Barley Five Malt House
Barley Five Malt House

COLUMBUS GROVE — According to the Ohio Craft Brewers Association, there are 254 breweries creating craft beer in Ohio, including at least 61 new operations launched in 2017. In 2016, these businesses collectively brewed 1,373,041 barrels of craft beer, which had an estimated economic impact of $2.67 billion dollars, and helped to support over 15,000 workers in Ohio.

As craft brewing continues to expand and grow in popularity, those who seek to supply this industry with the high quality ingredients that it demands have taken notice. “Five years ago, I put up some hops plants,” says Roger Recker, a well-known local farmer and one of the founders of Barley Five Malt House, a new business now operating in Columbus Grove. “I went to a couple of hops meetings. Then, they started getting into barley, so I brought my brother-in-law, Ken, to a hops and barley meeting in Wooster, and he said, ‘Let’s go for it.’”

“Yeah, I kind of quit my job of 33 years to get into this business,” Ken adds. In addition to farming, he had previously worked in plastics in Findlay.

“Now, they are ‘Maltsters,’” says Cory Maag, another principle in the operation, “That means they take the raw product of barley and modify to the point where it’s considered malt.” This process, according to Ken, takes a week to ten days, depending on the type of malt that is required by the brewer. Once malted, the product can be stored for upwards of a year or longer.

Both of the Maag’s and Recker’s primarily grow wheat, corn and beans. Entering the barley business was seen as a way to further diversify their farming operations. Last year they planted approximately 55-60 acres, according to Ken. This year, they expect to do about the same.

“There’s a little more management to it,” Ken adds. “Due to the simple fact that it’s for human consumption, and not feed barley. My dad said when he was a young kid, they used to grow barley as a feed supplement for their livestock.”

“This is different,” Cory adds. “Malting barley is different than feed barley in that feed barley is protein rich, whereas malting barley is carbohydrate rich. Because the purpose of the barley is to get the fermentable sugars out of it.”

“And, so the way you raise it is different as well,” Cory continues. “Where you have with wheat and similar crops, you add lots of nitrogen to the plants. This isn’t the same way. You put too much nitrogen, and you end up with barley with protein that’s too high. So this is a bit of risk, putting that out. Considering that malting barley is not something that’s commonly grown in Ohio, there’s a learning curve to it.”

In addition to attending meetings in the area on growing barley, Ken and Roger attended a class in New York in order to better learn the process. The seed comes from Cornell University, which is trialing different seed types in that state. This seed was chosen for its winter hardiness and because it was bred specifically for growing barley intended for brewing.

“Most of the malt is coming out of Europe right now,” says Ken. “There’s a place up in Wisconsin that gets it shipped-in, and they act as a wholesaler.” Given the importance that the craft brewing industry places on high quality, locally grown ingredients, Barley Five Malt House expects to serve craft breweries in northwest Ohio. They might extend their sales efforts to the Columbus area if necessary.

“Up in Cleveland, they have ‘locally malted,’ not ‘locally grown,’ necessarily,” says Cory. “Now we’ve got a locally grown and locally malted product. We feel that this will be a pretty marketable product to small breweries.”

Brewers interested in knowing more about Barley Five Malt House and their product can visit their website: www.barleyfivemalthouse.com. They can also be reached by calling 419-890-1416, or by emailing them at: teambarley@barleyfivemalthouse.com.