January 20, 2016 | last updated January 20, 2016 11:03 am

New malthouse doubles craft brewer access to local malts

Joel Alex, founder and maltster of Blue Ox Malthouse, inspects malt at the company's 7,500-square-foot facility in Lisbon Falls.

Blue Ox Malthouse, based in Lisbon Falls, is open and plans to hold an open house for the public this Friday.

Malt is a key ingredient in craft beer recipes. Company founder Joel Alex told Mainebiz in 2014, when he graduated from the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development's Top Gun program, that he wanted to provide a local source for the ingredient rather than exporting grains to Canada to be processed and reimported.

"There are 53 licensed brewing operations in the state," he said at the time, up from 36 in 2012. But to date those brewers have bought their malt from out of state, about 80 million pounds of it. Water, malt, hops and yeast are needed to make beer.

Alex said Maine could fill that need, as it is the largest barley-producing state in the Northeast, and also is a large producer of small grains like wheat, rye and oats that are used to make malt. He said about 40,000 acres of small grains are grown in Maine, according to figures from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

In November of 2014 the company received $250,000 from the Maine Technology Institute, which it matched with $359,135, to build a pilot malt production facility. Since 2013 it has attracted more than $750,000 in grants, loans and private investments.

It also is among the 26 semifinalists in the Greenlight Maine contest for $100,000.

The company's founders said the event Friday will acknowledge organizations that have helped it, including MTI, CEI, Money Maine, Maine Department of Community and Economic Development, the Town of Lisbon and the Maine Brewers Guild.

The new malthouse occupies 7,500 square feet and uses traditional malting to process raw grain into malt. The company is certified by Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners' Association for both organic and non-organic production, and this season is working with both barley and wheat.

Blue Ox said the malthouse nearly doubles Maine and New England craft brewers' access to locally sourced and produced malts. That would in turn increase their capacity to create products that are not both brewed and sourced locally.

The malthouse has a capacity to produce more than 500,000 pounds annually, placing it in the top 10 largest facilities of its kind in North America. The company said it provides an in-state market for up to three quarters a million pounds of small grains.

"With the opening of the Blue Ox Malthouse in Lisbon Falls, Maine people have yet another reason to raise a glass in celebration of our thriving craft brew industry," U.S. Sen. Angus King said in a statement.

In addition to Alex and his partner Steve Culver, Blue Ox has one full-time employee, one part-timer and contracts with local labor for production.

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