Brewing in the FLX: Malting in the Middle—Meet the Maltster

Enjoy that glass of local beer? Get to know the maltsters working to make it the best it can be, from farm to glass.
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Writer: David Diehl / Photographer: Michael Hanlon

One of the best parts of going to a local brewery is learning how a specific beer was made, seeing the tank it was fermented in, maybe even meeting the brewer. It gives a chance to learn where a beer’s ingredients were grown and harvested. Curious drinkers get a strong idea of who started the creation of the beer and put on the finishing touches.

But what about the proverbial: “middleman” who helped make the beer possible?

In walks the maltster. And what a perfect way for Judd Hallett and Emily Hill of Murmuration Malts and Grain Company (Bloomfield) to insert themselves into the beer world that they are so passionate about.

“It’s very similar to picking a peach off of a tree. There is certainly no harm in your barley being grown next door, processed and delivered to you all in the same week. It is definitely a fresher product,” they say.

“As far as the grain-to-glass aspect, we, as maltsters, land right in the middle of it. We are the direct link. Most grains that brewers are using, they need to be malted. We are the middlemen between the farms and the breweries,” explains Hallett. “We wanted to do something different but still be a part of the process. It was about trying to find our fit in that puzzle.”

“People want to know where the products they’re consuming come from. To know what farm it came from or where the malt came from. There is all a connection and a synergy to it that really appeals to people.”

Murmuration inspects and accepts grain, barley, wheat and oats from local farms. They are tested and inspected before entering the malting process. The grains are steeped in water, then dried and germinated to grow the barley grains before kilning, which dries the product and finishes the process. These malts provide beer with color, flavor and aroma and now the New York State malt business is prospering in its growth.

According to Kelly Higgins of 1886 Malthouse in Fulton, breweries were looking to include New York–grown malts due to certain farm licenses and aesthetics, now these malts could be used in entire beer catalogues.

“It’s obvious that brewers can use our malts in their NYS beers, the challenge is proving to them that they can be used in your other beers also. It’s not just a substitute,” says Higgins. “That has really been in an upward swing this past year. They are finding that the quality level is there. Once we got there and it spread, brewers were able to figure out that there are a lot of NYS malthouses doing great things.”

1886 Malthouse is currently the malt provider for over 200 New York State breweries and more specifically almost 20 in the Finger Lakes region. A larger facility that is home to state-of-the-art technology and tons of space, 1886 is proud that they are operated by a small core of locals and homebrewers who are eager to help any business in the field. “At the end of the day, there is a place for everyone to be successful and have their piece of the pie,” Higgins assures.

Hallett, Hill and Higgins all agree that the time is now for our region and believe that for them there is a rising tide effect—the growth of the breweries and their numbers have coincided with the growth of the malthouses. They all find that the relationships being so tightknit and supportive has been a huge advantage in the growing of all businesses involved.

They believe that the terroir and weather provide factors that can contribute to how the grains react in the malthouse and that affects flavor and color in a positive way. For those reasons there has been a peak in interest as well by the regions’ local farmers.

“I think supporting our local farms is important. Farming is a big aspect of life around here,” says Hallett. “So, I do think that dealing with these smaller farms that aren’t used to growing commodity crops, having them diversify, strengthens us in the area, but I also think it gives them something else to focus on, like growing barley.”

“People want to know where the products they’re consuming come from. To know what farm it came from or where the malt came from. There is all a connection and a synergy to it that really appeals to people,” Higgins agrees.

All this synergy is symbiotic and results in cumulative growth across the foodshed, proving once again that good things come from drinking local beer.

David Diehl is a Hobart & William Smith Colleges alum. You can follow his work at FLXWORDS.com.

Michael Hanlon is a professional photographer based in Rochester.

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