2015 Planting Update

Streaker oats being planted in Lenoir County, NC

Streaker oats being planted in Lenoir County, NC

As summer fades into fall, we shift our energies from analyzing crop samples to planning for the future. Winter grains are planted in October and harvested in May or early June throughout the south. Orchestrating the harvest, cleaning, and planting of these grains requires a tremendous amount of communication between the malt house and our network of growers. Working on a contract model helps us secure our raw materials for the upcoming year and gives the farmer peace of mind that he will adequately compensated for his harvest. This year we were able to expand our network to include new growers in Western North Carolina, Virginia, and Kentucky. See below for some highlights.

Carolina White Wheat – Hickory, NC  

We partnered with our friends at Carolina Ground to sustain production of this newly developed white wheat variety. To our knowledge, it has never been malted before and we are eager to see how it performs next summer…maybe the perfect addition to an all NC bourbon recipe?!

Streaker Oats – Kinston, NC 

We got a chance to experiment with this hulless oat variety in 2014 and fell in love with the flavor…think toasted almonds and top shelf oatmeal! After talking with several of our brewer friends we realized this ingredient serves as a “secret sauce” in everything from export stouts to Belgian farmhouse recipes. We were able to secure over a ton of certified seed and will hopefully have a strong harvest in 2016.

Endeavor Barley (2-row) – Heathsville, VA  (Mantua Farm)

While we have several farmers planting Endeavor for us this season, this farm is something special. This bicentennial farm is located in the Coan River watershed, a major tributary of the Potomac and was considered as a potential site for our nation’s capitol. The property is amazing, beautiful rolling land with a Colonial mansion that dates back to 1790! Our farmer has really done a great job of managing this land. Crop rotations, not till practices, and vegetated buffers all serve to limit nutrient and sediment runoff into the adjacent estuary.

This picture doesn’t do it justice, but the stand was already well established by early November, which will hopefully translate into a high yielding, disease resistant crop.




Leave a comment

B Corps Meeting with Patagonia

Aspiring B Corps from Asheville area meeting with Vincent Stanley (Courtesy Susanne Hackett)

Aspiring B Corps from Asheville area meeting with Vincent Stanley (Courtesy Susanne Hackett)


“Malt with a Mission”

Call it a slogan, tagline, whatever you want. Regardless, it doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. Those four words capture our desire to connect local farmers to the craft beer industry, while taking care of our employees and our planet. Simply put, these goals have been a part of our DNA since day one.

One of the companies we’ve used as a model for our development is Patagonia, which was founded in 1973 by Yvon Chouinard. Since their inception, they’ve done things differently (and better) than most companies on the planet. On-site childcare, organic food in the cafeteria, support of organic farming, non-profit donations, the list goes on.

Last week we had the exciting opportunity to take part in a roundtable with Patagonia’s Director of Philosophy and co-author The Responsible Company, Vincent Stanley. The event was aimed at the growing number of aspiring B Corps in Asheville. B Corps operate as beneficial companies that hold themselves to high standards of ethical, environmental, and social conduct in an effort to change the status quo of capitalism in our society.

Each participant submitted questions to drive the conversation. Subjects ranged from worker compensation to political activism to creating and maintaining company culture. Vincent told the group about some of the most challenging days at the company, which led them to layoff over 100 employees due to cash flow issues in the 1980s. He also shared some of the things he took pride in, such as their 20 Million and Change Program.

His message to the audience was clear….stay true to your beliefs right from the start. For example, supporting 1% for the Planet. This level of support is relatively easy to attain for a small company, but becomes more challenging as revenues rise and more people are involved in the financial management of the company.

I left feeling like Riverbend is on the right path. We’re working hard to create a company that supports our community, maintains a work/life balance, and makes great products at the same time.


So….will Riverbend become a B Corp?

Hopefully! Achieving this goal requires an extensive assessment of every facet of the business. This includes sourcing practices, employee compensation, renewable energy utilization, etc. Early assessment scores have pushed us to expand our recycling program, improvement record-keeping, and develop an employee handbook.

We’ll keep you posted on our progress!

Leave a comment

Homebrew Kits! Now Accepting Pre-Orders

Riverbend Malt House Rye Pale Ale Homebrew KitIntroducing Riverbend homebrew kits! We’ve developed an American-style rye pale ale recipe kit that showcases the range of our hand-made, floor-malted, artisan malts. The grain bill is a combination of our Pale and Heritage regionally grown barley malts, combined with a pound and a half of our Carolina Rye malt (the same stuff that went into the New Belgium Hop Kitchen RyePA) and a couple ounces of our specially-roasted chocolate malt. We’ve selected some popular American hop varieties (Bravo, Amarillo, and Cascade) to go in the kit, as well as a pack of Safale US-05, the well-known “Chico” strain of American ale yeast.

This fall, we’ll be launching a web store to sell this kit, and plan to release a series of all-grain homebrew kits over the coming year. Before we launch the web store, however, we’d like to offer our core fan base the first opportunity to pick up a kit.

The kit retails for $44.95 plus tax. The kit will come pre-crushed for your convenience. Please contact homebrew@riverbendmalt.com to place your order. Local homebrewers can arrange to pickup their kit at our production facility. Otherwise, we will set up shipping for out-of-towners.

As a bonus, we’ll offer everyone who places an order by Oct. 31st a coupon for 10% off their next homebrew kit purchase through the Riverbend web store!

We hope everyone is as excited as we are to see Riverbend malt in the hands of homebrewers!

Leave a comment

Expansion: Complete!

After months of installing, calibrating, and troubleshooting our new equipment, we finally have the various components of our expansion dialed in. We’ve done several runs now with everything in place and though we’ll continue to make adjustments as we go along, we’re excited to get into a rhythm and focus on doing what we do best: making great malt.

Here are some of the final pieces of the puzzle to get us to where we are today. (Check out part one and part two of our expansion to get the full story.)


Bag Unloader/Auger

Using a forklift and this bag unloader, we can easily empty a bag of raw grain and load the steep tanks. This procedure can now be safely operated by one person. We load a super sack onto the frame, put the iris valve in the closed position while we open the bag, then open the valve and use the auger to carry the grain into the steep tanks. A control panel operates the auger and allows us to choose which tank to fill.


Riverbend Malt House Bag Unloader

Brian starts a new batch, using the bag unloader to load the steep tanks.

Grain Conveyor

After the grain germinates on the floor for several days, we use this grain conveyor to help us load germinated grain into the kiln. With a few of us shoveling into the conveyor and one person spreading grain in the kiln, we can load the kiln in just a few hours.

Riverbend Malt House Grain Conveyor

Bucket Elevators

Three bucket elevators have helped us automate the cleaning process significantly. Sure, we still have to shovel grain out of the kiln, but the bucket elevators carry the grain from the kiln to the debearder, the debearder into the seed cleaner, and from the seed cleaner into a hopper equipped with a bagging scale, which we then use to fill 50 lb. bags. No more manually moving grain from machine to machine!

Riverbend Malt House Bucket Elevators

Seed Cleaner

This is the “crown jewel” of the cleaning and packaging operation, a refurbished Clipper seed cleaner, built in the 1950s! (We’re thinking of calling her “Bertha.”) It sorts malt through a series of screens, removing anything too small or too big for disposal. A large fan blows dust off the malt so the brewer gets a clean product. We can now clean and package nearly four tons of malt in half a day!

Riverbend Malt House Seed Cleaner

Dust Collector

This was one part of the system that presented some challenges. The dust collector we originally ordered just didn’t have enough power to handle the dust coming out of the seed cleaner, which uses air to blow the very fine material off the grain. A friend helped us source this bad boy, which provides more than enough suction to keep most of the dust out of the air.

Riverbend Malt House Dust Collector


Over the next several months we will enjoy our expanded capacity and a steady production schedule, but always in the back of our minds…what’s in store for phase 3?


Leave a comment

Meet the Brewer: Luke Holgate of Hi-Wire Brewing

Luke Holgate Hi-Wire Brewing

Luke loads our malted wheat into the grist mill for the Uprisin' Hefeweizen brew day.

To celebrate this week’s bottle release of the latest seasonal from Asheville’s own Hi-Wire Brewing, we’ve got a quick Q&A with Hi-Wire’s head brewer Luke Holgate. Uprisin’ Hefeweizen was brewed a couple weeks ago using our Appalachian Wheat Malt and it’s a damn good beer. Kick back with an Uprisin’ and enjoy!

When did you start brewing? What was the first beer you ever brewed, and how did it turn out?

After receiving my BS in Biotech from RIT in 2007 I moved home and took a bar tending job at a local microbrewery. After really just hanging out and bugging the brewer who has since moved on to become the Head brewery engineer for a 100,000+ bbl/year brewery, I began to discover the parallels between my education and the science of brewing. I brewed my first home-brew in a brewery and have never truly home-brewed outside of a brewery atmosphere. My first brew was an all-grain (also never made an extract brew) grapefruit pale ale that was essentially a Sierra Pale clone with grapefruit rind in the boil and juice post ferment. It may just be because it was my first brew but I thought it turned out quite well.

Tell us about your approach to brewing a hefeweizen. What should we expect from Uprisin’?

Hefe’s are a funny style to me because I don’t personally drink them all that often. Although I certainly appreciate a good representation of the style it’s not typically on the top of my beers to order. That being said, I do appreciate the fact that a whole lot of people love them and so when I set out to write this recipe I was trying to make it for a hefe lover and not necessarily to my own palate. Finding the balance between the estery and phenolic flavors and aromas is to me the most important part of producing a good hefe. I have had examples that are completely banana laffy taffy, as well as ones that are thin and have no depth of character. My goal was to make a simple recipe that let the complexity of the yeast come through with a tightly controlled ferment so as not to over do the ester profile.

Tell us about your team of brewers at Hi-Wire.

Our brew team here at Hi-Wire is a great group of hard working individuals. We all have the same approach which is that we are doing this job because we want to learn more and more everyday. We have differing approaches to things like recipe formulation which is enormously important in us coming out with new and exciting brews. I am very analytically minded and need a number or a graph to correlate everything that is happening in my brewhouse whereas Brandon and Nick (two of the other brewers here) have a much more artistic approach to things like recipe formulation which keeps them from being buried in the data that I sometimes find myself blinded by.

What excites you the most about your recent expansion?

Our recent expansion has given us the ability to produce more of our flagship brands but possibly most exciting is the ability to fit more fun and experimental brews into our yearly repertoire. This means more Ringmaster’s Reserve brews as well as new and exciting seasonals.

If you had to drink one beer for the rest of your life, what would it be?

If I had to drink one beer for the rest of my life I think I’d keep it simple. Pabst Blue Ribbon for all eternity.


Craig & Brent Riverbend Malt

Uprisin' Hefeweizen - maltster approved!

Leave a comment

Meet the Brewer: Todd Boera of Fonta Flora

We’re starting a new series on the Kiln Blog: Meet the Brewer. The Meet the Brewer posts will introduce you to some of the special people that make what we do possible. They’re the ones crafting delicious brews out of our malt.

Todd Boera, foraging brewer extraordinaire

Todd Boera, foraging brewer extraordinaire

Though Fonta Flora Brewery in Morganton just opened last fall, they’ve quickly made a name for themselves with their unique, locally-focused craft beer. Head brewer Todd Boera has made a wide range of beers that you just can’t find anywhere else: a dandelion brett saison, a local carrot IPA, a Belgian blonde with local kiwi. In anticipation of this weekend’s State of Origin beer festival (where Fonta Flora will debut their NC grain/NC honey honeysuckle blonde), we asked Todd a few questions to get a better sense of what he’s all about.

How does using Riverbend malt fit into your brewing philosophy?

The main brewing philosophy at Fonta Flora Brewery is to create a menagerie of complex, creative and rustic libations while utilizing local flora. Riverbend provides us with malted grain, which is obviously a huge component to creating the beer itself. The unique grain that Riverbend manipulates through malting is perfectly suited for the vast range of Belgian beers being created at Fonta Flora Brewery.

What’s your favorite beer to brew?

Fonta Flora Brewery focuses on Belgian/Appalachian Style Saisons. I use the term “Appalachian” to help the drinker realize that they are not typical Saisons. The style originated on farms across Belgium and was brewed with a variety of grains available at the time, which often became a multigrain beer. By utilizing their local grown and malted grains, Riverbend is instrumental in the quest for Fonta Flora Brewery to create a style of beer that is truly unique to the Appalachian Mountains.

You recently mentioned you love to brew with rye. Why is that?

I find Riverbend’s Carolina Rye™ to be the most complex and interesting grain I have ever worked with. The taste profile is incredibly earthy, slick, and slightly spicy. While most brewers stick to the traditional wheat addition in their Saisons, I prefer heavy additions of rye. Although a bit more fickle to work with, the taste profile fits with what I am looking for in my Saisons.

Tell us a little about the State of Origin festival coming up this Saturday. What beers are you looking forward to the most?

To our knowledge, this is the first craft beer festival in the state of North Carolina focused on local ingredients. We asked every invited brewer to craft at least one beer with some/all North Carolina grown ingredients. There are a variety of brewers out there who already do this and some who are crafting something special for the festival. We are releasing a highly anticipated Riverbend grain Belgian blond aged on local honeysuckle flowers and also have one last keg of our dandelion saison. The Wicked Weed/Fonta Flora collaboration will also be released at the festival. “Hipster Nuveau” is a Riverbend grain saison aged on local rhubarb. I am personally looking forward to trying all of the North Carolina ingredient beers from all of the awesome brewers in attendance!

Don’t miss the State of Origin festival this Saturday! VIP doors at 1:30pm, GA doors at 3pm, close at 7:30pm. Tickets available here.


Leave a comment

Brew Day with Sierra Nevada

Brewing with Sierra Nevada in Mills River

Sierra Nevada in Mills River...it's huge!

You may have noticed last week that a few of the Riverbend maltsters showed up in an article on NPR about Asheville’s booming craft beer industry. Just how did we end up in the right place at the right time? Well, we were very lucky to spend the day hanging out with one of our newest neighbors: Sierra Nevada.

Brew Day with Sierra Nevada

We were all pretty excited when Sierra Nevada invited us to come over to their new brewery in Mills River to help brew the Asheville Brewers Alliance collaboration beer. “Tater’s Ridge” is a Scottish-style ale brewed with 1000 lbs. of North Carolina sweet potatoes and 20,000 lbs. of our Riverbend pale malt. The beer will be one of twelve in the Beer Camp Across America variety pack, along with 11 other collaboration beers from some of America’s favorite craft brewers, including Russian River, Cigar City, Oskar Blues, Victory, New Glarus, and Bells, to name a few. Sierra’s head brewer Scott Jennings very graciously showed us around and allowed us to participate in the brew day action.

Though the Sierra Nevada brewery is still under construction, the facility is nothing short of jaw dropping. They’ve been brewing there since the summer, even while hoards of construction workers have been running around painting, laying tile, installing equipment, connecting electrical, rigging up plumbing, and probably a million other things behind the scenes. We got to take a tour of the brewery even though it was still a work in progress.

Our malt getting loaded into the mill!

That's our grain!

Massive grain silos at Sierra Nevada

The Sierra Nevada brewhouse, awaiting some finishing touches.

Brewing on such a large scale was pretty incredible. Sierra Nevada’s 200 bbl. brewhouse is a long ways from a five-gallon homebrew setup! After the grain passed through the hydrating grain mill, it was all automatically pumped into the mash tun, where we got the chance to throw in some of the roasted sweet potatoes.

In go the spuds

After the mash, everything was pumped over to the lauter tun, when the grains get separated from the wort.

200 barrels of mash gets pumped into the lauter tun.

The wort then goes into a wort collector (where wort can be heated using heat recaptured from the previous batch’s boil), then it’s moved to a boil kettle — all without breaking a sweat! This is where we got to throw in some hops. Buckets and buckets of hops! There were about six of these huge trash cans packed full of hops that went into the brew.

Hops await the first batch of Tater's Ridge

From here the beer gets separated from the hops, cooled down, and pumped into a massive fermentation tank (one of those cone shaped object in the ceiling), where the Sierra Nevada team will monitor the beer as it ferments and conditions.

Just one small corner of the cellar at Sierra Nevada

We can’t wait to see how this beer turns out! Look for it mid-July in the Beer Camp Across America 12-pack and don’t miss the Beer Camp Across America Beer Festival!

Thanks so much to Scott and the Sierra Nevada team for having us over on brew day!


Leave a comment

Craft Brewers Conference Recap!

“Lotta talking, lotta drinking….lotta talking about drinking.” – Brian Simpson

That quote from Brian pretty much summed up what I was expecting when I first filled out my application for CBC 2014. I knew a few of my maltster friends would be there for our presentation as well as a large contingent of brewers from North Carolina. Beyond that, I had no idea what the week had in store for me.

However, as the conference drew nearer, something completely different began to unfold. The emails starting popping up…Mark from Deer Creek, Joel from Blue Ox, Curtis from California Malting, and many others were all planning to attend! Next came the meeting requests from the Craft Maltsters Guild Board of Directors. Before I knew it, the week was booked with committee meetings, dinners, and, of course, plans for brewery visits.

As the conference began and the meetings fell into place, an even larger cast of characters began to assemble. Our initial meeting on malt analysis and barley variety development was attended by an amazing array of researchers from North Dakota State University, the American Malting Barley Association, and the National Barley Growers Association, which was more than humbling. Better yet, they all arrived with a willingness to help the guild tackle our lengthy project list.

This initial meeting set the tone for the rest of week. The message was clear: the craft beer community supports the mission of the Maltster’s Guild and will foster its development in any way possible. Michael Pollan even plugged craft malt in his CBC keynote address!!

Craft Malt Sensory Workshop

On Thursday morning, the Craft Maltsters Guild held the Craft Malt Sensory Workshop. We were very pleased with the turnout – some 500 brewers came out to sample single malt beers made from five different craft maltsters! Pretty impressive given that the seminar was at 9am!

craft malt samples

Lining up for samples at 9am...

We were honored to have John Mallet introduce the workshop. Mallet is the head of brewing operations at Bell’s Brewery and author of the upcoming book Malt: A Practical Guide from Field to Brewhouse. To have his vote of confidence at the world’s largest beer conference really helped give some weight to what we were doing.

Christian Holbrook, Brewing Materials Manager at New Belgium, kicked things off by explaining some of the reasons why malt is so important: not only is it a big part of beer flavor, but it’s also an imperative requirement for yeast health. Brewers and maltsters should pay attention to malt size and assortment, DON, flavor, and a variety of measurable characteristics when selecting grain and malt.

Holbrook also encouraged brewers to connect with their local farmers and maltsters, to learn where their raw materials come from, and to “tell a story with your beer.” We hope to be part of that story!

Josh Cody of Colorado Malting Co. addresses the CBC crowd. See Brent?

In the presentation, we each (Brent plus our colleagues from Colorado Malting Company, Malterie Frontenac, Grouse Malting, and Valley Malt) introduced ourselves and our beer. Each beer was noticeably different, very lightly hopped so that the grain could shine through. As Bruno (Maltarie Frontenac) put it, “beer is made with grain; you should be able to taste the grain in your beer.”

Several different two-row varieties joined our six-row Thoroughbred and a Colorado-grown millet at the workshop. Several people we talked to were impressed with Grouse Malting’s millet beer. Valley Malt pointed out that depending on their source of barley, their malt may exhibit a faint strawberry or orange flavor. The strawberry notes were certainly noticeable in their sample.

Though we’re biased, we felt our pale 6-row malt did very well in the trial. It had a slightly spicy, grassy character that allowed the hops to come through nicely. Most importantly, it performed well in the brewhouse with a 79.7% extract, 9.5% protein level, and sufficient yeast nutrients (Free amino nitrogen) to assist with proper fermentation. All samples had good clarity.

craft malt analysis

Malt analysis from each of the five craft maltsters (plus Simpson's Maris Otter as a control).

Did you attend the Craft Malt Workshop? What were your impressions? Share in the comments!


The Craft Maltsters Guild First Annual Meeting

In a dark, smoky room in an old warehouse, a small gathering of rebels met for the first time to discuss their plans for world domination…

No, it wasn’t a meeting of anarchists, it was the first ever Craft Malt Guild meeting! Representatives from the malt houses mentioned above, plus several researchers and industry veterans met at Our Mutual Friend Brewery in Denver. John Mallet made another appearance, as did Tom Nielson, raw materials handler for Sierra Nevada. Again, we can’t tell how exciting it is to have these big-time brewers in our camp!

The Malt Guild discussed plans for the website, outreach, and ideas for using a $2,000 grant from the Brewers Association. We’ll keep you posted on that front! In the meantime, you can check out the Craft Maltsters Guild website and follow the organization on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. For breweries and malt houses interesting in supporting the maltsters guild and gaining access to members-only resources, please also consider joining the Craft Malt Guild as a regular or associate member.

1st Annual Craft Maltster Guild meeting at Our Mutual Friend Denver

1st Annual Craft Maltster Guild Meeting at Our Mutual Friend, Denver


All of the energy and support from the Craft Brewers Conference served to validate everything that Riverbend and our fellow maltsters have been striving for over the past few years. We all seek to revive the grain growing economies of our respective regions and to give craft breweries new and distinctive malts to work with in the brewhouse. The result will be a more robust local economy and an expanded audience for craft beer.

It was quite an exciting week in Denver! Between our presentation at the Craft Brewers Conference and the very first meetings of the Craft Maltsters Guild, we’re really looking forward to where the craft malt movement is heading! Cheers!



Leave a comment

Headed to the Craft Brewers Conference!

Colorado Convention Center blue bear

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!



Leave a comment

Malt House 2.0: (Almost) Operational

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 bucket elevator

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!


malt house steep tank

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!


malt house germination floor

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!


malt house new kiln

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!



Leave a comment