In addition to growing our own hops to make beer at Indian Ladder Farmstead Cidery and Brewery we are also growing our own malting barley. In 2015 we harvested about two tons of a new variety called AAC Synergy 2 Row Malting Barley. This variety, which was developed in Canada, seems to be able to withstand the humid conditions we have here in Upstate New York. We had a healthy crop last year, even though we could only harvest half of the five acres we planted due to aggressive weeds that, since we are trying not to use herbicides, outgrew the barley.
Staying as local as possible we have our barley malted at Hudson Valley Malt, a micro-malt house located on the Germantown Beer Farm in Germantown, New York which opened in the spring of 2015. Last Sunday we took what remained of our barley over to Dennis Nesel and his wife Jeanette. After delivery we picked up a load of our barley that had already been malted to bring back to the farm.
Dennis was kind enough to give a tour of his facility, which, located in a converted horse barn, uses a traditional floor malting method as opposed to moving the barley through a series of heated metal malting tanks as we have seen elsewhere.
First Dennis subjects the barley to several cycles of soaking and resting. Remember, barley grains are essentially seeds. In order to be malted the barley grains must germinate, beginning the process of breaking down the natural malt sugars within that are necessary to the brewing process.
The soaking and resting process is meant to mimic periods of rainfall. The barley is then spread upon the floor. Radiant floor heat warms the barley simulating the warmth of the sun. The barley grain is turned periodically on the floor with a malt rake to help release the sugars.
Dennis, Jeannette and daughter Becky, who, home from college, is working in the malt house during the summer, are particularly proud of their malt rake which they had designed and manufactured by metal workers in Hudson based on a drawing of the old fashioned tool.
Eventually tiny white sprouts poke their noses out of the seed casings and the barley is moved to a kiln where it is raised to a higher temperature to halt germination. For us, Dennis produces a pale malt. Darker malts are achieved by leaving the barley in the kiln longer.
After checking out the malting facility we head into the tap room where Dennis pours Nectar from nearby Poughkeepsie’s Plan Bee Farm Brewery into frosty quart Mason jars right out of the freezer. We meander to Dennis’s hop yard to check out his expansion and admire the array of hop shoots he is propagating on his front porch.
Dennis reads our book, The Hop Grower’s Handbook, every morning while he drinks his morning coffee, which is probably the best since it seems that is the only time he sits still enough to read. We are gratified to sign a copy of the book and will be back soon to pick up our final batch of malted barley from the 2015 growing season.
Meanwhile this year’s barley crop is coming on strong. We greatly expanded, planting 10 acres of Synergy. And for something new we planted 5 acres of Navarro Oats, a hull-less oat, also known as Naked Oats, just to keep things interesting. Harvest begins in mid-July. –Laura Ten Eyck