When they showed up to register at the Craft Brewers Conference trade show in Denver earlier this month, the 8,000 or so brewing-industry attendees from across the country were treated to a 19.2-ounce can of beer made with all-Colorado ingredients.
Brewed at Oskar Blues in Longmont, Centennial Pale Ale included hops grown at five local farms, yeast from the Brewing Science Institute in Colorado Springs, and two kinds of malt from the Colorado Malting Company in Alamosa -- one of only a handful of craft maltsters in the United States,and one that hopes to grow up very quickly.
Last week, the company was awarded a $39,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture to help it come up with a plan to automate its malting facility.
CMC already runs five malting units 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. But operating them is very labor-intensive, so the grant will help reduce those costs, says Jason Cody, whose family has been growing barley in southwestern Colorado for three generations.
"It would allow us to handle our products more efficiency," he says, adding that the company has applied for another grant as well, and should hear about that one in July.
CMC primarily serves the craft-brewing industry in Colorado -- the big brewers like MillerCoors and Anheuser Busch do all of their own malting themselves -- but it can't come close to supplying the amount of malt that companies like New Belgium, Ska, Odell and Oskar Blues need on a regular basis for their year-round beers.
So many of the breweries only use CMC malts for special, small-batch projects, taproom specials or one-off beers like Centennial Pale Ale. But automation could start to change that -- and it's just the beginning of CMC's plans over the next few years.
Created seven years ago by the Cody family, CMC will malt 1.2 million pounds of barley in 2014, or roughly twice as much as it did last year. That is up from 55,000 pounds in 2009, just two years after the family decided to target Colorado brewers.
"People say local malting is a niche, but we like to say that the big conglomerates are the real niche because this is how malting used to be done, by family farms that were located near the breweries they were serving. So we are taking beer back to its roots," says Cody, who notes that the farm's motto is, "From the Field to the Glass."
And although they are busy, the Codys are also trying to help other farmers or business people who are interested in getting into the craft-malting industry as well. As such, they plan to start manufacturing some equipment to help them.
To build their company, the Codys created all of their own equipment from scratch, since there isn't any malting equipment being made in the United States, Cody says.
But the larger goal -- one that CMC is only just beginning to explore -- is to build a malting facility on the Front Range that could handle more than ten million pounds of malt per year. "We're hoping to establish something in the next two years," Cody says.
"It's advantageous for brewers right now from a marketing standpoint to use us because people want local ingredients in their beers and their whiskeys," he explains. But a large malting facility could bring the costs down enough so that it would be advantageous for those breweries to use Colorado malt from a financial standpoint as well.
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