With Michigan's network of craft breweries expanding at an exponential rate, an Okemos entrepreneur is stepping up to provide a local source for one of beer's essential ingredients.
In October 2015, Larry Judge turned the key on Mitten State Malt—the area's first artisan malt house. After three months of repurposing 2,300 square foot of warehouse space at 1860 ½ W. Grand River in Okemos, Judge says he's ramping up process the nearly six tons of locally harvested barley and wheat into malt—a dried cereal grain that adds body and flavor to beer and liquor.
"This all ties into the craft beer and local food movement," says Judge. "Everyone wants their food to have fewer miles on it, and to know who grew and produced the food. That goes for beer, too."
Malting involves steeping barley or wheat in water to partially germinate the grains, and then drying the grains in a kiln. The process releases enzymes needed for brewing. Different soaking times and kiln temperatures yield different varieties of malt that contribute to the taste and integrity of beer, spirits and other malt beverages.
Judge worked with a farmer out of Eaton Rapids to grow five acres of two-row barley—a variety coveted by many craft brewers—as well as a small yield of red and white wheat. Once harvested, the yields are processed, cleaned and certified through Michigan Crop Improvement Association
in Okemos before malting.
Judge will process 500-pound batches through a three-step malting process using giant stainless steel tanks he creatively repurposed from dairy farm equipment. Eventually, he hopes to work up to 1,000-pound batches, and to expand his growing acreage to 35 to 40 acres.
"When you go into a venture, your family sometimes labels your idea as crazy," says Judge. "You have to convince them you haven't gone completely mad. My family is looking at this as a crazy thing. But it's viable and not a crazy idea. I'll convince them."
Judge hopes to hire a full- and part-time employee once Mitten State Malt scales up. His goal, he says, is to start out small in the Meridian Township location, and start a second facility in the near future.
Source: Larry Judge, Owner, Mitten State Malt
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
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