Albemarle County Malthouse Providing Malts to Brewers in Central Virginia

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Malts Malts
Jeff Bloem Jeff Bloem
Jeff Bloem showing Madison Carter the malthouse Jeff Bloem showing Madison Carter the malthouse

Charlottesville craft brewers now have another tool in their arsenal to keep Virginia beer local from top to bottom. A new malthouse is bringing the supply chain for malt, right to the brewer's backyard.

Jeff Bloem started the malthouse in Woolen Mills earlier this year. He says most brewers get their malt from the same big-corporate distributors.

Bloem is looking to change that relationship between brewmasters and malt-makers, while making better beer along the way.

Most beer-drinkers recognize the flavor of hops when they crack open a cold one.

“What people don't particularly pay attention to is the fact that this is really the backbone of the beer,” Bloem said.

There's nothing to add hops to if there's no malt.

“The color, the mouth feel, if it has like a sweetness, or like a toasty flavor in your beer, that's all malt-derived,” he said.

Bloem is a self-taught malter. He started producing malts at Murphy & Rude in February.

Bloem says 5 years ago having a local malthouse wouldn't have been possible in Virginia, because barley wasn't big on growing here.

“Barley likes well-drained soil, we have lots of clay here. They like cool dry springs, we have hot, wet springs,” he explained.

That's changed thanks to recent advances in agricultural science.

“They are breeding disease resistance and that's finally caught up to where they can grow varieties that have been malting varieties for decades, but we can now finally grow them here,” Bloem said.

Malting is controlled germination.

Bloem gets his 100 percent Virginia-sourced grain from farmers. He engineered a tank where it goes first, then to the tub.

“That is where thinks it's in the ground, and it germinates for about for five days. That's where it's actually becoming malt,” he said.

After that, it's off to the kiln: “Right before it converts all of it starch to sugar to feed the new plant, right before that starts, I dry it down and that stops that process,” he said.

In about a week, the process converts the plain grain to a primary source of fermentable sugar in beer. It's sold for about a dollar per pound to brewers.

Bloem says having a local malthouse is one of the only ways brewers can make their beer stand out in today's competitive crowd.

“It's no longer really, ‘can I make beer better than the next guy?’ Your beer just has to be different,” he said.

You can taste some of Murphy and Rude's malts in a few beers at Random Row and South Street Breweries.

It's a nearly no-waste process, even the dust from the malting process goes to fill chick bedding at Free Union farms.