last week. The first, hosted by Virginia Tech’s Small Grains program in Blacksburg, included a tour of their pilot brewing and malting facility. Virginia Tech will now have the ability to test malt and brew beer under one roof, giving them the ability to explore the terrior of regionally-grown barley!

A view of the pilot malting and brewing facility at Virginia Tech.

We spent the afternoon touring plots of Violetta and Calypso at Sinkland Farms in Christiansburg. These new 2-row varieties have shown tremendous potential in variety trials across the region. Data from these trials show increases in kernel plumpness and disease resistance compared to other 2-row varieties. Yields were also comparable to Thoroughbred!

Calypso (left) and Violetta (right)

My second stop was at the N.C. State’s Mountain Horticultural Crop Research Station in Mills River, N.C. Dr. David Marshall, from USDA-ARS, and Angela Post from Agricultural Extension discussed this year’s study design, which included a mixture of public and privately developed varieties along which were managed with different chemical treatments. After harvest, data from this station will be compared with other stations from across the state to determine which varieties will advance toward a public release.

Angela Post preparing for a combine demonstration (top). Violetta barley ready for harvest (bottom left). Dr. Marshall addresses the crop of brewers and farmers (bottom right).

We’ll be test malting several of these new 2-row varieties over the next few months. Our efforts will focus on flavor development and malt quality parameters for both brewing and distilling applications. Stay tuned for more information on the new era of southern grown malting barley!

Thanks to following people for making these field days a reality!
Dr. Dan Brann
Brian Wiersema
Wade Thomason
Dr. Carl Griffey
Dr. Wynse Brooks
Dr. David Marshall
Angela Post
Molly Hamilton

Our good friends at French Broad Chocolates received some great news from Garden and Gun Magazine a few weeks back. Their panel of judges selected the Malted Milk Chocolate Bar as a runner-up in the Annual Made in the South Awards!

Beautifully packaged local chocolate! (courtesy Garden and Gun)

As you might have guessed, our malt is part of this lovely creation. Specifically, our unique Heritage Malt. Once we’ve cleaned the malt, we send it to our local miller, Carolina Ground where it is milled into flour suitable for mixing into the chocolate bar recipe. Three local businesses, southern farmers, rich flavor…what’s not to love?

Read more about this collaborative project here.

Happy Holidays!

Our assistant maltster, Sam, has spent the last several months analyzing the various grain samples from this year’s harvest. We received two dozen samples from growers in four states. This year was by far the largest pool of applicants we had to choose from…really exciting to see the market for high-quality malting barley expanding in Southeast!

A typical 1 pound sample of cleaned barley

Our in house testing procedures include germination energy, germination capacity, sieve analysis, and visual inspection for mold/blackpoint, etc. In addition to this work, we sent samples off to the Hartwick College Center for Craft Food and Beverage for further laboratory analysis. These data include protein, moisture, pre-harvest sprout damage assessment, and mycotoxin levels (aka DON).

As the sample data began to arrive, a few trends became immediately apparent…..

  1. Endeavor barley (winter 2-row) doesn’t work in the south! Every sample we tested, regardless of location returned very low RVA (Rapid Visco Analysis) levels. These results are consistent with significant pre-harvest sprout damage which renders the barley almost unusable for malting purposes. This is the second year in a row we’ve seen these results, a clear indicator that it is time to move in another direction.
  2. Newly developed 2-row varieties offer more promise for the future! Several private breeding firms have developed a host of new varieties that perform much better than Endeavor across the South. We got a chance to test malt a few of these and the results were really exciting. If all goes according to plan we’ll be able to make these available to the public by next summer.
  3. Thoroughbred will remain a staple for Riverbend! Pardon the pun, but this variety will remain our workhorse for the foreseeable future. Almost every sample exhibited strong germination rates and low levels of disease and pre-harvest sprout.
  4. Malted Seashore Black Rye is absolutely delicious! We can’t put a number on flavor (yet), but we were able to purchase enough of this heirloom variety to malt a few batches. This variety diverges from our Wrens Abruzzi with a more pungent bready/earthy flavor that can deliver a rich, honeyed note to a variety of beer and whiskey recipes. Read more about it here. Give us a call if you’d like reserve some…supplies are limited!


Super tasty Seashore Black Rye.


I must confess, I’ve reworked the classic quote from Wendell Berry more than a few times in my quest to connect our clients to agricultural side of malt. So I had to laugh when I got the invite to speak on a panel with the same title at the inaugural BevCon in Charleston.

I’m honored to share the stage with my good friend Sean Wilson from Fullsteam Brewing, Diane Flynt from Foggy Ridge Cider, Ann Marshall from High Wire Distilling, and Sara Clow from Grow Food Carolina. In short, an all-star cast!

We’ll be discussing the distinctive ingredients and the unique flavors that they bring to a wide variety of regionally-focused ales and spirits. I’ll be sharing a summary of this year’s harvest in an attempt to capture the “ups and downs” of growing grains for a niche market.

The conference will also feature a laundry list of the South’s premier brewers, distillers, bartenders, and restaurateurs throughout the three day event. You should definitely make plans to attend!

We are excited to announce a charity beer dinner with our good friends at All Souls Pizza on Monday, May 23rd!

The Dinner:

The event will feature locally-raised pork from Austin Farms in Old Fort along with several local beers. We are planning to dine on the outdoor patio to enjoy the spring weather.

Monday, May 23rd 6-9PM

Vegetarian option available

$50/pp + applicable service charges

The Menu:

Antipasta – cured meats, pickled vegetables, farm and sparrow bread and ferments

Crispy confit pork belly with second spring greens and scuppernong vinaigrette

Corned ham with asparagus and parsley sauce

Bloody Butcher corn tart with whipped creme fraiche and strawberries


The Charity:

A large portion of the ticket proceeds will go to support the outstanding work of FEAST Asheville. FEAST’s mission is to empower families to grow, prepare, enjoy healthy food as part of an active lifestyle.

The Breweries:

Here is what we have confirmed so far…more to come!

Twin Leaf Brewing

Newgrass Brewing

Hi-Wire Brewing

The Tickets:


The Back Story:

We have been working Austin Farms, in Old Fort to recycle our waste material from the malting process. The waste is a mix of rootlets and thin kernels that are removed from the malted barley. This “waste” is rich in protein and other nutrients, making it an ideal food for livestock. This partnership allows Riverbend to recycle over 80% of the total waste from our operation every year!

Local malt and Riverbend swag heading to Revelry Brewing.

This year’s Brewvival brought together some of craft beer’s finest to Charleston for an epic weekend of tastings, dinners, and boozy brunches. If you weren’t able to make it down, don’t despair. Several of the visiting rock star breweries joined forces with the local talent to create something special and uniquely southern!

The first collaboration features our new friends at Revelry Brewing Company who teamed up with Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales out of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Needless to say I was super excited to get the call from Ryan at Revelry asking us to take part in this one! Jolly Pumpkin’s beers helped get me hooked on sour beers several years back. Maracaibo Especial remains a favorite!

The crew at Revelry put together an amazing array of local and foraged ingredients. Red Bay leaves, longleaf pine needles, and juniper berries. Geechie Boy Mill provided Indigo Blue and Jimmy Red Corn to mash in addition to a blend of barley, wheat, and rye malts from Riverbend!

Ingredient mix for the collaboration

This one will be bottled conditioned with a brett blend to add a nice tart finish. Stayed tuned for information on release date and pricing!

Andrew Lemley from New Belgium addressing the crowd.

We got an opportunity to meet up with several legislators, board members from the NC Brewers Guild, and our local brewing community this week for a “State of the State” meeting. New Belgium hosted the event and served up Citradelic, Blue Paddle, and some other favorites for the crowd. Green Opportunity’s Kitchen Ready Program prepared some great food as well!

Needless to say, I love the fact that this constitutes a work day!

Margo Knight Metzger, executive director of the NC Brewer’s Guild, provided the crowd with a summary of NC’s craft beer industry.

– 160 breweries ( up from 45 in 2010!)

– 675,000 barrels of total production

– 2nd largest increase in barrel production in the U.S.

– 10,000 jobs

– 1.2 Billion in total economic impact

This update was followed by a roundtable discussion which allowed the legislators and brewers to review current regulations and their impact on the industry. Topics such as excise tax, distribution caps, and ALE enforcement were cited as the major hurdles to grow North Carolina’s beer economy.

I took this opportunity to share what other states are doing to engage and support the agricultural side of brewing. For example, New York state has a wildly successful farm brewery law that provides incentives for using locally sourced grains. Virginia is also working reviewing and incentive program for farmers who grow grains and hops for the brewing industry. These laws help support the development of a food system for craft beer and benefit the farming communities throughout the state. We need something like this to support continued growth in North Carolina.

I plan to join the NC Brewer’s Guild on June 1st for their annual lobbying day in Raleigh. Check back for further updates!

A brief break in production here at the malt house has provided a minute to share a few of my favorites from the past year. Not necessarily new beers, just new to me. Presented in the order they were consumed and noted.


A lot of brewing fire power went into this one! 25% Barrel aged Belgian Tripel and 75% West Coast IPA blend. Probably my first brush with the distinctive tequila barrel character. That flavor clawed its way through the high ABV (9.5%) and fresh West Coast IPA hop blend. The result? A complex blend of tropical fruit (Jarrylo, Calypyso, Amarillo hops) and yeast driven phenolics which blends with the tannins from the tequila and red wine barrels.















So excited to see these guys distributing into NC! As you may know, I’m a huge fan of saisons and this one was one of the best I had this year. Perfectly carbonated and very approachable at 6.5% ABV, this is great example of what “house” cultures can bring to the style. The malt and hop bills appear to be fairly traditional, but there is a distinctive blend of guava and papaya that give way to white vine-like dryness.









Yes, you are reading this correctly….a “normal” IPA made this list. Why? because it is just damn good. Green Flash’s West Coast IPA was a “go to” for me, but the reformulation to 8.1% ABV (up from 7.2%) made it less user friendly. Enter Soul Style, similar hop profile and richer malt backbone, but with an ABV just above session strength. I just saw on their website that this one is also available in a Tangerine version…not sure if it will make it to NC, but keep an eye out for it!











A beautiful saison finished with brettanomyces and whole dandelion flowers. I enjoyed it when it was first released this summer, but a little age really took this beer to another level. My wife and I opened a bottle on one of these recent spring-like evenings and it was really something special. Poured with a perfect, rocky head and a hint of funk in the nose. The beer itself was bone dry and nicely acidic which played well with the bright, lemony flavors that were front and center. Think freshly squeezed lemonade with a shot of seltzer…perfect.