Malt Supply for Craft and Home Brewers

In my last article, I looked at the giant corporations of the malting world.  Now I’ll examine the mid-sized malting companies that supply today’s craft and home brewers, focusing on their local sourcing and global reach.


Between the repeal of prohibition and the 1980’s, the American brewing industry experienced a period of tremendous consolidation and homogenization.  By the mid 80’s, an industry that a century earlier had been regional and diverse had shrunk to only a few companies, with global reach but limited variety and questionable quality.  In 1983 – the low point of American brewing – the largest five American brewing companies controlled 92% of all beer production in the country.   Those top five were Anheuser-Busch (Now AB-Inbev), Miller and Coors (now MIiller-Coors), Pabst and Stroh (both now owned by Pabst, which was just last week sold to the Russian company Oasis), and Heileman (now City Brewing Company, makers of Sam Adams).   So the five largest beer companies from 1983 are now four much larger companies.

Active Breweries Prohibition to 1983

These brewing companies (I’ll refer to them as “BMC” from now on, short for “Bud-Miller-Coors”) all primarily make very pale lagers with high percentages of adjuncts in their Continue reading

The Global Malt Supply

To start my examination of globalization and the homebrewer, I’d like to get a rough picture of today’s malt supply chain, with a focus on the movement of malt from place to place.

As homebrewers, we have a fairly dim view of the wider world of malted barley.  The average homebrewer, brewing five gallon batches once or twice a month, might use 200 pounds of malt a year (18 batches x 12 pounds per batch, base and several dozen specialty malts).  A very small commercial brewer with a 5-barrel system, will use 1.5 times that much grain in a single batch.  A large craft brewery like Lagunitas (still not huge on the world scale) might use 20,000 pounds of malt for an average batch (270 bbl x 31 gal/bbl x roughly 12 # per 5-gallon batch) – that’s 9 metric tons of malt per batch (back-of-the-napkin disclaimer).  The difference in scale between homebrewing and commercial brewing is tough to get your head around.

The world produced roughly 22 million metric tons of malted barley for brewing in 2013.  Of that, 29% was produced by the three largest malting companies, 40% was produced by the five largest companies, and 55% was produced by the ten largest malting companies.


Malt Companies

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Globalization and the Homebrewer

Like many craft beer aficionados, my love of craft beer is part of a broader attitude toward food.  Many of the adjectives I use to describe the creation of beers that I drink- craft, unique, small batch, fresh ingredients, real ingredients, minimal processing- can more broadly be applied to my attitude about eating and cooking.  I’m hardly alone: “Foodie” and “Beer Nerd” subcultures have populations that overlap quite a lot.

One feature of my Foodie-ness (and the Foodie-ness of many other Foodies that I know) is a concern with Local-ism (along with hyper-hyphen-ization).  Localism (the act of being a localvoire) shows up on my plate in two distinct ways.

First, I prefer, when possible, to eat food that was grown locally, made recently by someone who lives nearby, and sold by a company that is based in my part of the world.  Localism Rule #1 is to shop / eat / drink local.

Secondly, many Foodies’ Localism includes an interest in terroir, the idea that products, Continue reading

Caramel Malt Tasting

Aimg_caramels part of a Homebrew Tasting/Judging Circle I’ve been organizing, we recently did a tasting of an array of different Caramel malts.  The goal was to identify the differences between these malts, other than color.

For each malt, I did a small mash of 6% crystal, 84% Briess Pale Ale malt.  All of the Caramels were also made by Briess.  The mash temp was 154 degrees.   Continue reading

Bridge View Tavern

sleepy hollow street signIn our house, Halloween isn’t so much a holiday as it is a month-long celebration of the harvest and the Fall, and also of murder, mayhem, and death.  We’re equal parts pagan and horror-movie-obsessed, and October is for us a month both high and holy.

Beyond trips to pumpkin patches and abandoned-prisons-cum-haunted-houses, we make a yearly pilgrimage to the town of Sleepy Hollow, New York, of Headless Horseman fame.  These people do Halloween properly, right down to their street signs, which are orange and black and feature a silhouette of their most infamous resident. It’s a great little town, with a few wonderful bars and restaurants to round out an evening visiting their Halloween attractions.

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NHC 2013

Here’s a post that’s a few weeks overdue: the 2013 National Homebrew Convention in Philadelphia was awesome.

NHC 2013

As a native Pittsburgher and a long-time resident of the NYC area it pains me to say this, but Philly didn’t suck.  Actually, it was kind of awesome.  The Reading Terminal Market is Continue reading

RFK 3-Boro Beer Tour

Some Gluttony Titlerecent out-of-town guests allowed me to spend some time being a tourist in my home city, something I love doing.  Our adventures included a tour of awesome beer spots spread across Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens.


poopinIt all started just before dusk on July 4th.  In need of a quick pre-fireworks snack, we hit up Pioneers Bar.  The atmosphere was laid back (the joint was almost empty) and the beer selection was decent.   Everyone who went into the restroom pooped.



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Key West Beer Spots

Key WestLike Miami, Key West has a bad reputation when it comes to beer.  However, we found it to be quite good in variety, selection, pricing, and overall enthusiasm.

It must first be said that there is no shortage of interesting, fun bars in Key West, but they do vary widely in terms of their beer esteem.  Traditaional on-Duval spots like Fat Tuesday and Cheeseburger in Paradise don’t offer much at all in the way of beer, but are  nonetheless worth checking out (it is Key West, after all).  Continue reading

Miami Beer Spots

Abbey Brewing CoWe recently went on vacation to Miami and Key West.  Miami especially has a reputation for not being a great beer town, but we found a few winning spots that deserve to be mentioned.

The Abbey Brewing Company was a nice little brewpub in South Beach.  It’s a little bit off the beaten path (a.k.a. it’s more than a block from the beach) but well worth the trip. (have dinner at Yardbird on the same block and you’ve got yourself a pretty fantastic evening.  Make a reservation).   They Abbey has about a dozen house beers, made at a production brewery Continue reading

Back On the Horse

Somebody bet on the bay

Somebody bet on the bay

This is the only website on the internet featuring a picture of a horse that does not contain a discussion of Transylvanian horsemeat.    You’re welcome.

Once again, I have gone for an extended time without blogging.  However, this time I have also gone for a long time without brewing, a sorry state of affairs, to be sure.  Things have gone so far that I have nothing planned or near readiness for the National Homebrew Competition, which starts accepting entries today.  Bummer. Continue reading