“After three years by the book, we had to throw the book out and exper- iment.” When Babb left the textbooks behind, her experiments led to significant changes. “We made changes to every part of the process. When we focused on hydration, especially in the steep tanks, we got our first breakthroughs in quality. Our barley needs a lot of oxygen, everything makes a difference. The ambient conditions here in Empire are a factor in our process too. We take a lot of measurements, of the barley and the dew-point as an example and apply them to the process as needed. The key is balancing the measurements with the visual and physical feedback from the grain. It takes a lot of practice. What works here, may not be the answer else- where.” All of this personal inspection and interpretation help Babb strive for what she calls, “The big picture of malting—bringing out the color, roast and overall flavor in beer.” Empire’s barley malt has come a long way from those first few years of trials, and now receives some of the best analytical results for Conlon barley in the country. Babb, however, remains bullish in her belief that the new potential from craft malting goes well be- yond technical analysis. “Craft malts are the gateway to the next level of brewing. Non-craft breweries talk to their maltster-supplier. Craft breweries may not have the buying power needed for a direct-line to the maltster. Craft malt changes this. We talk to our customers often, provide malt specifications with definitions and are available for support. Service should be part of the craft malthouse business model. Collaborating helps us learn more about malt preferences, beer styles, trends, and seasonali- ty.” Discussion around the nuances of whether regional flavor exists and what it is driven by is healthy, and I hope it goes on for the ages. Is it climate and agricultural conditions? Barley variety and breeding? Science, mechanical process, the human touch behind the art? Perhaps the most significant part of this emerging paradigm is that farmers, maltsters, brewers, distillers and the drinkers who love them, are in the midst of a new frontier in flavor. There are new ag- ricultural opportunities, creating higher value in crops and skilled trades. They are strengthening and connecting farming commu- nities within a smaller, independent supply chain. An increasingly diverse collection of barley varieties - selected and bred specifically for a larger number of unique growing regions, is driving new and flavorful differentiation for brewers, and it’s happening from the © Hundred-to-One LLC 2018. All rights reserved.