Rustic Brew Farms: Craft Maltster

Written by on July 28, 2017 in Beer - No comments

We wrote last year about Marysville farmer Matt Cunningham of Rustic Brew Farms dipping his toe into the world of malt production. At the time, his malting facility consisted of a small system in a former garage behind the house on his farm. With a capacity of only 500 pounds per batch, the malting equipment was fired up only as Cunningham’s busy schedule would allow.

Things have changed in a big way. Cunningham dove into the deep end over the winter making a very significant investment in a new — and much larger — malting system. The new system, which he personally designed, will produce 4000 pounds per batch. Equipped with Rockwell Programable Logic Controllers, the system provides for improved quality and consistency as well as higher capacity. Producing malted barley is no longer a hobby, it’s a significant business at Rustic Brew Farms. Output should increase from no more than 5000 pounds in 2016 to as much as 70 tons in 2018.

System capability is still being explored with the new equipment. Having completed just two batches so far, Cunningham is learning to dial in the precise set points for the production of each malt variety. His learning curve was jump started at a one-week seminar he attended in Canada over the winter. While he has made a quantum leap in terms of production capability with his new system, it still pales in comparison to the macro-malt houses that produce batches that are hundreds of thousands of pounds each. Perhaps the next wave in the craft brewing industry in Ohio lies in the hands of people like Matt Cunningham. His motto sets the table: “Drink Beer Grown Here.” With annual barley production on his farm currently amounting to several hundred thousand pounds, and the vertical integration of the malting system, Cunningham may represent the leading edge of this next wave. He is a member of North American Craft Maltsters Guild; one of very few in the state.

So, what does this really mean to local brewers and beer aficionados? Simply put, a craft maltster is to a macro-maltster what a craft brewer is to a macro-brewer. Let’s start with the base grain itself. In addition to the barley currently being grown at Rustic Brew Farms, Cunningham will also be putting in some winter wheat later this year to expand his product line. Just as terroir can be important to the growing of grapes for wine, or hops for beer, it can be important in the growing of grains as well. Grains grown locally, and malted locally, have the potential to offer new, and unique opportunities for Ohio brewers. If terroir is important in malt, the second part of the equation may provide even more value. That is the production of specialty malts. With small batch sizes comes the ability to customize the malt to meet unique requests or requirements from individual brewers.

Cunningham’s new system allows for careful management of the critical variables such as time, temperature, humidity, germination and modification that significantly impact the flavor, color and functionality of the finished malt. Once brewers find those malts that hit a particular sweet spot for them, they can reorder those malts from a custom maltster such as Rustic Brew Farms. Because Cunningham only malts his own barley, he has complete control of the input grain. Combining that with the use of his automated, PLC controlled malting system, eliminates all outside variables. Together this allows him to fully manage the process, and to reproduce the custom malts again and again.

Rustic Brew Farms foray into the hop end of the brewing business is still on a much smaller scale with only 100 bines currently. Longer term, look for as many as 1000 bines to be in production. Keep an eye out for an all-Ohio beer in a month or so. Rustic Brew Farms is planning to partner with Ill Mannered Brewing in Powell for a very special beer. If the stars align properly, Ill Mannered brewer, Tom Ayers will be producing a wet-hopped SMaSH beer using Rustic Brew Farms hops and malt. They will plan to pick the hops in Marysville and race back to Powell to use the fresh, whole hop cones in their Anniversary beer.

Rustic Brew Farms is located in Marysville, Ohio.

About the Author

Bill Babbitt is a retired engineer, beer lover, and freelance writer for Beer Advocate Magazine.

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