Did you try the collaboration Six One Pour beer during Columbus Craft beer week? Or have you sipped on North High Brewing’s Cover Crop beer? If so, you’ve had barley from Origin Malt.
“We’ve had about 50 different types of beer made by around 25 breweries now,” says Origin Malt Co-Founder Victor Thorne.
Thorne and Ryan Lang, founder of Middle West Spirits, launched the company in 2015 to bring barley production back to the fields of Ohio and the Midwest.
Lang noted that while they could source other ingredients for the distillery regionally, barley had to be imported from Europe. As of 2017, fewer than 500 acres of barley for malting purposes were grown across the state, down from a 1920s peak of 350,000 acres.
It’s a complex problem to tackle to re-introduce a crop that hasn’t been grown for generations.
“It really takes a community to figure out how to do it again,” Thorne says.
It required getting several pieces of the chain involved all at once.
“The start of this was getting access and identifying who the key people were to bring together to be a part of a larger community,” Thorne says.
That meant thinking through the varietals that could be grown; working with farmers to make sure they could fit barley into their crop rotation and grow a high enough yield; and even looping in the eventual end users of brewers and distillers to make sure they were focused on the right things.
Origin Malt first turned to the Ohio Seed Improvement Association. The OSIA is the official seed certifying agency for the state of Ohio and helps to “maintain and make available high quality seed of genetically pure varieties.”
The OSIA opened a number of doors for Origin Malt. The organization formed a malting barley subcommittee, that has now seen many of the members become investors and partners in the farming business. Coming through an established channel has also helped Origin Malt develop relationships with distribution partners. And, it put them in touch with the group that makes the entire operation possible – the farmers.
Origin Malt has quickly developed a large network of farmers.
“There has been an incredibly intense reaction in such a positive way,” Thorne says of the reception from farmers. Barley provides a non-GMO winter cover crop for the region.
He adds that they haven’t had a meeting in Ohio that wasn’t filled with farmers that were interested in signing up and learning more. In fact, their pipeline is even larger than what they can handle. About 80 farmers are currently producing with over 400 more that want to grow.
Origin Malt’s first field for the year harvested in mid-June. The majority of their fields are in Ohio, reaching all four corners of the state, with additional farms in Pennsylvania, Indiana and Michigan.
Each year has brought a higher and higher acreage. Last year, they planted about 7,000 acres, the year before, just over 1,000 and the year before that only 300.
“Our goal is to get to about 75,000 acres within five years,” Thorne says.
That’s not the only long-term goal. Origin Malt owns a 300 acre site in Marysville where they plan to build their own malting facility (a process they currently outsource) that can be a magnet in the industry. They’ll continue to tap into their network of farmers, too, with plans to add fields in Illinois, and potentially New York and Kentucky, next planting season.
In the era of farm-to-table, Origin Malt is helping brewers and distillers go “seed-to-sip.” Thorne says as the supply chain continues to develop, it will really be the first time an Ohio brewer can visit a farmer, see a barley field and stop by the malting plant all within a matter of hours. They’ve also already had farmers pick up malt and deliver it to local brewers, who try it out and then become customers.
Origin Malt has been working with breweries across the state testing their products with existing recipes. Thorne says they will continue to work closely with customers to make sure more Ohio-grown barley makes it into more Ohio-brewed beer.
For more information, visit originmalt.com.