Kim Thompson is the maltster at Riverbend Malt House. The Asheville-based concern works with a network of regional farmers to provide malted grains (primarily barley, wheat, rye and corn) to brewers.
With a colorful background that includes growing up in Germany and Belgium, a stint as a “snowboard bum,” serving in the U.S. Marine Corps and working as a miller at Carolina Ground Flour, Thompson calls herself a “grain nerd.” Clearly not cut out for a desk job, she enjoys the physical work her job demands as well as the art and science of the malting process. “It’s the perfect blend of cerebral and physical,” she says.
Thompson is proud of Riverbend’s local focus. “Our contracted acreage has increased exponentially since the malt house started,” she says, noting that this translates as good news for family-owned farms as well as for brewers and distillers interested in sourcing local grains. Looking toward the future, she says Riverbend is experimenting with heirloom corn and rye varieties and kiln upgrades that will yield darker specialty malts.
She believes the Asheville brewing market isn’t completely saturated. “There’s still space for experienced brewers in Asheville,” she asserts, quickly qualifying her statement. “But there’s probably not much room for ‘meh.’”
On the subject of her own beer preference: “Anything in a can,” she says. “There’s something really beautiful about a properly poured pilsner.”
Thompson speaks most eloquently on the subject of why she loves her work. “Farmers are the heroes, brewers and distillers are the alchemists, and hops are sexy,” she says. “But malt is the backbone. There’s something pretty cool about being part of the backbone of a beer. It’s deeply satisfying when I get to drink my work, raise a pint and know I had a part in that story.”