Every ingredient in beer plays its own important role, but malt can be considered the backbone of our favourite beverage. Regardless of the style, the grist (malt portion) of any recipe affects the flavour, aroma, mouthfeel, and perception of bitterness of the resulting beer, and even changes the pH of the water during the brewing process. Considering its interaction with hops, water, and yeast (the three other main “building blocks” of beer), malt is the ultimate team player.
Malting is the process of preparing grains, including barley, wheat, and rye, for use in brewing and distilling. The act of steeping, allowing to germinate, and then drying the grains, unlocks the internal starch and enzyme’s potential for use in these noble roles. An interest in small-batch maltsters is on the rise, thanks to the demand for more individualized product and to support local farmers and producers. Unique flavour and aromatics, and reliable and reproducible results, are just some of the benefits from using small-batch malt.
When it comes to brewing, sourcing ingredients locally is just as important as in any other business, and malt is no exception. Recently, the possibility of choosing Nova Scotian grown and processed malt has become a reality, with the launch of Horton Ridge Malt & Grain. Located in Hortonville, a stone’s throw from Exit 10 on the 101, Horton Ridge is owned and operated by the Stewart family.
Alan Stewart is a 6th-generation farmer who was looking to expand on his Organic produce farm and bring the art of grain malting to the Atlantic provinces. The malt house is currently able to process four tonnes of malt per month, with capacity to triple once the full malt floor is open this summer. Using the traditional floor malting technique may be slower and more labour-intensive than industrial box malting, but the extra effort is worth it.
Organically-grown Nova Scotia barley stocks are not yet strong enough to support the demand, so Stewart has begun with barley sourced from Saskatchewan, with local farmers increasing their crops this year to close the gap. As a true farm to glass product, Stewart’s own land produced several tonnes of Organic rye last season, which will soon be available as finished malt for beer, spirits and even baked goods.
While sourcing local ingredients is important, the quality and usability is critical to local brewers. Halifax’s Granite Brewery sourced malt from Horton Ridge for the latest batch of their Honey Ginger Blonde Ale brewmaster Kevin Keefe says that “the yield (amount of sugars extracted) was even better than we had expected.
” Most importantly, customer feedback has been very positive, says Keefe, and they plan on using Horton Ridge malt for other specialty beers in the future.
Jeremy White, owner and brewmaster of Cape Breton’s Big Spruce Brewing, has been brewing with Horton Ridge malt since they started selling their product in April.
“We believe in buying local, and feel our malt dollars would be better spent in Nova Scotia, as it elevates Horton Ridge’s business, and the craft beer industry in general,” says White. But being a good neighbour, businesswise, isn’t the only incentive, as White goes on to explain: “Quality has been very high; we are very impressed with the terroir malt flavour from Horton Ridge, which has brought a new dimension of originality to our beer.”
On the North Shore, Tatamagouche Brewing recently released a beer brewed entirely with Horton Ridge malt Horton Ridge SMaSH is a single-malt and single-hop brew featuring Pale Ale malt and Amarillo hops. Locals were so impressed with the beer, says Tatabrew’s Christiane Jost, that it sold out within a week, with requests for it still pouring in, which bodes well for future releases.
As Horton Ridge continues to expand production, and other local malting companies open their doors, more locally-grown malt will become available to meet the increasing demand from breweries and fans of their products. When we consider experiments that are currently underway to develop new species of hops in Nova Scotia that are more resistant to mildew, as well as steps to isolate and identify wild yeast strains present in the province, the goal of brewing a “truly local brew” that is, one comprised entirely of Nova Scotia sourced ingredients is getting closer and closer to reality.