By Meghan Howes, Contributing Writer for RadCraft
Based in Fort Collins, on the Colorado State University main campus, the Fermentation Science and Technology (FST) undergraduate program within the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition is home to many state-of-the-art fermentation and brewing equipment and labs including a relatively new malt quality testing lab. Katie Fromuth, the program’s Malt Quality Laboratory Director, oversees all aspects of the malt quality and fermentation quality labs.
Fromuth spends her time processing and testing malt samples submitted to the lab. Malt quality testing requires running samples through a thorough two-day testing regimen. The FST program added the malt lab in April of 2021. Given that the lab is so new, when she’s not processing all of the samples that land on her bench, Fromuth is actively engaged in business development and supply chain relationship building. “To start, we’re focusing on supporting the Colorado craft malt industry who have supported and encouraged this endeavor,” said Fromuth, “but our goal is to be the region’s craft malt testing center.”
The buzzword in the wine world – terroir – took its own sweet time to emerge in craft beer, but it has officially arrived. Fromuth is well aware of how regionality is queen in the craft beverage space, with increased attention given to grains grown as close to a maltster as possible, and beer brewed with malt made as close to the brewer as possible.
Every region will have environmental variations based on agronomics. “There are so many levers and dials that a maltster can work with depending on their starting material,” Fromuth says. “Different areas require different approaches to malting.” In the south, for instance, farmers deal with more moisture than in the Rocky Mountains, which will have an impact on the barley and therefore the malting process. “In being a regional malt testing center, we will focus on providing solutions to the craft maltsters working within the region’s unique strengths and challenges.”
Students in the four-year undergraduate program learn about the malting process and conduct malting labs during their coursework. They then have access to two working brewhouses: a federally TTB licensed 10 BBL production brewery (the Ramskeller Pub & Grub, located on campus), and two 50L research and teaching breweries (the Gifford Innovation Hub & Brew Kitchen) where they connect malting science to brewing processes and outcomes. As a result, many of the program’s alumni now work in the malting industry.
Understanding the life cycle of barley and how malt is produced is critical for anyone who wants to malt or brew professionally. “The maltster is the central figure in the whole ‘field to foam’ cycle,” says Fromuth. “We teach the whole supply chain.” Today we see the farmer adding malting to their operation more and more. This is true for two formidable operations in Colorado, Root Shoot Malting out of Loveland and Colorado Malting Company near Alamosa.
“Today’s brewers are having close conversations with their maltsters,” explains Fromuth “so it is important for us to facilitate those conversations in our curriculum and industry outreach.” The complement to Fromuth’s role as Lab Director, Jeff Biegert, the New Belgium Brewing endowed Head Brewmaster, brings his 20+ years of brewing experience to the program. “With our expertise, facilities, and capabilities we are well-positioned and excited to work with maltsters and brewers and assist in bridging the gap from malt to beer,” ensuring that the resulting solutions bear fruit for everyone involved.
Learn more about the CSU Malt Quality Testing Lab on their website.