February 23rd, 2021
Maine Craft Brewers: Variety, Quality, Access
Today we see a beer market that craves unique tailored experiences, connection to community, and alignment with values all while expecting the highest level of quality.
Combine that with a culture that strives for constant improvement, betterment, and broadened impact, and what follows is a craft industry that has given its consumers more variety, better quality, and increased access while making beer more approachable and maximizing positive impact.
As part of Blue Ox Malthouse, it’s exciting to be part of the broader movement of brewers, maltsters, and growers to extend the impact and experience of craft beer to the next level by moving the craft industry away from global supply chains and back to the communities it serves.
Beer and spirits as much as the bread we bake and the tomatoes we eat, are agricultural products. That’s right. That beer you’re drinking now started in a field, under the sun, stars, and rain, and was carefully cultivated to become the beer it is today. Was that field in Spain, Germany, Montana, Alberta, Argentina, or Presque Isle, Maine? Too often there is not enough transparency in the supply chain to know. Wouldn’t you rather know what is in your beer and where it comes from?
Let’s think about the ingredients of beer: water, malt, hops, and yeast. As brewers relied on the same suppliers, for a long time water was the selling point of beer: think Coor’s “Brewed With Pure Rocky Mountain Spring Water” or the focus on water sources like Sebago Lake. As the American market moved towards hoppy beers, the intensity of the focus has led to enormous transparency in the supply chain, to the point where brewers now take trips to visit the farms where their hops are grown and make the selection. Brewers have long been the domesticators of yeast; here they have the most control over selection of traits and can intentionally develop strains to perform in their brewhouse. Where does that leave the last ingredient malt?
Malt is the silent workhorse of beer. If hops are the clothes, and yeast the personality, then malt is the body and backbone that support any beer. It provides the enzymes, starches, and nutrients that ultimately feed the yeast; the color, clarity, or haze that often give us our first impression; and the foundation on which flavors can be built, expressed, and highlighted. You can cover up a body with sexy hop clothes and yeasty character, but we all know the best beers are built are when the cloths, character, and body complement each other.
Arguably, of the core ingredients, malt and grains are the frontier that has the most opportunity for craft breweries to continue to offer unique products and build the impacts for their communities.
This belief is what drove our company, Blue Ox Malthouse to start. In a state where we have as many as 40,000 acres of small grains grown annually and one of the most innovative beer communities in the country, the potential long term symbiosis between agriculture and craft beer is enormous.
We’re excited to be malt specialists in this climate. After years of building networks and resources that allow us to stay at the forefront of the industry, we are excited to bring this expertise and these resources home to our growers and brewers.
It’s been exciting to be part of the growing community here in Maine making this connection. Maine Grains and Aurora Mills, both grist mills, have begun servicing the industry with adjunct grains, and Buck Farm’s on-farm malting operation, Maine Malthouse, is proving the potential for on-farm processing.
To date we’ve worked with more than a half dozen grain growers and more than three dozen breweries to build momentum behind a craft malt revolution. As the only malthouse purchasing grain in Maine, we at Blue Ox Malthouse are excited to provide the largest possible impact of this grain connection.
With Blue Ox Malt, our customers get a traditionally processed malt with the same commitment to quality and experience that craft brewers promise their customers. Like Craft Brewers and Distillers, we are committed to the rebirth of tradition while building something new and unique that stands out from the crowd, both in its commitment to quality and its dedication to the community in which it’s made. It’s our belief that local, quality, and reliable can be synonymous, and work tireless to make that a reality.
Malt matters! What can you do with malt in your beer?
Text: Joel Alex, Maltster and Founder, Blue Ox Malthouse