A few months ago, Chris Lohring from Notch Brewing and I were having a few beer over the subject of Massachusetts’ own micro-malt house, Valley Malt, when he quipped: “The cool thing is that in the fall, a lot of brewers are going to be brewing harvest beers- that’s not just a name. It’s actually harvested from the local area. This year there’s going to be five or so, and next year there’s gonna be more.”
Well, Lohring was almost right. There were actually 10 local harvest beers made with grains grown by local farmers and malted at Valley Malt and on Saturday, November fifth, Notch Brewing and Honest Pint joined Valley Malt to host a celebration and tasting of local harvest beers at Meadhall.
Seven breweries—Notch Brewing, Cambridge Brewing Company, Peak Organic Brewing Company, Wormtown Brewery, Watch City Brewing, Mystic Brewery and Ipswich Ales Brewery—poured their beers and talked with local craft beer lovers in a (much-deserved) Valley Malt love fest.
Andrea and Christian Stanley opened Valley Malt last September because they realized that without a local malthouse, making a truly local beer would be impossible. While farmers could grow barley in Massachusetts, they would have to ship it to a mega-maltster in Wisconsin to malt it.
So with little farming and absolutely no malting experience, the Stanleys set up a malthouse in Hadley, where they steep, germinate and kiln the barley to make malt. They also learned how to operate a combine, studied grain varieties that would work in New England soil and developed relationships with local farmers.
This past July and August, Massachusetts and New York farmers harvested the grains for Valley Malt’s Brewery Supported Agriculture program, where breweries pay at the beginning of the season for a few acres of land and reap the harvest at the end.
Saturday was a celebration of that harvest. Every brewery is a member of the BSA program and used malt from their shares in the beers.
The offerings flaunted the flavor of local grains, from the rye in Mystic Brewery’s Rye Saison to the organic barley in Cambridge Brewing Company’s Valley Ghoul, a Scotch Ale with heather flowers and pumpkin.
Kelly McKnight, assistant brewer at Watch City Brewing, talked about the first time she opened a bag of Valley Malt—how it smelled and tasted different than any other grain she had used before, and how that distinct taste is highlighted in their Pilsner.
“Valley Malt creates connections between farmers and brewers,” Ben Roesch of Wormtown Brewery said. One of their first customers, Roesch uses at least one locally grown ingredient in every beer and regularly visits the farmers who supply his grain, hops and pumpkins.
The biggest challenge Valley Malt faces now is demand: how do they sustainably grow and malt enough barley to keep up with breweries that want their malt? They plan on tripling in size, says Christian, and even that it will not be enough.
As Bryan Greenhagen of Mystic said later (via Twitter), there were some “seriously good vibes” that night.
After all, how often do you get the chance to drink a beer, made with Massachusetts ingredients with the brewers and maltsters who made it possible?
Plans were already being made for another event next year (or six months…) but in the meantime, order a pint or grab a bottle of one of these beers and taste the local harvest.