Home is where the malt is

MALT-Y TALENTED: Riverbend Malt House co-owners Brent Manning (left) and Brian Simpson are partnering with local farmers to quadruple the company’s output of locally grown barley and rye malts. Photo courtesy of Riverbend Malt House
MALT-Y TALENTED: Riverbend Malt House co-owners Brent Manning (left) and Brian Simpson are partnering with local farmers to quadruple the company’s output of locally grown barley and rye malts. Photo courtesy of Riverbend Malt House

Chances are you can name a beer or two from your favorite Asheville breweries. In fact, it’s hard to think of Asheville Brewing Company without thinking of Shiva IPA, French Broad without Wee Heavier, or Highland without Gaelic Ale. It’s perhaps more difficult to name the last beer you drank made with Riverbend Malt House’s malt.

However, since the company opened in 2010, its malt has been finding its way into beers at almost every Asheville brewery. Wedge has made a local version of Payne’s Pale Ale and Green Man just released a new fall seasonal called Harvester in bottled six packs, both using Riverbend malt. And when Burial Beer opened, every beer on tap was made with Riverbend products.

What’s so special about Riverbend malt? Co-owner Brent Manning puts it this way: “If you grow barley and throw it into hot water you could make beer, but it would take a long time. If a maltster does his job before the brewer uses the malt, it means the brewer can make beer in six hours instead of several days.”

In other words, without Riverbend steeping, germinating, raking and speed-drying barley, local breweries are reduced to ordering malt from a large national or international malt producers. With more and more breweries statewide clamoring for ingredients that aren’t shipped across the country — or across an ocean — it’s easy to see why Riverbend is growing.

What came as a surprise to many, is the location of the expansion.

“For a while, we were very interested in moving to the South Slope area, but after exploring our options, we felt like we needed more room and space to grow than we could find there,” Manning says. Instead, Riverbend went back to the drawing board to figure out how it could reconfigure its current location, which is at 99 Pond Road. “Our building had the space we needed to expand and it had one other big advantage: We already have a germination chamber in place — 4,000 square feet of climate-controlled space is not easy to come by,” he says.

Since the building is also equipped with loading docks, the rest was just a puzzle of which new equipment to install where. Manning and co-owner Brian Simpson broke ground on the expansion Oct. 2; plans include racks for bulk grain storage, a partially automated packaging system and the crowning jewel: a custom-designed kiln. “We learned a lot building our old kiln, says Simpson. “The new one will be nearly 100 square feet larger and more efficient.”

Starting at the farm

While the build-out will mean Riverbend can handle 12-16 tons of malt per month (compared to just 4 tons today) barley doesn’t just plant and farm itself. To increase supply, Manning and Simpson partnered with the North Carolina State Agricultural Extension, which helped find local farmers willing to grow two-row and six-row barley just for Riverbend.

Riverbend is now directly involved in more than 120 acres of land in and around Hendersonville. And some of those acres are moving beyond barley. According to Simpson, “We’ve been planting a variety of rye that’s been grown in the South for more than 200 years, and the demand for it is exploding this year. It’s a big part of our product line.”

Tasting the difference

Riverbend malts are now used throughout the state of North Carolina and increasingly in South Carolina as well. In the eastern part of N.C., Manning says, Fullsteam, Mystery and Steel String are all safe bets for a Riverbend-based beer or two. Locally, Manning says, “Harvester [by Green Man] is probably the easiest way to taste our malt right now, but the Tripel at Burial and Saison III at Wicked Weed can still be found at the breweries.”

If you’re interested in finding out more about how malt is made, Riverbend hosts tours of its malting facility by request. Simpson says Saturday mornings have been working well, and that tours can vary quite a bit, based on the tour group.

“We try to walk our visitors through the production process, but beyond that, we’re open to whatever they want to cover,” says Simpson. “Homebrewers might want to talk about using our malts or recipe development, but we’ve had tours focused on sustainability, that didn’t want to talk about beer at all.”

“Really, we’re just excited that people [are stopping by] because they’re more and more interested in what we’re doing,” says Manning. “We’re ready to keep closing the gap between farmers and Asheville beer.”

Learn more about Riverbend Malt at riverbendmalt.com. Tours can be arranged by emailing brent@riverbendmalt.com or brian@riverbendmalt.com.

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