Butte, MT — A local team of investors has organized to build a 10,000 ton malting facility in Montana that will serve the craft brewing industry with diverse varieties of malt produced exclusively from Montana-grown barley.
“Montana has arguably the best growing environment in the world for barley — a wealth of sophisticated growers, strong logistics infrastructure, and abundant quality water supply – it’s sort of nirvana, really. The coming together of all these things positions us very well to satisfy the diverse needs of the booming craft brewing industry, in Montana and beyond,” said local businessman Ron Ueland, President of the venture Montana Craft Malt.
The craft brewing industry has been growing at breakneck speed in the last 10 years, and the result is a need for high quality, specialized malts in order to deliver the sugars for fermentation in the brewing process, as well as provide additional flavor to make each beer variety a favorable craft product. Having access to multiple varieties of malt i key for brewers looking to differentiate their brews.
The malt plant will be specifically designed to produce smaller batches of specialty malts for craft brewing customers. The plant will allow for batch flexibility and versatility, unlike the large batch, production-centered approach of the macro-maltsters. The malthouse can be expanded or replicated in the future, should the demand for craft malt continue to grow beyond the 10,000 tons per the specifications of the initial design.
Per Dustin de Yong of the Montana Department of Commerce, “Montana’s craft brewers and distillers have been nationally recognized for their excellence. Likewise, Montana grains are known as some of the best on the continent. A feasibility study conducted by our office at the request of Department of Agriculture Director, Ron de Yong, was published in 2014 and played a major role in bringing this opportunity to fruition. Mr. Ueland’s knowledge and history of success in the agricultural industry will help to deliver a product unmatched and unavailable in the marketplace today. We are very excited to see this development realized and in the hands of a capable Montanan.”
The group leveraged the Department of Commerce’s market data and also surveyed a number of craft brewers to validate the opportunity. “We understand craft brewers value a sense of place with their ingredients. They prefer not to buy from commodity markets where the true origin of those ingredients is unknown, and where ingredients are not widely differentiated. They’re telling us they would prefer to buy locally, with the ability to buy diverse varieties that will allow them to differentiate their product without paying import taxes or high shipping costs,” said Jennifer O’Brien, Montana Craft Malt’s marketing lead. “For Montana’s craft brewers, Montana Craft Malt will allow them to play with unique malts – even some heirloom and European varieties – from which they can achieve flavorful brews, while also enjoying the marketable properties of a truly local beer.”
As for craft brewers outside Montana, “We are confident that our brand will be recognized across the industry for the quality within our diverse product portfolio, the proficiency of our malting process, and the origin of the malted grain itself. Furthermore, bringing out-of-state dollars into Montana will further bolster the economic impact of this value-added project, “ says Ueland.
“Quality is a hallmark of the wheat and barley grown by our farmers,” said Lola Raska, Executive Vice President of the Montana Grain Growers Association, “and we are very pleased with news of this new malting facility. Specialized malts for the growing craft brewing industry, made from our members’ high quality barley, will be a fantastic addition to Montana’s ag community.”
Working with an alliance of select craft brewers, Montana Craft Malt plans to partner with Northern Seed and the Montana State University barley lab, under the direction of Dr. Jamie Sherman, to identify and test a diverse portfolio of base malt and specialty malts, allowing the brewers an opportunity to help shape the product offering from seed to bottle. These partnerships will also allow Montana Craft Malt to provide batch data to brewers, something that is necessary to manage consistency in brewing, but isn’t always available to them today.
“This is an exciting time for our team – we’re looking forward to cracking into this under-served industry and offering a product portfolio that truly honors the art and science that is craft brewing. In an industry that was dominated by macro brews for so long, the malt supply chain was shaped by ‘drinkability’ properties, and what we’re seeing with the emergence of craft brewing is a different set of values, where it’s more about heritage, flavor, and sourcing locally – we’re couldn’t be more excited to serve this value system,” O’Brien said.
Montana Craft Malt is currently in the site selection process, considering a few strategic locations in and around the Butte, Montana area. These locations are being considered due to their proximity to growers, transportation infrastructure, access to clean water supply, turnkey availability of utilities, and other business incentives. The group plans to make a decision on site selection in the coming month.
Including land and equipment, the 10,000 ton facility is projected to be a $15 million capital expenditure, says the investor group. Dick Anderson Construction has been contracted for construction management and CMC Engineering and Management, LTD has been chosen for design engineering.
“At the end of the day, this is about Montana. Period. Our team shares a deep commitment to Montana growers and the local business community. The barley growers win because they have a locally owned buyer for their barley. Our craft brewer customers win because we intend on providing them malt that is crafted to their specifications and quality standards. And Montana wins, because this is a project that will bring construction and operations jobs, it will bring people to town when they do business with us, and we will be a buyer of local utilities and supplies,” said Ueland. “We don’t want to continue to export our raw materials to other states for processing, were going to do it all here, and produce a darn good product.”
An investor group has been formed and Montana Craft Malt expects to begin construction on its malthouse in 2017, with the first batches of malt available to brewers in 2018.