“It’s a family affair, it’s a family affair”
(Cue Sly & the Family Stone)
People might think we are crazy for pursuing our dream of creating a truly local beer, but it is comforting to us that this craziness, while not rampant, is not unique to us. Even more comforting to us is the fact that two of the people who are as passionate as we are about creating a truly local beer are family members!
My cousin Andrea and her husband Chris have focused their efforts on bringing the malthouse back to New England. Before getting into the details of why this is so exciting, let me digress into a bit of ‘brewing 101’ for those folks not familiar with the process.
Now, there are many books and great articles out there on how to brew, but for the purpose of this post, I am going to focus on a few basics. A key thing you need to know is that beer is typically made from just a few ingredients – water, yeast, hops, and a starch source, which is most often malted barley or wheat. Other ingredients and adjuncts (both malted and unmalted) can be added to make beer, but for the purpose of this post, let’s keep it simple.
The way alcohol is made from these ingredients is fairly straightforward. Sugar is extracted from the malted barley/wheat, and the yeast eat the sugar to create the alcohol. When folks start out homebrewing, they may buy their malted barley already in a sugar-format called a malt extract. Most craft brewers, like Throwback, use a combination of water and heat to extract the sugars from the malted grains.
In order to extract sugar from the grain, the bulk of the grain can’t just be harvested from a farm and used as is to make beer (alcohol). A malting process must occur first. The process starts by soaking the grain in water, which allows it to start germinating. The partially germinated grain is then dried to halt the process. Why go through this rigmarole of sprouting and then drying the grain? It’s simple. This malting process alters the starch structure in the grain and releases the enzymes needed during the brewing process to extract the sugars.
Unlike the pre-prohibition times, breweries nowadays don’t malt their own grain. They buy grain already malted from malthouses. Now here comes the catch. The major malthouses all reside in Canada and the midwest. What this means is that if you want to make a truly local beer (while also trying to minimize the carbon footprint of the grain), you need to malt the local grain locally.
This is where my cousin Andrea comes in with her business Valley Malt. They are a micro-maltster, based in western Massachusetts. Right now, they are malting for us some wheat that we bought from Brookford Farms in Rollinsford, New Hampshire. They have also done a lot of work on investigating heritage grains to figure out what varieties work best in New England. And, of course, they have shared this knowledge with local farmers, and have many acres of New England farm land planted with grain that they will malt for brewers like us.
The net of this story is that we are making strides towards our vision of creating our own New England terroir for beer. Or, as we like to call it, our own regional beer-oir. So when we say ‘taste the local’, we really hope you can! And we are doing it with a little help from our friends (and family)!
Cue Joe Cocker, please