Breweries Increasingly Commit to Sourcing Local Malts

News by | Aug 2017 | Issue #127

As part of a broader effort to use regional ingredients in their recipes, breweries across the US are working with nearby maltsters to source more local grain.

In Charlotte, N.C., Wooden Robot Brewery buys a majority of its malt from Epiphany Craft Malt in Durham. The brewery, which will produce about 3,000 barrels this year, plans to exclusively use local malt by the end of 2017.

The move is part of a larger vision, says head brewer Dan Wade. “We want to support our local economy and shorten our supply chain as a way to work toward social, economic, and environmental sustainability.” Wooden Robot already uses about 90 percent local malts. “That will reach 100 percent as we continue to work with Epiphany to source oats and develop a caramel malt that closely matches what we have been using in some of our core beers.”

Although Wade hopes more breweries will join them in sourcing malts locally, the added cost can be a hurdle. “Smaller, local maltsters don’t have the same economies of scale as the larger producers, so the malt prices tend to be higher,” he explains. “But we have accepted a small decrease in margin to create the best product we can.”

The Ale Apothecary in Bend works with all-Oregon suppliers, including Mecca Grade Estate Malt, which grows and malts its own grain on a 1,000-acre farm in Madras. As a 300-barrel-per year operation focused on oak-aged beers, founder Paul Arney says he can build the cost of sourcing from indie suppliers into his price point. “For an existing brewer to switch to using higher-quality local ingredients, there has to be a loss and adjustment to the way they do business,” Arney explains. “Hopefully our consumers will require this adjustment, as it will make it an easier and more sustainable change for the better.”

With more breweries looking to buy malts locally, though, there must be enough grain to meet the demand. In theory, the idea of more breweries sourcing their malt locally is viable, says Epiphany owner and maltster Sebastian Wolfrum, but two things are needed first: malthouses with a focus on quality, and a reliable supply of malting-quality barley. The second piece, he says, is the most challenging.

“The maltster has to have connections to the best malting barley available, even when the supply runs out in the region,” explains Wolfrum. “The trust of both the farmers and the brewers is necessary to establish a robust malting barley supply, only then can a small maltster grow and support the local breweries.”

In Portland, Maine, Allagash Brewing Co. has pledged to buy 1 million pounds of Maine-grown grain per year by 2021. To meet that goal, they’ll need to partner with growers and maltsters to boost the local supply chain, explains brewmaster Jason Perkins in a blog post. “We chose a hard number rather than a percentage [of total grain used] to give farmers a concrete number to shoot for while making sure that we increase our use of local grain, no matter how much we grow.”