by Ryan Hamilton, Michigan Barley / MSU Extension
- How did you become involved in craft malt?
I answered a mysteriously vague post on CraigsList that was seeking someone to help out in a food-grade processing facility serving the local craft brewing industry. I was offered the position and split my time between the malt house, as an assistant brewer down the road, and pursuing a degree in brewing. It wasn’t long before I found myself captivated by malting barley and the rest is history!
- Explain briefly your current position/role in the industry.
As a member of the Michigan State University Barley Research Team, I specialize in outreach and communications with farmers, maltsters, craft food and beverage makers, and researchers. Equity and sustainability in the barley industry in our region is my chief concern.
- What contribution have you made to craft malt and/or barley that is most meaningful to you?
Building friendships with farmers is easily the most meaningful and gratifying result of my (nearly) seven years working with craft malt and barley. I certainly hope I’ve contributed something to them, because farmers’ contributions are, in my opinion, beyond measure.
- How did you feel when you found out you would be this year’s recipient of the Guild’s Sole of Malt Award?
Overwhelmed. The craft malting community has been a home to me from the beginning, and I’ve always felt welcome, valued, and appreciated. That being said, to be honored with the Sole of Malt Award is nothing short of amazing!
- Who are/were some of the inspirations that have helped you get to where you are in your career today?
Ashley McFarland, Barley Czarina Emerita of the Great Lakes Region, has been instrumental to the growth of barley and malting in Michigan in the craft era and her influence cannot be overstated. I would not be typing this right now, were it not for her selfless and innumerable contributions to barley research and craft malting.
- In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges craft malt faces?
Putting aside the nuances of regional variations in agronomy and economics, I think the biggest challenge to craft malt lies in convincing others to reassess how they relate to the land, to agriculture, and to their community. It’s easy to consume a product without thinking about the value chains that surround that product. Alone, we can easily feel overwhelmed when thinking about the inequity in modern agriculture, but it becomes less difficult when we engage in dialog with others. The challenge isn’t how to get brewers and distillers to buy more craft malt, it’s how to reframe our individual roles as consumers to promote equity.
- How do you personally promote craft malt?
When I speak with folks about craft malt, I speak about relationships. When we feel more connected to others, things like bread and beer take on greater meaning than just physical sustenance. Beer and bread sustain the body, but the relationships that are formed through Craft sustain the soul.
- If you could share anything about craft malt with beer drinkers, what would it be?
Sharing a pint and conversation with a barley grower, a maltster, and a brewer is one of the most fascinating and rewarding things you can do. I promise.
- What’s your favorite malt style and why?
My favorite malt styles to make are dark, high-dried kilned malts beginning in the vicinity of Dark Munich and progressing up the scales of color and flavor intensity. Developing unique flavors in the malting process that will directly translate to the sensory experience of craft food and beverage consumers is thrilling!
- Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Thank you, Jesse, for the opportunity to share my ramblings. I feel immensely privileged to be a part of a community that is so welcoming, inclusive, and inspiring.