Even in the heartland, sometimes finding local ingredients can be tricky. Malted grain – usually barley – is one of the main ingredients in beer and spirits, but it's not commonly grown in Missouri. Gateway Custom Malt hopes to change that.
"Our mission is to bridge the gap between these two partners – our innovative, talented brewers and the local farmers – by malting so Missouri brewers can offer a truly original Missouri beverage," says Sherry Raleigh-Adams, who owns Gateway Custom Malt with her husband, Mike Adams.
Barley is the grain usually soaked in water to germinate and then dried to make malt, but you can also use wheat, rye, oats and more; Gateway Custom Malt currently uses barley, wheat, rye and buckwheat.
"It’s kind of a complicated process growing barley in the state of Missouri," Raleigh-Adams says. "We don’t have a climate that makes it the easiest crop that there is. So we're working with agronomists and farmers, and they're learning about what varieties of grain work best in Missouri and the growing conditions that have to occur."
Gateway Custom Malt aims to source barley within 250 miles of Montgomery City, since barley isn't grown as widely as wheat and other grains in the state. The company has been working with a farmer in Versailles, Missouri, to source Thoroughbred barley, a hybrid variety that the American Malting Barley Association officially recommends for craft brewers. Raleigh-Adams says they are working with farmers to grow more barley in order to make it more readily available for regional brewers and distillers.
The 9,500-square-foot facility sits on five acres in Montgomery City (population 2,712), which is about halfway between St. Louis and Columbia, Missouri. First, grains are steeped in water to germinate, or sprout, for several days on a specially constructed steeping table, which holds 1½ to 2 tons of grain. Next, the grain is transferred to a kiln where it's gently dried for up to 24 hours. It's then cleaned and professionally tested for brewing quality before it's bagged and ready for use.
"Some people may not understand the need for a local malthouse and what that does for the brewers and distillers," Raleigh-Adams says, noting that Missouri used to have many malthouses, but most were bought up by large conglomerates by the 1970s. "We're different than the mega malthouses. Our batch size is 1½ to 2 tons, and that allows us to customize the process and give our clients what they truly want, rather than just what’s available. Mega malthouses – they produce batches of 200,000 tons and bigger. There’s not gonna be any customization."
Overall, Gateway Custom Malt hopes to work with distillers and brewers to bring them unique, custom batches of grain.
"The way we see it," Raleigh-Adams says, "we're here to help the local craft distillers and brewers stand out from the rest of the brewing world by offering them locally sourced ingredients that just aren't going to be found elsewhere."
Gateway Custom Malt, gatewaymalt.com