2021 has begun as a breakout year for Gold Rush Malt, a small craft malthouse in downtown Baker City, Oregon. The modest maltster received gold medals in both Malt Cup categories and took home the traveling Malt Cup from the Craft Malt Conference in February. Tom Hutchinson, owner and founder of Gold Rush, is a one-man base-malting operation that is making a significant impact on the Oregon beer and craft malt communities at large.
Tom grew up in Northeastern Oregon and discovered the beauty of Baker City when visiting for ski trips. When it came time to quit his IT job in education, this Northeastern Oregon community wasn’t too small or too big; it was just right in size and perfect for a craft malting operation. “It is a great location because Baker City has earned a reputation as a craft beverage destination, and my important customers are therefore right here,” Hutchinson says.
One of those customers is the one-and-only Barley Brown’s Beer, a beercation destination and one of the decorated craft breweries in the United States. Barley Brown’s has received much notoriety for their fridge staple, Pallet Jack IPA™. Gold Rush’s gold medal-winning Pilsen malt is part of the grain bill in each batch of Pallet Jack. “Tyler Brown, [the owner of Barley Brown’s] has been very supportive and is a key customer,” Hutchinson says. “Besides, they are only ten blocks away, so I deliver pallets of malt with the forklift.”
Hutchinson comes from a farming background, serving him well in the craft malt space. “I understood growing grain and ‘spoke the language’, so craft malt seemed a natural fit” over the distillery that he had in mind but ruled out because it was too labor-intensive for just him. “Unlike most malthouses out here in the west, we are tiny,” he explains, citing the Gold Rush’s small but mighty 5000 pound batches. “It’s small enough I can take care of the production by myself. I am happy not trying to grow any bigger.”
On top of professional autonomy, Hutchinson was moved by “the allure of being in the ground floor of a new movement.” Since his start in 2016, the craft malt space has flourished, and the commitment to terroir and sustainable supply chains only becomes more important to brewers and distillers— especially in tight-knit agriculture communities like Northeastern Oregon.
Almost all of Gold Rush Malt’s current customers are located within 100 miles of the malthouse in Baker City in which Hutchinson self distributes. “We have a customer relationship with every craft brewery here in Northeast Oregon,” he says, reinforcing his mission to give local producers more value for the crops they grow and keep that value in the Oregon economy.
Gold Rush primarily produces two base malts, the Malt Cup-winning Pilsen and a Pale Malt. The grains used to create these winning malts are Canadian barley varieties bred specifically for brewing beer and sourced from local family farms in the three high valleys of Northeast Oregon.