We have sourced an Ohio-based malt from Haus Malts out of Cleveland for our Laces Out Hefeweizen. Brewer Mike sat down with Andrew and Craig, father and son owners, and talked with them about their business and their process. For more information on these maltsters, visit their website: http://www.hausmalts.com/
Mike: Tell us about yourselves and your background.
Andrew: I grew up in Cleveland (Shaker Heights) and am so glad I was able to come back here
after graduating from Washington University with a degree in Chemical Engineering. When I returned,
I looked for a corporate job in the usual areas a chemE might explore. In the meantime, though, I
started brewing beer at home. I dove deep into the process (can’t help myself-I’m an enginerd!) and
was drawn to the actual steps of malting grain from scratch. I started researching the craft malt
industry, and it really appealed to me. Once the concept of starting a malt house started to take shape,
my father and I received formal training at various courses in the U.S. and Canada. We also devoted a
lot of time getting to know farmers, brewers, fellow maltsters and the like, who were kind enough to
share their wisdom and offer up practical advice on how things work (and don’t work!) in the real world.
Craig: I practiced corporate law for 30+ years and loved it. I was starting to make the mental shift
towards retirement when Andrew came up with the idea of starting a malt house. The more I looked
into it, the more I liked the concept and the viability of the plan. So, I decided to retire from the law and
become a full-time small business operator. I couldn’t be happier especially because I am getting to do
this with my son.
2. Mike: Why did you decide to go from not owning a malt house, to owning a malt house?
Andrew: We did a lot of homework before we ever got started. A turning point for us was when we
visited Riverbend Malt House in Asheville, North Carolina. The owners are just a bit older than me, they
are passionate about what they are doing, and they are having fun. I couldn’t help but be excited
about doing the same. Given his legal background, my dad was a bit more focused on the business
opportunity. We studied trends, developed a bunch of “what if” scenarios, crunched the numbers, and
decided to go for it. We bought our building on Carnegie Avenue in Midtown, Cleveland, and spent
months demolishing and rebuilding it to suit our needs. It is my home away from home.
3. Mike: Where do you source your grain and why?
Craig: When we started to acquire grain inventory in late 2015, virtually no malt quality barley was
being grown in Ohio. We purchased our grain from Maine and Montana, which worked really well for
us. A lot has changed in a short period of time, and we are now very pleased to be sourcing grain
exclusively from Ohio farmers. Having a local supply of high-quality grain is really important to us on
4. Mike: Explain what kind of quality level you expect from your growers. How do you monitor protein levels and other specs for the grain?
Andrew: We only accept raw grain that has met a stringent set of technical requirements. Those
specifications include the proper protein levels, germination rates, grain size, and color, as well as
vomitoxin levels. Samples are lab-tested before we purchase it. Only high-quality grains make the cut.
5. Mike: Can you walk us through your malting process and describe your facility?
Craig: Our facility is located on Carnegie Avenue in the Midtown area of Cleveland – some folks may
remember it as the old Smith & Oby building. It is built like a fortress, but we basically gutted the
interior to suit our needs. The main areas are a temperature controlled germination room, the
production room where we bag the malt, a large kiln where we dry the grain and holding areas for raw
grain and finished malt.
There are three main steps in the malting process. First, the grain is soaked in water and drained
several times during the first two days. This steeping step is necessary to increase the moisture level
of the grain and bring it to life. The second phase is germination, which comes about as a result of the
temperature control and moisture levels we have established. During this step, which lasts for
approximately four days, the grain starts to grow much like it would if you planted it in a field. The
kernels sprout rootlets and the stem of the future plant (called the “acrospire”) starts to grow inside the
kernel. A number of important biochemical changes start to happen within the grain, including enzyme
activation and the breakdown of certain proteins. During this second phase, the grain must be turned
twice a day by hand (a great workout!) to keep the kernels aerated and separate – otherwise, you
would end up with a tangled brick of grain. The third step is the kilning process. At this point, we have
allowed the kernels to germinate to a point where we have the desired amount of starch and enzymes,
and we need to stop the germination process. We accomplish this by moving the grain bed into a kiln,
where the grain will dry at relatively low temperatures over many hours. Lower kilning temperatures
are used to produce pilsner and pale malts, while higher temperatures are used to produce Vienna
and Munich malts. From start to finish, the process takes 6-8 days.
6. Mike: Do you do anything different that might set you apart from other maltsters?
Andrew: We do a number of things differently from the large malt houses, but I’ll try to narrow it
down to a few. First, we do not blend our malts-the large malt houses blend batches and any
association back to the farmer is lost. At Haus Malts, every one of our finished products can be traced
to the farm and farmer that nurtured the grain. Second, our finished product comes to the brewer in a
very “clean” state – by that, we mean that we have taken great care to remove rootlets, broken
kernels, and chaff. As a result, our malt performs very well in the brewing process and are customers
are only paying for malt that enhances their product. Third, we really care about the beer that our malt
produces. We have a personal stake in the finished product and stay in very close contact with the
brewers throughout the process. Fourth, because of our small size, we can customize our product by
offering malt at different Lovibond levels (i.e., color). This collaboration enables the brewers to be more
creative and to experiment with new tastes and colors. We can turn that customized malt into a
7. Mike: What are the biggest challenges of being a maltster?
Craig: At first, the malting process looks and sounds relatively simple: select raw material, steep,
then bake. However, there are good reasons why malting is often referred to as an art. As a maltster,
you have to factor in a large number of variables and make constant adjustments to your process to
make great malt. Each variety of grain malts slightly different and, in fact, the same varieties grown on
different farms react differently. In addition, the critical kilning process is impacted by variable
weather/atmospheric conditions that change the level of humidity during the drying process. We
monitor those conditions very closely, and making the right adjustments at the right time is a real
8. Mike: What do you love most about your job?
Andrew: So many things! We love the many technical and mechanical aspects of running a malt
house – it is really mentally challenging, and never dull. We love the physical labor that goes into it –
for me, it is so much better than working in a lab. Most of all, we love the friendships we have made
with growers and in the beer community. Their passion and willingness to collaborate is really inspiring
and rewarding. I have to say, too, that we really love sampling the final product and believe me, we
take sampling very seriously!
9. Mike: To be cliche, What is your favorite beer or beer style?
Craig: My preference is for malt forward German and Belgian styles.
Andrew: I really enjoy a wide variety of beers. For me, it’s more about beers that are well
made than it is about a particular style.