In the far corner of the Haus Malts (6107 Carnegie Ave., 216-570-1108, hausmalts.com) storage area, 55 brown sacks, each containing 55 pounds of malt, are stacked from floor to ceiling. They were bagged up on New Year's Day, when malt house co-owners Andrew Martahus and his father, Craig, put their brother and wife, respectively, to work. Like many parts of this new business, Craig jokes, "It was a family affair."
Last April, the father and son team purchased a building that once belonged to mechanical contractors Smith and Oby. Since then, they've outfitted 10,000 square feet of it with the equipment needed to turn barley into malt. For the first time since Prohibition, local brewers will have access to locally produced malt.
Soon, those 55-pound sacks will be shipped off to a handful of local breweries, including Market Garden Brewery, Great Lakes Brewing, BottleHouse, Brick and Barrel and Platform Beer. Haus Malts already has released a collaborative brew with Nano Brew called Rust Belt Spelt.
The idea was born while touring North Carolina's Riverbend malt house.
The duo learned that most craft brewers purchase malt based on what's available by corporate market demand. Haus Malts aims to change that model by putting brewers in control of the product, down to the type of barley and where it's sourced.
Considering that wine makers want to know where their grapes are from and cider makers want to know the types and origins of their apples, the farm-to-pint concept makes sense.
"We have a direct relationship with the farmer," Andrew says. "If our clients have questions we can put them in touch with the farmer and they can go through exactly what they did. We're tracking the purity of the grain throughout the entire process."
Though they're currently sourcing barley from Maine, they've already been working with the Ohio State University's agriculture program and Ohio Seed Improvement Association to partner with area farmers, who will become future suppliers. A handful of Ohio farms, including ones in Sandusky, Smithville and Dayton, have started planting crops.
"We think the grain grown in one part of Ohio is going to have a different taste than a variety grown in another," Craig says.
Barley shipments arrive pre-cleaned from Hirzel Farms in Wood County, Ohio. In a giant temperature-controlled room in the back of the facility, an industrial-size bed holds two tons of barley at a steady 50 degrees. The grains are steeped and soaked for two days, followed by four days of germination. Then it's into the kiln, where the amount of time the "green malt" is heated determines its style, from pilsner to dark Munich. The malt is run through a debearder and seed cleaner, which allows for even water absorption.
Haus Malts plans to produce at least two tons per week. Craft brews use nearly three times as much malt per volume as mass produced beer. And with more tastes shifting towards craft, the need for malt increases.
"What we've been struck by is the sophistication of the palate and the knowledge that the beer drinking community is very quickly developing," says Craig. "And demanding."