Colorado Malting Company: Bringing the Colorado Brand to the World
Photography: Jeffrey Kintner Words: Alex Riegelmann
It’s a sunny Spring day in the San Luis Valley. Driving down the long, flat roads near Alamosa, one can’t help but pass by dozens of farms and acres upon acres of planted crops bursting out of the sun-drenched earth. Down a turn into one of these wide homestead driveways is a cluster of barns and sheds next to a small, ranch-style house. Not a stone’s throw away are wide fields of green growing barley, and in the distance, the Rockies
of Northern New Mexico.
This unassuming farmstead is Colorado Malting Company (CMC), the only local Maltster
in Colorado. The rye, wheat, and barley grown here is malted right on-site in an old dairy barn and shipped out to distilleries and breweries all over Colorado and beyond. Customers include familiar Colorado companies like New Belgium Brewing, Laws Whiskey House, AC Golden Brewing, and Fieldhouse Brewing. Colorado Malting Company has even bigger plans, too: Internationally, CMC malt has reached the European Union, South Korea, Japan, and more.
They’re not unique for their location, nor their size. And in all fairness, several bearded men growing barley for distillery and brewing is not terribly unordinary. What’s extraordinary about Colorado Malting Company is they are building a brand that’s bigger than themselves.
The First 100% Craft Maltser in the US
Malting grain is the process of germinating and then drying grains to prepare them
for fermentation into alcohol. The malted grain is then shipped to alcoholic beverage manufacturers to be processed into the final product. Usually, this process is done in a special facility separate from the farms where the grain originates. What makes Colorado Malting Company unique is that they have invented a totally on-site process for malting grain immediately after harvest. This is so unheard of that the Cody family, the owners and operators of CMC, have had to invent their own equipment to do it.
Colorado Malting Company is the first 100% local maltster in the United States—meaning, they are the only one that grows all of its own product and malts it on-site. This wasn’t just a business decision, but a moral one. “We believe it’s our transparency [that] will sell our product in the long term,” said Joshua Cody, founder of the current version of Colorado Malting Company. “People work with us because of our story. They look at us and they see more than just an industrial [agriculture] business model.”
Their results are remarkable. The harvested grain goes into a special holding tank where it soaks in water (“steeping”) and germinates. Afterwards, still in the same tank, the grain is heated to 185°F to totally dry it out. Then it rapidly cools off, assisted by a repurposed vehicle radiator which creates a “geothermal loop.” Using this machine system, the Codys produce around 25,000 pounds of malted grain every single week. All biological byproducts from this process are sold to local farmers to be eaten by their pigs and cows. Thus, from farm to finished product, there is almost no transport required. Colorado Malting Company is completely self-supplying and self-sustaining.
A Frontier Family
The Cody family has farmed in Alamosa since the 1930s, when Ray “Pappy” Cody—the great-grandfather of the current owner, Jason Cody—picked up his family and moved to Colorado from Oklahoma. After the prohibition era, Bob Cody, Jason’s grandfather, grew Coors barley for the famous Golden brewing giant, and this sustained their farm for many years. Along the way, Wayne Cody, Jason’s father, took over the farm, and they gained some dairy cows, as well as they producing quality barley and milk for Colorado markets.
But in the 1990s, things took a downward turn. “We had to refinance our land just to make it as farmers,” Wayne described, looking back on that difficult time. In 1994, he was forced to sell the dairy cows and decided to dedicate the entire farm to selling Coors barley. “It would blow your mind how much family farming is struggling,” Wayne added. “Never, ever take for granted where your food comes from.”
Selling Coors barley gave the Codys enough profit to survive, but farming in this way was unsustainable in the long run. “Farmers are victims of industrialization, because Prohibition destroyed American malting in the 1930s,” said Joshua. “When it was over, malting was basically controlled by a few big companies.”
It wasn’t until 2006 that the Cody family saw a novel opportunity to change their farm—and their family’s legacy—for the better. Two new breweries, Three Barrel Brewing Company and San Luis Valley Brewing Company, had just opened in in the San Luis Valley. Both were just a short drive away from the Cody farm—so they approached these breweries with an idea: create locally-made beer with locally-grown malt. With this idea, the future of Colorado Malting Company was born.
Making Colorado a Brand
There were still serious obstacles to Colorado Malting’s vision. The malting market was already “full”—most of the malt produced in the United States was (and still is) controlled by mega-distributors serving major beverage producers like Anheuser-Busch InBev. This left CMC with only one viable option—connect with and sell to craft distilleries and breweries. Their timing turned out to be perfect: the craft beverage ‘boom’ in Colorado gave them a loyal customer base that continues to grow as more Colorado breweries took a liking to the idea of sourcing locally. In less than ten years, CMC had connections with brewers and distillers not only in Colorado, but in a growing national and international market.
Encouraged by their rapid success, the Cody family kept innovating. In 2016, Joshua went on a tour of Scandinavia and Finland, where he met the owners and operators of Viking Malt, a European malt manufacturer and distributor from Lahti, Finland. Together, they are bringing Colorado malt to European brewers and distillers, and Finnish beverage recipes to America. Careful consultation and sampling led Viking Malt to offer three varieties: Colorado Honig, which, as the name suggests (“Honig” is German for “honey”), has a pleasant, pleasant, honey and toffee flavor. Colorado Crystal 10°L, with a caramel and roasted malty flavor. And finally, there’s Colorado Pale Base Malt, which is a blend of both nutty and sweet. As Joshua described, this is, “Classic Colorado pale beer flavor, unique to grains from the semi-arid high farmlands of Colorado.”
Colorado is literally being tasted all over the world. The Codys’ vision for Colorado Malting Company is less about sales, and more about image. Just as the label of “German” has an implicit quality when applied to beer, Joshua wants a similar connotation to accompany “Coloradan” products. Many state breweries and distilleries feel exactly the same way.
“You should be able to get off a plane at Denver International Airport and taste something unique to Colorado,” Joshua explained. “Agriculture is usually disconnected from its destination,” says Joshua. “That’s changing. While [farm-to-table] is a fragile model, it’s our story. When people drink beer or whiskey, I want them to think, ‘Where did this come from? Who made it?’ That’s a connection we want to make.”
His sentiment isn’t far-fetched, either. Locally-sourced producers like Laws Whiskey House and Wynkoop Brewing are located around Denver, a city brimming with new beverage start-ups in the past ten years. “We consider the Codys and Colorado Malting as part of our extended family here at Laws,” said Alan Laws of Laws Whiskey. “The grains and malts they produce are integral to the flavor of our distinctive whiskies. Our whiskey is profoundly influenced by where and how the small grains are grown, the unique local variety, and the people that malt them; true Colorado terroir. A case in point, our award winning Secale Straight rye whiskey made from heirloom S-L-V rye and rye malt is distinctive and bold; just like the Codys themselves.”
In this same spirit, Colorado Malting Company holds an event every summer called “Gerste Gemütlichkeit” which, in German, roughly means “Barley Joy” (there’s no literal translation). Per Cody family tradition—they’re ethnic Germans—this is an event for people to celebrate the bounty of the San Luis Valley just as the crops are at their highest in late August. They use a converted shipping container as a tasting room, where they set up taps and a bar. Event attendees enjoy beer, whiskey, and other beverages produced using the barley growing barely ten feet away. The event is August 12th in 2017.
“This has been a learning experience for us, but I can’t imagine doing anything differently,” Joshua described. “Colorado is our home, and is important to us. We couldn’t be [what we are] without the relationships we’ve built in this state.”
It’s clear when walking around their grain silos, parked tractors, and dirt paths that this family means what they say. They have all the modern equipment of a mechanized farm, but it’s just them—there’s no corporate-looking office or gigantic automated processing facility here. It’s just the Cody family and their handful of employees who make all of this happen. Their malting lab is in their grandmother’s old kitchen in the original homestead on the property, and their malthouse is in the original dairy barn where their cows once lived. They test and develop every product themselves.
It doesn’t get more “local” than this. And that’s just how they like it.
Originally published on Colorado Collective website