California’s First Micro-Malthouse to Open in Bay Area

News by | Mar 2017 | Issue #122
Photo by Eric Wolfinger

Admiral Maltings, California’s first small-batch malthouse of commercially available malted barley, is slated to begin production in May or June in the San Francisco Bay Area.

One of about 30 other micro-malthouses in the US, Admiral Maltings will offer locally sourced malted barley to California’s regional breweries which, until now, have had to source their malted grains from out of state (Montana, North Dakota) or internationally (Canada, Germany, England).

Ron Silberstein, principal owner at Admiral Maltings and founding brewmaster of San Francisco’s ThirstyBear Organic Brewery, sees his new business as a return to brewing’s pre-Prohibition past. “Prohibition just killed small breweries and small malting facilities,” he says. “After that, everything became much more industrialized, much more centralized.”

Now, though, California craft breweries can use sustainably farmed, locally grown barley malted practically next door. It’s part of a larger movement toward localized manufacturing, explains Silberstein, who partnered with Magnolia Brewing brewmaster and owner Dave McLean and Curtis Davenport, Admiral’s head maltster, to establish the business. “The idea is to bring it all home and have it in a local economy,” he says. “I would be shocked if this isn’t a sign of more things to come—I’m shocked we’re the first people [in California] to do it, to be quite honest.”

Housed in a refurbished 1941 navel jet hanger in Alameda Point, Admiral Maltings will use the traditional floor malting method, spreading malt in thin layers over large stretches of flooring, turning it regularly and gently with rakes to assist with germination. The malthouse’s relatively small 10-ton batch capacity will allow for more experimentation, says Silberstein, compared to 1,000-ton malting companies, which use Saladin boxes, a technology used for turning large quantities of malts mechanically.

According to Silberstein, the benefits to reintroducing locally malted barley to California extend beyond the beer industry to the future of farming.

“Barley is drought tolerant,” he says. “It’s a crop that does not need water like almond trees or fruit trees. It’s ideal for the Sacramento Valley and it’s something else farmers can put in their wheelhouse that’s not dependent on irrigation, which is super important given climate change and the increasing droughts that afflict California.”