By Brian Campbell
Published in Partnership with Artvoice and the Buffalo Niagara Brewers Association
Not only has the current Buffalo craft beer boom led to the creation of a wide variety of great local beer, it has also led to a resurgence in local malt production, an industry that was once a staple of our city.
Among those leading the local malting renaissance is Queen City Malting, located inside the Barrel Factory in the Old First Ward; Niagara Malt, located at Cambria Vines N’ Bines in Cambria; and New York Craft Malt out of Batavia, run by maltster Ted Hawley, who says he got into malting because he saw a need for locally produced malts and grains.
“I went to a lecture coordinated by Glenda Neff with NOFA-NY (Northeast Organic Farming Association),” Hawley says. “While there, Glenda mentioned there was a need for malting grains for the craft brewing industry. So I switched gears, researched malt and malting and spent a few weeks at the Canadian Malting Barley Technical Centre in Winnipeg learning everything I could about the art of making malt. I’ve traveled to China, UK, Canada, and all over the United States researching this idea.”
“So far we’ve been selling our malt to brewers and breweries all over the state. We’ve branched out from our base NY Pale Ale malt to include Light Munich, Medium Munich, and Special Roasted malt. There has been a lot of interest in our product and we’re certain that sales will increase as more brewers become aware of what we have to offer.”
With more and more breweries opening on a seemingly daily basis, the need for local malt is more prevalent than ever, a cause Senator Charles Schumer champions as well. He is urging the United States Department of Agriculture to add New York to the list of states where malt barley farmers are covered by federal crop insurance, which he believes will be done by year’s end.
“I think it’s a huge positive step,” Hawley adds. “The odds are stacked against any grains growing in our region due to our climate to begin with and malting barley requires a higher degree of attention anyway. If we truly take malting barley seriously then we need to offer farmers the same governmental insurance that’s offered on the other grains they grow. However, I think the insurance needs to go beyond that to include the very real scenario of a bumper crop of barley that may be pre-germinated on the stalk, or has a high vomatoxin level and is otherwise not suitable for malting. In other words, the farmer needs some insurance against the fact that his barley may be turned away at the malthouse door even though it looks and feels and smells like a viable crop.”
The Farm Brewing Law, put in to effect in 2013, states that, in order to receive a Farm Brewery license in New York State, beer must be made from a percentage of locally grown farm products. Until the end of 2018, at least 20 percent of the hops and 20 percent of all other ingredients must be grown or produced in NYS, a number which rises to 60 percent from January 1, 2018 to December 31, 2023 and 90 percent after January 1, 2024.
“When brewers use local malt they’re saying they believe in their hometown, that they have a vested interest in the success of everyone involved in this industry, from the farmer to the maltster to the brewer, to the brewery owner to the beer drinker,” Hawley continues. “That’s the most important part—when a brewer uses local malt what he’s really saying is that he believes in the customer. There’s been a lot of talk about the fact that 20 percent local ingredients is too much for brewers to source. I’d respectfully disagree.”
John Russo, president of Hamburg Brewing Company, a licensed farm brewery, says NYS could be headed for a change in the law in the future.
“Right now it is hard to say if it is too much or too little,” he says. “There are two things happening concurrently. One of them is promoting the growth of the New York state beverage industry and the second is trying to grow the farming industry. I personally believe the numbers set in place by our legislators were good to start as it will take a considerable amount of time to build the associated farm industry to the point where competitive pricing and quality ingredients meet the expectations of the brewers and distillers. Thus, I believe there might be a change in the laws in the future to accommodate the direction our industry is headed in. It is important to use locally sourced ingredients to grow business in our region.”
Dave Collins, brewmaster at Resurgence Brewing, says that they are making a concerted effort to incorporate more locally grown malts and barley into their beer.
“We’re slowly mixing New York grown barley into all of our recipes, and we just released a beer that was made with only NY malt [NY Craft Malt] and NY Nugget hops [High Bines Hopyard] called the NY Nugget Smash [“single malt, single hop],” Collins says. “I think the new laws around Farm Brewery licensing are maybe too aggressive, but if we can get to a place where we can rely more heavily on our own NY grain and don’t need to worry about all the other concerns as much it would be a really great thing.”
Staying local is important to also fledgling upstart Big Ditch Brewing Company, according to President Matt Kahn, who says localized ingredients will play a major role in future test batches.
“I’d much rather use locally malted barley than others all things being equal; besides supporting other local businesses, it’s environmentally friendlier due to reduced transportation costs,” he says. “We feel strongly connected to Buffalo. It’s all part of making Western New York a great beer destination. We plan to conduct further test batches using local ingredients and hope to use as much as we can as we grow.”
Local malts and hops will be on display later this year at Farm-To-Pint, a one-of-a-kind beer tasting event created by the Supply Chain Committee of the Buffalo Niagara Brewers Association to help raise awareness all across the supply chain for the importance of local in out beer. Last year our two farm breweries, Hamburg Brewing and Old First Ward Brewing, along with Flying Bison Brewing Company, Gordon Biersch, Resurgence, and Community Beer Works. This year’s event is expected to include several more breweries and become much more of a regional event aimed at raising awareness for local beer by also encouraging local bars to put these beers on tap during farm to pint week. Stay tuned to www.buffaloniagarabrewersassociation.org for more information (likely will take place in late May).
For more information about your local maltsters, visit www.newyorkcraftmalt.com, www.queencitymalting.com and www.niagaramalt.com. Also check out local hops farms such as Niagara Malt, McCollum Orchards, East Prairie Hops, High Bines Hopyard. And Wrobel Farms.
Last but not least, get into your local pubs and brewery tap rooms to taste new brews made from local ingredients. Currently or coming soon these local breweries will offer brews from local ingredients:
• Community Beer Works: Saison #2
• Flying Bison Brewing Co: Barnstormer Pale Ale
• Hamburg Brewing Co: House Dressing
• Old First Ward Brewing Co: Therapy Session Pale Ale (coming soon)
• Resurgence Brewing Co: NY Nugget Smash