I spent most of last Wednesday in our Sprinter van…running the gauntlet of I-40 for close to 500 miles.

I met with our buddy Uli Bennowitz, from the Weeping Radish Brewery, by the side of the road and dropped off our first shipment of malt!  Weeping Radish is located near Manteo and focuses primarily on German styles.  Although their beer is not currently available in WNC, they are expanding their distribution channels and offer shipping services on their website, if you are interested.  Some people around Asheville may not realize it, but Uli was responsible for “legalizing” the first microbrewery in North Carolina almost 25 years ago.  He has since branched off into an array of new business ventures focusing on locally grown, sustainable meat and produce.  If you are planning a trip to the Outer Banks…check ’em out.

weepingradish.com

After our brief meeting, I headed for Fullsteam in Durham.  These guys are pioneers in their own right….anyone who can make beer out of red beans and rice or kudzu deserves some attention.   They have been a big supporter of our project since its infancy, and we really appreciate the support.  They are planning to run some test batches using our Heritage Malt and Carolina Rye next week.  Maybe a nice spicy rye IPA release before Thanksgiving???  I’ll also take this opportunity to make a shameless plea for the bottling or re-release of the Cheerwine Saison…

Learn more about their “plow to pint” approach to brewing at http://www.fullsteam.ag/.

My final stop was the riverside “happening hamlet” of Saxapahaw.  I met with Ben, the proprietor of Haw River Farmhouse Ales, to discuss their new brewery slated to open sometime next year.  We kicked around a lot of different ideas on how to build the beer economy in our state…agritourism, local sourcing of ingredients, and building relationships with farmers in every region.

Follow their progress at http://hawriverales.blogspot.com/.

I arrived home sublimely exhausted…knowing that NC’s beer scene will continue to develop into a vibrant and durable part of our economy.  Who knows?  Maybe a southern style ale, saison, or hefeweizen is closer than we think.

Loading our first batch into the steep tank!

Last week was a whirlwind….final inspections (which we passed), grain deliveries, and a successful kiln test!!!  A wild ride to say the least.  We capped off the week by starting our first batch.  We have chosen to begin at 50% capacity…just until we get things “wired”.  I also envision it will take us awhile to figure out the bag sewer…nothing like the thrill of holding a high-powered needle gun next to your fingers!

The weeks ahead will be packed with preparations for a busy Oktoberfest season.  We are entering a Belgian Wit recipe in homebrew contests at both the Kingsport, TN and Charlotte Oktoberfest events.  This beer was made using 100% locally grown Appalachian White Wheat and Thoroughbred barley. Hope it fares well with the participants and judges at these events.  I’m also planning a Rye IPA for one of the after parties.  This one will be our first brew with the rye we picked up last month…should be fun.

We will also be speaking at Beer University during the Kingsport event….a full 30 minute presentation on malting science and global beer market trends!

For more information on the Kingsport event click here.

For more information on the Charlotte event click here.

Word is getting out about Riverbend and we are fielding calls from interested farmers across the state!  In the past few weeks we have spoken to farmers in Granville County (near Kerr Lake) and Polk County who are interested in growing grain for us during the 2011-12 season.

Since Polk County is just an hour south of Asheville, I scheduled a visit to meet the farmer (Bruce Edwards) and “talk shop” in his driveway.  His directions led me to the beautiful community of Greens Creek near Columbus.  This area is a mosaic of small family-run farms and dairy operations set against the backdrop of the Appalachian mountains.

The view from Greens Creek….

Bruce had done his homework, this grain had been tested for disease, germination, and kernel weight….all the of the information we need to make our purchasing decisions.  As we spoke, he told me about his experience growing wheat and rye in this region, including many of the challenges that he faced with regards to market fluctuations, rising fuel costs, and changing regulations.  I offered to send him some information on the organic certification cost-share programs as well as some the specifications we will be looking for from the 2011-2012 harvest.

I started malting the rye that evening as I was eager see how it would perform.  I followed the same steeping and temperature regime that we applied to our barley and wheat trials over the next few days.  The grain chitted within 24 hours and went through the remaining stages without any surprises.  Take a look….

Abruzzi rye…fresh from the kiln!

 

We hope to have this product available sometime in late October…stay tuned for information on pricing and availability.

Our kiln…constructed of recycled panels from an old Winn-Dixie butcher shop

I know you’re all asking yourselves….what is taking so long?  Trust us, we are right there with you.  Since our return from Canada (and even during) we have worked with our contractors, city inspectors, and spent countless hours searching for equipment on the interwebs.  Along the way we’ve experience the normal cost overruns, scheduling conflicts, and logistical headaches that plague most businesses during their initial start-up….but I’m proud to say we are well on our way!

Construction of the kiln (aka drying room) has been the big challenge….Anytime you put a lot of heat into an enclosed space, you raise the eyebrows of city inspectors, licensed professionals, and sub-contractors.  This has required us to spend extra time to ensure that we meet all applicable building codes and address all safety concerns.  This is a good thing….at the end of the day we want to bring people in, show them around and have everyone feel comfortable with what we are doing.

Our two steep tanks…each will hold about 1,000 pounds of grain

The other pieces of the malt house puzzle are also coming together.  We found a great deal on some stainless steel tanks that we will use for steeping.  A small-scale seed cleaner and debearder are also on their way to us from Illinois.  The guys up there at Commodity Traders really came through for us…they recondition these machines to better than new condition and were extremely knowledgable about all aspects of the grain cleaning process.

Next week we will be completing the kiln and hopefully installing the duct work.  Production could begin by late August if all goes well.  Stay tuned for more updates!

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.

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.

In 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 information on the Green Man release!