A lot of craft beers are brewed in Ohio, but soon, if Rustic Brew Farm has anything to say about it, they will be made with Ohio-grown ingredients, too. Husband-and-wife team Matt and Michelle Cunningham started growing malt barley and hops on their family farm with the goal of supplying state-based breweries.
“Malt and hops are the most important ingredients in beer,” Matt says. “The malt is the backbone of the beer. It provides the sugar that the yeast feed on while fermenting. Hops provide most of the flavor, whether it is a subtle bittering hop of a pilsner, or the ‘kick you in the face taste’ of an IPA.”
Rustic Brew Farm just ventured into the hop and malt barley scene this year and is already sensing excitement from local brewers. With roots planted, the Cunninghams hopes to scale the operation quickly.
The Metropreneur recently spoke with the couple to find out more about Rustic Brew Farm and this family-run operation is excited to be a part of the made local movement.
[M] Tell us about your background and how it led to growing malts and hops.
I come from an agricultural background, in fact I am a fourth generation farmer on our family farm. We grow corn, soybeans and wheat just north of Marysville. A little over a year ago, I decided to attend a class on growing hops offered by Ohio State University extension in an effort to diversify our farm. A few classes and tons of questions later, my wife and I decided to put in 100 hops plants, complete with a high trellis system. Then, a few months later, while talking to a local brewer about hops, he suggested that I grow malting barley because I am well equipped for it and malt is in high demand. We then began looking into what it takes to grow and then malt the barley for brewers, and took several classes on malting. We decided this would be a great compliment to our hops operation and a great addition to our farming operation.
[M] Have you spoken with any brewers about using your product yet?
We have spoken with several brewers in the great state of Ohio, most of which are very excited to use Ohio-grown ingredients instead of importing them from elsewhere. We actually donated our first year hops to be part of an all Ohio beer, which should be available later this fall.
[M] Local craft beer is a growing industry that shows no signs of stopping. Why did you want to be a part of it? Do you think it will continue?
Craft beer is exploding right now in Ohio. We admire and appreciate the sentiment of a truly local beer. We really like the attitude that Ohio is a great place and beer made here can be great as well.
Born and raised in Ohio, both my wife and I are very happy to start to see a “pro Ohio” attitude emerging everywhere you look. Local craft brewers are definitely helping to promote this movement. Now how great would it be to see a beer made with 100 percent Ohio-grown ingredients as well? We would love to help Ohio’s brewers make that a reality here at Rustic Brew Farm.
We think that at some point, the novelty of craft beer will fade, but the comfort and pride of a local beer will become engrained in Ohioans for a long time to come.
[M] What has the reception been like?
Reception has been very encouraging. Brewers and home brewers are very excited to try malt and hops grown in Ohio. Most brewers want to ensure that our quality will meet their standards before committing to us.
[M] What challenges have you faced?
We have faced many challenges in our first year. Our hop yard was pretty successful with about 20 plants producing their rookie year. Hops are most productive after year three so we look forward to that.
While we have faced issues with malting equipment and equipment manufacturers, our biggest problem so far has been fusarium in our spring barley. This is a disease that cereal grains can get if the weather is hot and humid. With the Ohio summers, this can be a problem. The disease, if bad enough, produces a toxin on the grain that cannot be consumed by humans. So we do everything within our power to ensure the barley does not become infected. We sprayed our barley with a preventative fungicide twice to prevent the disease, but the daily rains this spring proved to be too much, and we got fusarium at a low level. We are currently working with a company to help sort out the infected kernels, leaving us with disease-free barley. If we are completely sure that our barley is clean, we can start to malt it, otherwise, we will have to discard it.
[M] Anything else you would like to add?
With all of our trials and tribulations getting started, we are still moving forward and still very excited to be a part of the local beer scene. We have plans to expand our business very rapidly as to be able to offer quality, locally grown malt and hops to more of Ohio’s craft brewers and home brewers. We think Ohio produces great food and great beer and we are very excited to be part of this community! Cheers!
For more information, visit rusticbrewfarm.com.