Craft Beer Pays My Bills: The Malt Makers

How Valley Malt is bringing grain growing back to New England.

Valley Malt is bringing local grains back to New England's craft beer.

Photo by Mark Fleming

Andrea and Christian Stanley, Valley Malt.

Christian Stanley was an avid home brewer looking to start his own operation — one that would produce suds made only from locally grown ingredients. The problem? An utter lack of independent malt houses on the East Coast. (Most breweries in the area source their malt from Canada or Europe.)

Sensing an opportunity, he and his wife, Andrea, dove into the malting business, and soon their company, Valley Malt, was supplying local breweries like Cambridge Brewing Company, Wormtown Brewery in Worcester, and Mystic Brewery in Chelsea. These days, the Stanleys process about 4 tons of malt per week.

Malt production is a labor-intensive process. “It’s easy to do. It’s just not easy to do well,” Andrea says. Working out of an old barn not far from their Hadley home, the pair dries and toasts barley, wheat, rye, and spelt grains in a kiln built by Christian, who is also an engineer. They grow some of the grain themselves (they’ll plant 40 acres of their own crops this season); the rest is sourced from farms in New England and New York. Then the Stanleys hone the malt down to each brewer’s specifications. As their business expands, they plan to continue sourcing more local grains — which means finding more local growers. “We’re not just bringing the malt house back,” Andrea says. “We’re bringing grain growing back.”