CRAFT by Under My Host® Issue No. 17 Made in America: Part II - Page 80

W W W. C R A F T BY U M H . C O M economy of scale, in great agricultural land that this country has in Mon- tana and Idaho and the West, including Western Canada.” “The thing with an ingredient is, it’s not so much driven by the consumers as it’s driven by the brewer. [Maltsters] make the malt the brewers want. If you basically have all the brewers making one kind of beer, then you give them all they need, and that’s why we have just a half a dozen com- mercial malting companies in this country, producing about two million tons of malt a year. ” By the eighties and nineties, many of the existing maltsters found ways to join the at-the-time, mid-sized Briess at the party, and began making a larger variety of specialty malt available in smaller quantities. They were answering the growing demand created by the craft brewing community. They were all still primarily malting com- modity grain, sourced from the powerhouse growing region of the great plains. The farm to table opportunity for a brewer to connect to a farmer for their barley in essence, did not exist. Ryan Hamilton, Executive Director of Michigan Barley Association helped me understand that one big obstacle - all barley is not creat- ed equal; some specialization is required in the field. Malting-grade barley requires a specific percentage of protein, between nine to 12 percent, which is influenced by nitrogen levels in the soil. It also needs to be free from contamination and have a good germination value. If the barley can’t germinate, it can’t be malted. If the barley doesn’t pass muster as malting barley, it most likely shifts to feed barley, and the farmer’s price gets cut by roughly two-thirds, and according to Hamilton, “Which is the difference between making a profit on malting barley or losing money on feed.” In order to respond to the growing demand for differentiation and connection to agriculture, MacLeod shares thoughts on the current paradigm, “We essentially are going back to the way we used to do this; we have great agricultural land in New York, we have great agricultural land in Michigan and North Carolina, and other parts of the country – as well as farmers who are knowledgeable and skilled. But what we haven’t done is made much investment in plant-breeding, research, or agronomy on malting barley for those areas in one hundred years — so we’re a little behind. That’s where we are today.” Twenty years ago, some brave pioneering types like Wendell Banks who in 1995 founded Michigan Malt in Shepard, MI., set out to change that reality. Banks was way ahead of the curve and was fre- PHOTO CREDIT: Manulele Distillers LLC