The craft beer movement has the power to beget other local movements. Just this month, West Branch Malts opened for business in Brunswick, Ohio. It’s a craft malting house that aims to serve the hundreds of craft brewers, distillers and home brewers in the Buckeye State.
“We have the ability, at full capacity, to produce about 1,500 metric tons per year. We currently have a total of 400 acres planted for the 2018 winter crop and summer harvest,” said Randy Thatcher, partner and maltster at West Branch Malts. “We will sell to anyone interested in our malt, however, our focus is to grow within Ohio for brewers and distillers interested in local ingredients.”
West Branch Malts was formed by combining a passion for building the local economy with a love of craft beer. They support Ohio agriculture by working with farmers who grow high-quality malting barley to provide them with the raw material for their locally made malt.
Why limit the market to just Ohio?
Well, why not? There will be more than enough demand. Doing a loose estimate based on the BA number total of 92 million lbs of malt used in Ohio in 2017 (which does include ABI and Miller Coors), even if all craft maltsters maxed out combined (there are five malt houses total in Ohio), that would only address about 5 percent of the total malt used in state. Same goes for barley sourcing.
“We have no plans to go outside the state in the future,” Thatcher said. “Ohio is a great agricultural state with lots of farmland. Before Prohibition, Ohio was a strong malting barley state. We look forward to this premium crop helping to reduce winter erosion [planted in fall and harvested in early summer]. Winter barley also allows for a secondary bean crop after its harvest.”
As noted, this is the fifth craft malting house in Ohio and, unsurprisingly, the camaraderie of the craft malt movement mirrors that of the craft brewing industry.
“Of the people I’ve met personally, there are some great maltsters near us in Cleveland-Haus Malts, Rustic Brew Farms in Marysville and Sweet Acres in New Vienna,” Thatcher said. “These folks have all been doing a lot of groundwork to spread the word of craft malt in our state, and we are proud to join them. People are very supportive in this industry, and it’s amazing to have a part in something I love — craft beer. The Craft Maltster’s Guild has also been very supportive as well as Hartwick College’s Beverage Institute, where I was trained in malting and all our third-party malt analysis is performed.”
Why craft malts?
For any brewers asking what’s so special about craft malts as an actual product, West Branch Malts takes their responsibility to deliver malts that provide excellent brewhouse performance seriously. Their barley malts are produced using a 2-row variety KWS Scala — a top performer in Ohio State, Penn State and Cornell University field trials. Produced in small batches, using a drum malting technique, the malts are highly aromatic and offer distinct character and flavor.
“There have been notable discussions about malt terroir and how the [growing location and] varietal of barley can affect flavor,” Thatcher said. “Right now, we are focused on a single 2-row malting barley variety KWS Scala, which has proven a great choice for our growing region as well as its malting characteristics. We are fortunate to have state-of-the-art equipment to aid in a very old tradition and allow us quality and consistency.
“I feel there is a whole supply chain which stands to benefit when brewers choose local malt. Most malt is brought in from the Western United States and much from overseas. We can supply similar malts while adding in local pride and flavor for our region. Our mission stands to help the farmers, truckers, seed cleaners, maltsters and brewers in Ohio.”
Interested Ohio brewers should swing by the West Branch Malts open house May 7 from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. The evening celebration includes facility tours, sampling, giveaways and light snacks.
“The open house is a chance for craft brewers and distillers, community leaders and the press to see what West Branch Malts has to offer. We look forward to building strong partnerships that contribute to Ohio’s field to glass movement,” Thatcher said.