Tag Archive for: Craft Malt Converts

“I had to have an outside force to bend my hand to make the switch to all craft malt,” says Bob Sweeney, the Head Brewer at Elation Brewing in Norfolk, Virginia. “It happened almost a year into our business when everything shut down in 2020. My big malt reps told me it was going to be impossible to get European products, so I called Riverbend. I switched all of my beer entirely without having tried it. I took a huge leap of faith.” 

He might not have brewed with the malt yet, but Sweeney’s leap wasn’t entirely blind either. “Some really good breweries were making really good beers with Riverbend, so I knew the risk was worth it,” he says. “When I brewed our first Larchmont Lager [a mainstay at Elation since day one], I could taste the difference. Chesapeake Pilsner malt gave it more of a cracker-y crispness and breadiness that wasn’t quite as biscuity as the import Pilsner malt we’d been using.” 

For Sweeney, Riverbend checked all the boxes. Beyond simple availability and noticeable flavor improvements, the malt quality and regionality supported Elation’s overall mission to meet consumer demand for local beer. Not to mention it gave the brewery a value proposition that came in the form of an aesthetic storytelling opportunity for the marketing team.

“That initial post we put out on Facebook about our switch to craft malt was almost three years ago, and it’s still one of the best performing, most liked and engaging posts we’ve ever shared,” Sweeney regales. “Customers were like ‘Yes! No more imported malt!’ It showed us that ingredients really do mean something to the consumer.” 

Since their conversion to craft malt, Sweeney says Elation has gotten much customer praise for the quality of all of their beers; including flagships Larchmont Lager German-style Pilsner, Notice This West Coast IPA, Rosé Gosé Hibiscus Gose, and Highland Park Hazy IPA, and an array of ever-rotating beers on tap. Elation has also received good reception on competitive beer pricing. “People are beginning to recognize beer price as an indicator of superior quality,” he adds.

Scoping out, Sweeney believes the way to expand the craft malt industry is to educate the consumer to force the brewer because he’s experienced that shift firsthand. “It’s an uphill battle, of course,” he explains, one that he and his dedicated team are leading the charge on. Elation is helping set a precedent for higher standards not just in the Virginia beer scene, but in the beverage industry at large. 

Learn more about Elation Brewing’s award-winning beers and historic location in a Colonial-era grocery store at www.elation.beer.

Durham, North Carolina-based Fullsteam Brewery is a long-standing partner of ours. Years ago, they were one of the first craft breweries to go all-in on our mission by switching to Riverbend as a primary base malt provider. Utilizing local ingredients falls in line with their Southern Beer Economy ethos and dedication to sourcing within North Carolina as much as possible. 

“We were proud to support Riverbend before expansion, back when they had that tiny little malting setup,” says Jon Simpson, Fullsteam’s Head Brewer and self-proclaimed local malt advocate. “The quality has gotten infinitely better in 12 years, and we’re proud of our commitment to them— and to buying local.” 

As Fullsteam grew into two locations and distribution across the Carolinas, we’ve been delighted to support their continued choice to purchase Riverbend malt– and not just base malt either. Most recently Fullsteam has made the switch from commodity to Cumberland Corn in their flagship Paycheck Pilsner recipe. 

“Sure, craft malt is a little more expensive,” Simpson continues. “But it’s not cheap anymore to ship directly from European malthouses either. The cost-benefit of buying big domestic malt is disintegrating. And especially with the story we’re trying to tell, Riverbend malt just makes sense.” 

Fullsteam is telling the next chapter of that story with a custom base malt blended specifically for them, aptly named Plow To Pint Pilsner malt after their company slogan. It’s a blend of Violetta 2-row barley (motivated by Simpson’s love for Chesapeake Pilsner malt made from this varietal) and the brand new Avalon 2-row barley, both grown this year at Bay’s Best Feed in Heathsville, Virginia. Simpson describes this new blend as the best of Violetta’s floral and Avalon’s honey and bready notes.  He and his team engaged in every step of this custom malt process– including visiting the malthouse on raking day to do some of the labor themselves

The first beer to utilize Plow To Pint in the recipe is the second rendition of the “Oops” series, in which Simpson and crew “pick a cool hop and roll with it.” Oops! We [Nelsoned] Again is a crisp Pilsner made with Plow To Pint Pilsner malt, Nelson Sauvin™ hops from Yakima Valley, and Lallemand NovaLager™ yeast. Flavors include NZ Sauv Blanc-like tropical fruit, catty funk, and grapefruit pith. “It’s almost a SMaSH beer with a couple bags of Great Chit for head retention and mouthfeel,” Simpson says. 

There’s much more to come from the Oops series, and Simpson has exciting plans for future recipes incorporating Plow To Pint Pilsner malt. Meet Fullsteam’s beers and learn more about their company mission to craft distinctly Southern beer that celebrates the farm and food traditions of the American South at fullsteam.ag

“As I’ve said,” Simpson reiterates. “Local malt is my jam. I want to tell everyone why it matters!” 

For Mason Jar Lager Co., an aptly named all-lager producer in The Triangle in North Carolina, the state of the supply chain initiated their switch to purchasing upwards of 90 percent craft malt.

The quality and consistency of Riverbend craft malt are just cherries on top of that decision. 

“I fall in the boat of being a traditionalist, so craft malt was a much harder decision for me to make,” admits Dave Haydysch, the Director of Brewery Operations and Head Brewer at Mason Jar. “Sometimes I still question it, am I doing something wrong… but then I’m like no, integrating local malt is a great thing.” 

As Mason Jar scaled up, and quickly, they found themselves seeking consistency not just in their ingredients but also in the delivery thereof. “We were eight to twelve months out on a shipment from a macro malthouse, so I called Brent and said hey man, let’s do this,” Haydysch recalls. “I was very happy with the results of the pilot batches, and then I just went for it.” 

He hasn’t looked back. Mason Jar Happy Place Golden Lager, Pool Tab Pilsner, and the U.S Beer Open-winning Slack Tide Bohemian Pilsner are all made with Chesapeake Pilsner malt as a base, and various other Riverbend offerings such as Great Chit and Light Munich. “The flavor and quality exceeded my expectations and I liked them better, flavor-wise, than I did when we made them with commercial malt. It was much closer to the idea in my head of what I wanted them to taste like,” Haydysch says.

Experimental lagers abound at Mason Jar, yielding a colorful lineup of Pilsner, Helles, Vienna Lager, Baltic Porter, and more— all made with Riverbend craft malt. As of 2021, Mason Jar is a Craft Malt Certified™ brewery, displaying their seal with pride. 

More from Haydysch: “Supply chain is everything right now. The benefit (to me) of local malt is there’s no shipping container for it to get stuck at port in temperature-changing conditions, or take its sweet time getting across the ocean. With Riverbend I know it’s on its way within 24 hours and usually at my doorstep in 2 days. That’s huge.” 

It’s important to Mason Jar’s customer to know where the ingredients in their beer come from, Haydysch concludes.

“And my customers are happy.” 


Taste Mason Jar’s lager rainbow at their newest location, TapStation in Apex, North Carolina, or the Mason Jar Tavern locations in Fuquay-Varina and Holly Springs, Scratch Southern Kitchen & Taproom in Apex and Cary, and statewide through distribution at bars, restaurants, bottle shops, and many grocery as well. Learn more about the beer here.

If we had a nickel for every conversation we had with small batch producers about why craft malt is the sustainable, marketable choice for ingredient purchasing… well let’s just say we’d have a lot of nickels.

Enter a hot steep demonstration that we’ve fondly coined the “craft malt pepsi challenge” in which we compare the flavor profile of Riverbend malt to that of larger commodity brands. The contrast is stark.

A couple weeks back, we engaged in this hot steep juxtaposition with long-time Riverbend customer Hillman Beer Company who we’re pleased to report just made the switch to Riverbend as its primary base malt provider. Hillman has always had around 15 percent of the beers on their board made with our malts, and it’s an honor to say that number has jumped to around 85 percent. 

“We love having Riverbend as neighbors,” says Co-Founder Brad Hillman. “We love that we can say all the malt is grown within 500 miles from Asheville. For customers, it’s cool to know that your beer is grown locally. It’s also cool to know you’re supporting local farmers. There are so many different things to be proud of here.” 


In April of this year, Hillman joined the Craft Malt Certified seal, a pledge to purchase ten percent or more craft malt as part of total annual malt purchases. That was a no-brainer for Hillman, who is already using Riverbend’s Chesapeake Pilsner for their Kölsch and Old Fort Original Lager, and pretty much any other beer that requires Pilsner malt,” Brad adds. He uses Riverbend’s Southern Select as a “nice in-between base malt between Pilsner and Marris Otter,” and Streaker Oats make their appearance in many of Hillman’s Belgian-inspired and sour beers.

Next up for Hillman is an Amber Rye Lager made with Riverbend’s Carolina Rye malt and Munich Rye malt varieties, releasing in mid-December. 

“The proof’s in the beer,” Brad says. “Their malt is just great.”