It started with a question…
Why doesn’t anyone use North Carolina-grown barley to make craft beer?
It turned out that there was no infrastructure to connect local farmers to the (then!) dozens of North Carolina craft breweries and a handful of craft distilleries across the state. And get this: most of the barley produced in our state has been used for animal feed… not exactly an appetizing start to a delicious pale ale! It is our passion to develop a local food system for North Carolina’s craft breweries and to provide a durable economic engine for our state.
In the beginning, the learning curve was steep. We dove into agriculture production schedules, variety trials, malting procedures, and the global commodity market to wrap our arms around all the facets of creating locally produced malt for brewers. Thankfully, we were able to reach out to the North Carolina Agricultural Extension Agency, United States Department of Agriculture, and Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, who connected us to farmers, grain brokers, and researchers. After we established these invaluable relationships, we focused on malting techniques and production methodologies currently in use throughout the United States. A few months later we were on our way to Winnipeg, Manitoba to enroll in the inaugural Malt Academy course at the Canadian Malting Barley Technical Center.
We began malting 1-ton batches in the fall of 2011. We utilized 6-row Thoroughbred barley, Wrens Abruzzi Rye, and several different heirloom wheat varieties in those early days. Once we were satisfied with the quality and flavor we set off to meet with breweries across North Carolina. The message was simple….this product is unique, flavorful and supports a network of local farmers. As we slowly won over hearts and minds, one-offs and seasonals started to trickle into the marketplace in 2012. By 2013 we had a solid customer base and sales were steadily increasing. Buoyed by the release of RyePA from New Belgium, we were able secure funding for Malt House 2.0.
Our first expansion allowed us to increase capacity with 4-ton batches in a 10,000 square foot space! We operated at 2.0 from 2014-2017. During that time we were steadily growing sales with breweries in Asheville and across the state. As new opportunities continued to arise, we knew we had captured lightning in a bottle.
For our next move, we brought on a CEO with an extensive background in manufacturing to help us continue to grow. Malt House 3.0 needed to be bigger and more nimble….something no one else in the craft malt industry had achieved.
On January 1st, 2018 we moved into a 70,000 square foot facility that featured state-of-the-art equipment. The vision had been achieved! We can now produce 2-tonne customized floor malt batches while simultaneously producing multiple 10-tonne batches of our flagship products. This blended production model can produce close to 3 million pounds per year of top-quality, local malt – and we’re not done!
Looking ahead, we will continue to expand our product line and grower network. Always staying true to the mission of connecting the “farm to the fermenter”.
Riverbend Malt House pledges to provide the area’s craft brewers with locally-farmed, artisan malts that bring depth and character to their passion, while greatly lessening the local industry’s impact on the planet.
Currently, the malted products market is dominated by large‐scale producers located in the western United States and Europe. They ship millions of pounds of two-row and six-row barley on an annual basis to clients on every continent.
These mass operations require grain to be purchased on a global-commodities market and shipped thousands of miles. As a result, an enormous amount of fossil fuel, water, and petrochemicals(1) are used to produce a majority of the craft beer currently consumed throughout the world.
We are the alternative to these practices. We have personal relationships with local farmers and regional brewers.
By supporting the local farming economy, we provide guaranteed returns on an annual basis. We work closely with our farmers to implement best management practices (BMPs) that reduce sediment and nutrient loading to the adjacent streams and waterways. As a result, the average number of food miles(2) associated with each batch of malt will be reduced from 3,000 miles to 300 miles. This equates to a reduction of 4.5 tons of carbon emissions for every truckload of grain(3).
- Petrochemicals – any chemical derived from petroleum sources including a large number of pesticides, insecticides, and fungicides commonly used in large-scale farming operations.
- Food miles – the distance food is transported from the time of its production until it reaches the consumer.
- Calculation based on 40,000 lb capacity of a typical 18‐wheeler averaging 6 miles per gallon.