This story was originally published Nov. 14.
Alberta might not have the hop prowess of our western neighbours in B.C., but as the craft beer scene rapidly expands under new provincial rules, micro-maltsters are popping up to bring local barley to local brews.
"We're a craft maltster, so we're producing specialty malts for the craft brewing industry here in Alberta," explains Joe Hamill from Red Shed Malting.
Malt is the backbone to beer, adding flavour and colour that helps separate a dark beer like a porter from lighter fair like a pale ale. The barley on which it relies is abundant in Alberta.
Calgary is already home to the country's largest malt company, Canada Malting, but small-batch producers are a new, and still small, phenomena — two and counting.
From farm to beer
Hamill's business takes barley from his family's farm and ensures it turns into the various shades and flavours being sought by those pushing the beer envelope.
"I started homebrewing so that's kind of where the story begins," said Hamill. "I was homebrewing and dad was growing malt barley and selling to Canada Malting and I wanted to use our own barley in my own beer. One thing led to another and here we are."
Hamill said his business, in operation for about a year, wouldn't be possible without the craft beer explosion currently underway.
"This wouldn't have been possible without the laws changing in Alberta for the minimum requirements for the breweries," he said, referencing changes that allowed smaller breweries to operate.
"The craft brewers make up maybe 12 per cent of the industry, but they're using half of the malt that we produce."
Ben Leon is the managing director and co-owner of Dandy Brewing, one of the smallest breweries in Alberta. He's thrilled small-scale maltsters are popping up to feed craft breweries.
"Similar to us, they're a small operation," he said of Red Shed. "So similar to us they've got the same attention to detail that isn't there when you're malting 500 tonnes of barley versus a few tonnes at a time."
"So not only are we able to provide direct feedback, it's not feedback to a sales rep that's going to a regional manager that's going to make its way to the maltster. We're talking to the guys and girls who are malting the barley. So if we say we want a chocolate malt with a little more darkness to it, they can do that for us and right away. It's huge."
Dandy has used Red Shed's biscuit malt to bring "more depth" to its English pale ale.
He said with small malting companies working with small breweries, and more on the way, the end result will be "better beer."