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May 5, 2016

Craft brewers soak up locally sourced and processed grains

Photo Courtesy / Lauri Buck
Photo Courtesy / Lauri Buck
Raking grains at Maine Malt House in Mapleton in a traditional floor malting process to release carbon dioxide and heat.

Rising Tide Brewing Co. said it plans to use some Maine-grown and processed grains in every batch of beer it brews.

Buying from local growers and processors is a new trend in Maine as malthouses and local grain growers turn their eyes to the booming market for craft beer and other beverages, whose makers are striving for distinctive flavors and local lineages to ride the "source locally" trend.

To support their efforts, Sean Sullivan, executive director of the Maine Brewers' Guild, told Mainebiz the guild is working with U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree's office to convene a roundtable discussion "in an effort to identify opportunities to accelerate the positive impacts the craft beer industry may have on Maine's agricultural sector."

Sullivan said the roundtable will be held in Maine likely in the next three to six months. It will include maltsters, hop growers and others in the industry, those who are considering getting into some aspect of the craft beer industry and people who have technology or tools that can be applied to craft brewing.

Maine has 70 breweries — double the number three years ago, Dick Cantwell, co-founder of Elysian Brewing Co. and now "quality ambassador" at the Boulder, Colo.-based Brewers Association, said at April's New England Craft Brew Summit in Portland. In its most recent annual report on the industry, the association estimated the economic impact of Maine's breweries to be $432 million, based on 52 breweries.

Rising Tide, which is based in Portland, will source malted barley from the Maine Malt House in Mapleton and unmalted wheat and oats from Maine Grains in Skowhegan.

Rising Tide Brewing has been using local ingredients in its Daymark rye pale ale since it was first released in 2011, but for that ale partnered with Valley Malt in Hadley, Mass.

Locally grown, locally produced

"We have been buying some limited amounts of local malt for a long time," Heather Sanborn, co-owner of Rising Tide, said in a statement. "Now that there are more Maine options available, we are excited to expand our commitment to sourcing as locally as we can."

Sanborn, whose company was named one of the three Mainebiz 2015 Fastest Growing Companies, explained that sourcing ingredients locally helps to support Maine's agriculture industry, while also reducing Rising Tide's carbon footprint.

Amber Lambke, president of Maine Grains and one of Mainebiz's 2014 Women to Watch, noted that, "Maine's craft breweries are an economic engine in our state. By purchasing ingredients grown and made right here in Maine, Rising Tide is helping to strengthen the cluster of businesses and organizations, like grain farms, mills and maltsters working to rebuild a viable local grain economy."

Local malt on the rise

Jacob Buck of Maine Malt House, which uses traditional floor malting, said in a statement that, "It is pretty cool to plant the seeds in the spring, see the grain grow and follow it all the way to the glass. It makes it all worth it."

Rising Tide expects to use at least five tons of malted barley and about three quarters of a ton of unmalted grains grown and processed in Maine in 2016. The company said that when more high quality local options become available, it will continue to evaluate and expand its use of local ingredients.

Rising Tide isn't the only local craft brewer sourcing locally. Allagash Brewing Co., also in Portland, started shipping Sixteen Counties, a Belgian strong golden beer, on April 16.

"This is a trend in Maine among other brewers to use local malt," Heather Muzzy, quality control specialist at Allagash, told Mainebiz. "If you have 20 beers to choose from and you support farm-to-table, the local aspect will be strong. This is true in Maine, especially in Portland."

Sixteen Counties is made entirely from malt from Maine. It's a base malt combination of Maine Malt House 2-row malted barley and Blue Ox Malthouse (Lisbon Falls) 2-row malted barley plus raw wheat from Maine Grains and oats from Aurora Mills & Farm in Linneus, Muzzy said.

She added that a portion of the proceeds from the ale will go to help support organizations focused on sustainable agriculture and family farming in Maine. For 2016, philanthropic grant recipients will include MOFGA, Maine Grain Alliance and Maine Farmland Trust.

In a separate development, Jason Perkins, brewmaster at Allagash, won the Russell Scherer Award for Innovation in Brewing at the Craft Brewers Conference and BrewExpo America in Philadelphia Thursday morning, according to Maine Brewers' Sullivan. The show is the country's largest craft brewing industry gathering, with some 13,000 brewers in attendance.

Sullivan said the award is "a huge honor in our industry."

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