Local Grain, Local Beer : Valley Malt

Andrea and Christian Stanley never thought they would own a malt house.  In fact, before the couple started their business Valley Malt, they wanted to be brewers. They had an idea: to brew beers made with local grains.  The hitch? Before they could brew a local beer, they needed local malt… and the closest malt house to Massachusetts was in Wisconsin.  The solution? Learn how to malt.  “I thought, this is it man, this is a cool business” Andrea chuckled.

One plane ticket to North Dakota, one challenging malting crash course, and lots of textbooks later, Valley Malt was born.

Valley Malt barley growing on the farm

Located in the farming town of Hadley, Massachusetts, Valley Malt malts grains grown on their own grounds as well as those grown on other local farms.  The malt is then sold to brewers around the region to be used in a variety of craft brews, made from local (and organic!) grains. Valley Malt sources to breweries such as Wormtown, Cambridge Brewery, Wandering Star, Element, Peak Organic, and Allagash.

So, what exactly is malting?  According to Andrea, malting is the process of breaking down the proteins in grain. It is the brewing process that then turns the starch into sugar that can then be used to brew beer.

Malting starts on the farm, where grains such as barley, millet, or spelt, are planted, grown, and harvested.  Valley Malt, in addition to malting their own grain from their 30 acre farm, malts grain from farms such as Lakeview Farm in New York, Four Star Farm in Northfield, Butterworks Farm in Vermont, and Lakeshore Farm in Maine. After harvesting, the grain goes through two rounds of cleaning.  The cleaning process gets rid of any weeds or bugs that may have come along for the ride. Next, the grain is loaded into large malt vessels filled with water, where it steeps for 8-11 hours.  “The grain has to go from 12% moisture to 45% before it is ready,” Andrea explained.

Andrea demonstrating how to clean the grain.

After steeping, the water is drained out of the vessel and the grain rests for 12 hours. Air is circulated through the vessel in order to create air flow. “You must have air flow,” Andrea declared. After the grain rests, it goes through a process called germination, which lasts for about 3-5 days. This is the time that rootlets grow on the grain. “The plant is growing but you want to kill it before it gets too far.” The germination process is where the proteins in the grain are actually broken down.  Andrea picked a grain that was in the process of germination and rubbed it between her fingers.  This is how you can tell if the grain is ready.  “Look for chalkiness and shoot length,” Andrea explained as she examined the dry white substance on her fingertips.

Andrea stirring grain in the malt vessel.

Barley after germination.

Once the grain is finished germinating, the sprayers are turned off and the heat blowers are “cranked up”. Here, the goal is to make the grain go from 45% moisture to 4%. The temperature of the air determines the type of beer the grain will be used for. After 2 days and a final round of cleaning the malt is ready to be packed up and sent off.

“[Malting] is such an intimate part of [a brewer’s life]” Andrea notes.  And yet, most brewers have never even set foot in a malt house.  Valley Malt brings awareness back to the middleman, the crucial step in the journey from farm to table (or in this case…pint glass).

Cheers to keeping it local Valley Malt!

Dig in,

Samantha

Winter 2012 Amherst Food Warrior

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