If you start a conversation at your local brew pub about what goes into a great beer, you will likely hear a lot about hops. The bitter IPA’s that have been a long trend in American beer culture have given this flower more than its fair share of attention. Even in these hop forward beers, barley malt is what really makes a beer. We all know and love BoCo’s local craft beers. While these beers are brewed in Boulder, some of them using local hops and other ingredients, there are few beers being brewed with barley that is grown in Boulder county, too.
Barley grown in Boulder county mostly ends up in macro brews produced in Golden. The missing piece between the Boulder barley farmers and Boulder brewers is local maltsters, the people or businesses that turn raw barley into something you can brew beer with (this was a new addition to my lexicon, too).
In doing research for a previous article, I had the pleasure of meeting Blake Cooper, Boulder County Agricultural Resources Division Man- ager. He shared his excitement about some new maltsters getting started nearby, as they could help fill this gap between local farmers who already grow barley or who may be look- ing for new growing options. Barley can be a profitable crop when it meets the grade for brewing and fits in well with crop rotations. I also learned Isabel Farms grew a small barley crop this year. They hope this leads to a relationship with some local brewers.
I decided to take a field trip to Root Shoot Malting near Loveland, the closest maltster to Boulder County. Todd and Emily Olander started this business just over a year ago with Todd’s father Steve. Todd has a passion for agriculture and craft beer, but before choosing to bring these together the family spent 4 years studying the process. Todd even traveled to Germany, Canada, New York and Italy to take intensive courses and see other maltsters in action. The operation is considerably smaller than even other craft maltsters but can generate almost 10 tons of malt per week, which can be brewed into about 5,000 gallons of beer.
You read that right. That’s Five. Thousand. Gallons of beer.
The process of malting involves sprouting, drying, cleaning, and bagging the final product. Right now this takes about 8 days, and Todd needs to take samples and make adjustments on site every 12 hours. He uses a cell phone app to keep an eye on the process between the twice or more daily vis- its to the malthouse. Since most of their customers are smaller brewers, the Olanders pack their finished malt in 50 pound sacks to deliver to breweries and home brew shops. Over time they hope to squeeze the process down to 7 days but Todd says, “our first goal is to produce the best quality malt.”
There are more than a few brewers using Root Shoot Malt, some of which are all Colorado in their ingredient list. Soon we may have one or more all Boulder County options to wet our whistles with.