Growing a local beer, farm to glass

Zach Weakland is a co-founder of High Hops Brewery in Windsor, Colo., which takes the farm to glass mantra seriously. (Photo by Luke Runyon, Harvest Public Media)
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May 15, 2013 - 6:30am

The local food movement and craft brewing industry have each been booming for years. But the idea of creating a local craft beer is still something new. “Farm to glass" brewers are starting to take root using ingredients sourced from nearby fields.

How does a new craft brewer stand apart from the pack? A few have hitched their brewery onto the local food bandwagon, sourcing the ingredients that form beer’s DNA straight from the fields around them.

Last year, more than 400 breweries opened nationwide. It shouldn’t surprise the craft beer industry is growing at a tremendous rate. In some states, like Colorado, there are so many craft breweries they’re starting to blend together.

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Photo by Luke Runyon, Harvest Public Media

Kyle Carbaugh's Wiley Brewing Company borrows ideas from the local food movement, telling the story of how beer is made. Eventually he'd like to create a fully Colorado-grown glass of beer.

Kyle Carbaugh’s Wiley Brewing Company is half-finished. Right now it’s just bare floors, a framed bar, and four industrial size brew tanks in a former cinderblock factory in Greeley, Colo. The area is already home to numerous microbreweries – familiar names like New Belgium Brewing and Odell Brewing in nearby Fort Collins. So Carbaugh says it became very clear he needed to be different.

“At the end of the day, beer is an agricultural commodity through and through,” Carbaugh said. “There’s a huge thing going on with the local food movement and farmer’s markets and ‘know your farmer,’ that kind of thing. And the question came up to us, why isn’t anybody doing this?”

To answer Carbaugh’s question, breweries in the Pacific Northwest have perfected the art of a “farm to glass” beer. Few have sprouted elsewhere though. In southern Colorado farm country, where farmers are used to producing from the land, the idea is starting to take root.

Water, malt, hops, and yeast are the basic ingredients of beer. While breweries focus on the art of brewing, Jason Cody is perfecting the art of craft malt. Since 2008 Cody’s Colorado Malting Company has been malting barley and wheat from his own fields. He works with specialty grains too, like millet and quinoa. He then sells bags of malt to craft brewers throughout Colorado, like Kyle Carbaugh.

And business is booming.

Photo by Luke Runyon, Harvest Public Media

Jason Cody started the Colorado Malting Company in 2008 after spending most of his life growing barley and wheat outside Alamosa.

“The first full year we were in business we sold 20,000 pounds inside the state of Colorado,” Cody said. “And our projection for this year, which we’re right on target with, is about half a million.”

Even half a million pounds isn’t enough to satisfy brewery owners who want to create and sell a hyper local beer.

“There are only so many guys you can take care of. With brewers it’s repeat business,” Cody said. “So they brew a beer and then when it’s time to brew again they need more malt so they’ve got to come back and buy more malt. But then it’s hard to pick up new guys sometimes when you’re in that position, because what do you do?”

Steve Kurowski with the Colorado Brewers Guild says craft malting is just starting to take off, allowing breweries to source locally.

“There’s just so much beer being brewed now, and the movement to supply local hops and local grain is just getting started,” Kurowski said. That supply hasn’t caught up with the demand yet.

Kyle Carbaugh is still trying to navigate where his supplies will come from for his unfinished brewery in Greeley. His malt will be Colorado grown, but his hops will come from Washington. Eventually he hopes to pour a completely Colorado grown glass of beer.

“It’s really all about telling a story, right?,” Carbaugh said. “Through a product or through materials.”

Until his brewery opens, it’s a story Carbaugh will still be writing.



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