Brewing local is a win-win for barley farmers and craft brewers
When it comes to beer, Alberta-based Big Rock has set the standard for choosing to “brew local.”
The craft brewer is recognizing the benefits of locally grown ingredients, and Alberta barley farmers and consumers are benefitting from Big Rock’s revolutionary decision.
“Choosing local gives us better control over the malt that is produced for us, ensures that the barley is fresh, and supports our local economy,” said Paul Gautreau, brewmaster with Big Rock Brewery. “We try to be as local as we can.”
A look at the numbers shows that Big Rock is doing just that.
“About 80 per cent of the malt barley we use is Alberta two-row pale malt,” said Gautreau. “The rest is a blend of specialty malts or Lethbridge-grown wheat and rye.”
On average, Big Rock uses more than 4,000 metric tonnes of Alberta-grown pale malt per year, the majority of which is used as a base malt that is grown across Alberta and processed in Alix. This Alberta village is also the location of Big Rock’s malt barley supplier, Rahr Malting Canada.
With about 50 per cent of Canadian barley grown in Alberta, Rahr is located in the heart of barley country. This prime location allows Rahr to select and purchase the best local malt barley.
“We contract with over 300 farmers across Alberta and a little bit in Saskatchewan,” said Bob Sutton, vice-president, commercial, with Rahr Malting Canada. “These contracts allow us to produce malt that is suitable for brewers like Big Rock.”
Paul Gautreau, brewmaster with Big Rock Brewery visiting a local barley field.
Despite the fact that malt barley represents only 20 per cent of actual barley production, barley contracts with malt houses like Rahr can be quite profitable for farmers. While feed barley still dominates the production landscape, Gautreau said some farmers are capitalizing on the demand for local malt.
“Feed barley is a lot cheaper than malt barley,” said Gautreau. “If farmers can grow the best barley suitable for malt, there is a premium paid to them.”
That said, growing premium malt barley doesn’t come without its challenges, Sutton added.
“Malt barley is the only grain that farmers have to deliver in a living condition. It has to be alive and able to germinate,” Sutton explained. “But even then, a lot of things can eliminate barley from being malted, including damage to the barley kernels during harvest, sprouting and frost.”
But farmers ready to face the malting challenge could be greatly rewarded, especially when working with craft brewers. On average, craft brewers use more malt barley per bottle of beer than large-scale beer producers.
With all that in mind, it’s clear that the brew local movement is a win-win for both craft brewers and farmers.