State’s first malt house set to open in Monkton

MONKTON — Vermont’s plethora of craft breweries are about to get the opportunity to source their malt locally. Andrew Peterson, 44, of Monkton is launching Vermont’s first commercial malt house this fall.
The longtime home brewer, who moved to Vermont on a whim 20 years ago instead of starting a brewery with a friend in his native North Carolina, had long hoped to open a brewery of his own. It took a little longer than he thought — his duties as husband and devoted dad to his two kids made the years fly by — but he is looking forward to getting back into the brewing world.
“It just took awhile to get back to this,” Peterson said. “And at this point, there are already so many great Vermont breweries that I thought, ‘How can I distinguish myself? Oh, maybe I could make some really local stuff.’”
He began gathering information on what it would take to create a “truly Vermont beer” — one sourced from local barley and hops. With Vermont-grown hops already available, Peterson began focusing on what it would take to get local, small-batch malt.
“It’s been going on for 3,000 years, so it’s not as if it’s a terribly difficult process,” Peterson said. “It’s just that no one is doing it.”
In fact, malting and all other brewing processes were common in New England up until the Industrial Revolution, Peterson found.
“Essentially everything moved to the Northwest,” he explained. “North Dakota, Idaho, Montana — perfect places to grow. So everyone on the East Coast stopped growing barley. The malt houses closed up. As a result, most of the malting is being done by these massive houses (in the West) … and in Europe it’s the same thing, a lot of (craft) brewers bring in malts from Europe, which are also from these massive places.”
Malt is naturally fermented barley sugar, and a critical component of beer — it lends brews their sugary or sweet taste, in contrast to the bitter sharpness of hops.
Peterson quickly realized that malting was a full-time job. So he changed his business plan — instead of making that truly Vermont beer on his own, he would team up with local craft brewers and supply them with what they needed to make an all-Vermont beer.
There has already been an enthusiastic response from area brewers, Peterson said. Though Vermont brewers have been able to enjoy locally sourced hops in recent years, Peterson Quality Malts will be the state’s first malt house since the mid-1800s.
“There’s a market for the whole idea of being local,” Peterson said. “Hopefully, we can put some Vermont farmers to work and source some things locally, and really make a real Vermont beer which hasn’t been done.”
Peterson Quality Malts will launch this fall, to be timed with the barley crop. Peterson will buy the barley from area farmers and has found his first challenge in this year’s poor grain crop, with many farmers needing much of their grain for feed.
Nonetheless, Peterson anticipates having enough barley to begin making malt this fall. He is renovating the 100-year-old barn on his family’s Monkton property for the malting operation. The barn was in a state of some disrepair, he said, and he and his friends have replaced the roof and added new siding.
“It’s probably not the ideal setup,” Peterson joked. “But it’s also a perfect setup. It’s on my property. I’ve got neighbors who are on board and offering a lot of local support. And there’s a lot of charm that we wouldn’t get from an industrial park.”
His business model will be one of cooperation between area growers and area beer makers. He will contract with local farmers for barley and produce up to two tons of malt per week, which he will sell to local craft brewers.
“The difference in (malt) flavor is how long you ‘kiln’ it, how long you roast it,” Peterson explained, of the process of fermenting barley (essentially by adding yeast and sugar to it in closed containers of water) before cooking it in a kiln. “A stout, for example, that malt has just been roasted longer until it becomes what you call a ‘chocolate malt.’ It’s just burned a little bit, the sugars are starting to caramelize. When you drink a stout with ‘coffee’ and ‘chocolate’ flavors it’s not really coffee and chocolate — it’s malt.”
Peterson hopes to work closely with the brewers.
“I’ll be supplying the malt, not creating the beer,” he explained. “It will be up to them to create their own recipes. Part of what I’m very interested in doing is have brewers be able to come in and we can actually build on what they want to make. Instead of saying, ‘Well, here’s a ton of pale malt,’ I would make a malt specifically for a brewer. They can sit in during the kilning process and say, ‘Let’s give it another 20 minutes.’”
Peterson anticipates keeping the business small and local well into the future. He’s had informal conversations with some Vermont brewers who have expressed an interest in his venture.
“I don’t think I’d ever sell outside of Vermont,” he said. “I don’t think I’d ever need to. If I supplied all the brewers just in Addison County, that would be more than I could do in a year.”
If he produces at full capacity, he anticipates being able to supply four or five small breweries. That fits his goals nicely — the longtime aficionado is most excited about simply entering the brewing world again.
“Beer and brewing is a very social thing,” Peterson said. “(Brewing) is a great mix of agriculture, science and artistry. It’s lucky to get to balance all three of those things in a single day.”

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