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

Join us at the Thirsty Monk in downtown Asheville this Friday (April 26th) 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 wet 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!

Our first batch of 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.

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.

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!

So this is pretty special…a few weeks before AVL Beer Week we got an email from Matt at New Belgium requesting a tour of our humble establishment during their stay.  Naturally, we obliged.  On paper, our two businesses are a great fit…both committed to sustainability and maintaining a high quality of life for their employees.  We just weren’t expecting our meet and greet to occur so soon after their big announcement.

It worked out beautifully.  We hit it off immediately with Matt, Grady, and Drew over a few beers and locally sourced malt balls from French Broad Chocolate Lounge.  We took them through the tour, highlighting our swanky new kiln controls and old-school malt rake.  I’m not sure what they were expecting, but they seemed genuinely impressed with our process and finished products.

Brian discusses germination with the guys from NBB

During the tour we happened to mention that the kiln needed to be loaded sooner than later as the malt had completed the germination phase of the process.  They offered to lend a hand, and we took them up on the offer!  We dusted off the wheelbarrows and went to work shoveling green malt off of the floor.  Too fun!

After the tour, we spent some time talking shop….when will Le Terroir come back?  Is Clips of Faith returning to AVL (yes, September 7th!)?  All in all a great morning of beers and conversation with some great down-to-earth guys.  I’m sure you’re wondering…will Riverbend Malt make its way into a New Belgium brew?  Stay tuned, we’ll let you know!

Over the past few weeks we’ve been hard at work making some much needed improvements at the malt house. The main focus (as always) has been the kiln. This little room has caused many a sleepless night for us, as there is no “textbook” method of designing, building, and operating these things at our scale. Our first design/build worked well, but didn’t give us the capacity we need to meet demand (or turn a profit!).

As the orders started to stack up in early March, we knew it was time to take to the next step forward. We enlisted the help of our friends Andrea and Christian at Valley Malt.  After speaking with numerous engineers across the country who just didn’t “get it”, it was a welcome change to have an in-depth discussion with Christian.  These discussions generated several upgrades to system…better ventilation, more air flow, etc.  All of which will translate into larger, more consistent batches of locally grown malt!

Game plan in hand, we purchased a new fan/motor and scheduled our subcontractors to install the new duct work.  Installation of all of this new equipment halted malt production for several weeks, but we are back online and moving fast!

The next phase of improvement will involve the installation of process controls.  These gadgets will allow us to program temperature and fan speed settings for each style of malt we produce.  We’ll even be able to adjust humidity and temperature from our smartphones…pretty cool, huh?

New duct work and fan assembly


As any musician will tell you, there is a sweet spot where you are “in the pocket” and things just start to click……I think we are getting there!  We’ve been actively producing malt just about everyday this year and the orders are starting to pile up.  We’ve also got several great beers heading out to the market with our malt in them.  Check it out…

Pisgah Brewing Company (Black Mountain) – Riverbend Brown available in growlers, kegs, and at the brewery this week.  Our Heritage Malt comprises >80% of the total grain bill for this beer!

Fullsteam Brewing Company (Durham) – One Hop Rye IPA available at the brewery.  This ones uses our Carolina Rye Malt which is made using a variety of rye called Wrens Abruzzi.  This variety has been grown in NC since the 1800’s.

Weeping Radish Brewing Company (Grandy…Outer Banks) – Smoked Hefeweizen available at the brewery.  A new twist on a classic style that features our Appalachian White Wheat.  If things go well in the tap room, this one might get bottled and distributed later this spring.

We’ve also got a few projects in the works with our new friends at Nantahala Brewing Company and Mystery Brewing Company down in Hillsborough.  We’ll keep you posted as things develop.  Cheers!

Last week we gave a tour to a group of students from Warren Wilson College.  The students were part of an ethnobotany class taught by Jay Bost.  This was a new audience for us, but it gave us a great opportunity to focus on some of the sustainability aspects of our work that are often omitted during a typical tour.  We started with a brief overview of the commodity markets that control the price of grain and transitioned into the “day in the life” of a maltster routine that Brian and I have been perfecting over the past several months.  We also covered some of the basics of brewing beer, just to get them in the mood for spring break!

Professor Simpson lectures on the importance of steeping intervals…

The student were engaged in our discussions regarding fossil fuel consumption, development of local food systems, and brewing quality craft beer from 6-row barley.  We also got a chance to learn about several of their class projects, like growing mushrooms on compost material and brewing beer from moss!  Needless to say, this was much different than my college experience….they’ve got a great thing going out there in Swannanoa.