That’s the problem homebrewer Andrew Peterson was trying to solve when he was thinking about opening a brewery a few years ago. The solution, he realized, was maybe not to open a brewery at all.
"You’ve got so many guys in the area who are producing fantastic beers. [I thought] maybe I should just supply them,” says Peterson. “So I said, let’s see about making a malt house an actual business.”
Now after two and a half years of planning, building, and preparing, Peterson is close to opening Vermont’s first commercial malt house, Peterson Quality Malt, which will use Vermont-grown barley to make malt for the state’s breweries.
Many brewers, in and out of state, have expressed interest, Peterson says, as have local homebrewers.
"There’s a combination of great interest because they want to make a local beer and guarded interest because they want to make sure it’s going to be a good quality product,” Peterson says.
The malt house, located in an old hay barn on Peterson’s property in Monkton, about halfway between Middlebury and Burlington, is a relatively small operation: they will be able to produce two tons of malt per batch, and it’s run by just Peterson and one employee, Jamie Dragon.
Peterson, who started out by making malt in his kitchen so he could brew a truly local beer, has immersed himself in malting. He attended a course at the Canadian Malting Barley Technical Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba, talked to farmers, studied old chemistry and biology textbooks, and practiced, learning by trial and error. He has also planted 2.5 acres of barley himself.
“I wasn’t planning on becoming a farmer initially, but it looks like it’s one of the hats we’re going to be wearing as well,” says Peterson.
They will be malting two-row barley, rye, and wheat primarily, and have also been approached about doing gluten-free grains such as sorghum, oats, or buckwheat. As Peterson is a fan of darker beers, he designed the kiln so that it can handle higher temperatures and produce more chocolate and darker malts. He is also building a smoker, so they can custom-smoke malt on apple wood.
Opening a small-scale malt house in New England has proved challenging, Peterson says, but a growing interest in micro-malting has resulted in a support network, including The Craft Maltsters Guild, which was founded in August.
"This was never intended to be a huge business or about big expansions,” Peterson says. “I love the brewing community, and it’s as much for entertainment as to make a living.”
Peterson says the barley will be “going in the ground in the next week or two” and will be harvested in mid- to late-August. By the end of summer, they plan to be in full commercial production and have malts available.