CRAFT by Under My Host® Issue No. 17 Made in America: Part II - Page 81

quently told malting barley couldn’t be grown in Michigan, which only seemed to spur him on. After a research trip to malthouses in Slovakia and the Czech Republic to study the tricks of the trade, he combined his expertise as a farmer of certified organic produce with his passion as a home brewer and set a course to grow and malt bar- ley in Michigan. Prior to the term being coined, Michigan Malt Company was the first craft malthouse in Michigan. Banks worked with early adopter brewers who bought malt and provided valuable, although some- times painful feedback, while he wrote his thesis, Bringing It All Back Home - Obstacles and Opportunities for Barley Production and Malting in Michigan, for the University of California, Santa Cruz. Bank’s story of Michigan Malt reveals the height and significance of the challenges he was warned about. There was no infrastructure, no real breeding or varietal data for the region. There were no private commercial labs to test for protein or germination, and besides his early adopters, it became clear that brewers had little incentive for higher risk, higher cost, one-off malts that even if successful, may not be available for the next brew. Banks fought through the challenges, as Michigan Malt grew to pro- duce roughly fifty tons of malt per year. In some ways, he accom- plished what no one thought possible. In other ways, he ceded certain challenges as insurmountable and he has decided to close the doors of Michigan Malt, once he sells his last 4,000 pounds of malt. Banks sees his role evolving to an activist and consultant, helping new setups avoid costly missteps and find attainable opportunities. He also sees his thesis as a “cautionary tale.” Banks believes that while branding malt and malthouses to a specific state or small, non-tra- ditional growing regions has advantages in terms of branding, the vulnerabilities are severe, and they cross many categories, including pricing, distribution, brewing economics and culture, not to mention the inability to insure against crop failure. The malting community looks a lot different now, and Jen Blair, Executive Director of the Craft Maltster’s Guild, explains how things began to rapidly change, around 2010. “It really started gaining steam around 2010 and 2011. That’s when a lot of our core maltsters who are behind the guild, started their operations. Some of them started out as home brewers and thought that maybe they would open a brewery. They saw that the market was saturated, so they decided to look towards the raw ingredients. Some of them weren’t with- © Hundred-to-One LLC 2018. All rights reserved.