December 14, 2010

Valley malt

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What’s malt? It’s like a sweet tea that is fermented to make beer. Fermentation for beer is all about making sugar in to alcohol. But before you can do that, you have to get some sugar. So you harvest barley, a grain (or in some cases wheat or other things), then you convert some of the starches in the barley to sugars by sprouting them. Then you toast the sprouted barley (I’m not sure why, to stop the sprouting?), and voila: malt.

The malt is made into a tea by soaking it in hot water, and the sweet barley tea is then fermented to make beer. That’s my simple understanding of the brewing process.

This is a very exciting time for New England. There is nomaltery (yeah, that’s really what they call it) in New England. Well, there wasn’t until Andrea got hers running a few weeks ago. There isn’t much grain grown in this part of the country either. A bit in Northern Maine, and southern Canada. And there are some small farmers in Massachusetts starting to grow grain. Namely Four Star, which used to be a sod farm. And Upingill, which is a dairy.

Andrea is contracting with a few farmers down in Hadley, MA to grow some barley for her operation. The really exciting thing? We’re going to have MA beer for the first time in decades, or maybe longer. We’re probably less than 6-18 months from having a real set of choices of truely local beer: MA grown barley, hops, and MA-made malt. Right now the barley folks buy in New England (for example, Peak Organic is very active with encouraging local farmers) is shipped out to the Midwest for malting. We’re hoping to see that change.

Andrea was kind enough to show us around her operation. That picture is of sprouted barley, almost ready to be roasted.

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