Written by Jennifer Fitzgerald | Photos by Anthony Harden
With a major expansion currently under way to meet the steadily-growing demand for their artisan product, let’s pay another visit to Asheville’s Riverbend Malt House.
Editor’s Note: In the March 2016 issue of Capital at Play we published “Malt on a Mission,” a profile of Brent Manning and Brian Simpson, who had started Riverbend Malt House in 2010 as the only craft malt manufacturer in the Southeast—and at a time when most craft brewers were sourcing their malt from Canada, the Pacific Northwest, or Europe. Located on Pond Road near the Western Carolina Farmers Market in West Asheville, Riverbend had rapidly grown to the point that the two owners were already mulling over a significant expansion far sooner than they had anticipated.
For the first in what we intend on being an ongoing series devoted to “updating the files,” so to speak, on past Capital at Play profilees, we decided to revisit our original Riverbend story, written by Jennifer Fitzgerald, and report on how things stand now, in 2018, with the successful company.
Brent Manning and Brian Simpson took a leap of faith when they started their business, Riverbend Malt House, in October of 2010.
Their goal had always been to produce locally farmed artisan malts for local brewers, while lessening the impact on the earth. But they had much to learn about the craft and how to connect the local farmer and brewer. “We knew that if we didn’t take a risk, because of the nature of the growing season, it was going to be 18 months before we could work with North Carolina grain,” Brent explained, speaking to Capital at Play in 2016. “As luck would have it, by the spring of 2011, we had a strong business plan and we signed a lease on 2000 square feet.”
Added Brian, “This whole malt renaissance has re-connected brewers to the agriculture side of their business. Until we came into play, brewers just made phone calls and the malt showed up at their door. They didn’t know where it came from. We are in a position now with craft beer that there are unique opportunities showing up all over the place and we just have to be one of them. Getting good grain and getting our farmers into our program has been an interesting side to the business that we didn’t know anything about.”
Brent and Brian would go straight to the farmers and negotiate a contract price prior to planting in October. They also did a lot of extra work to make sure the farmers had good seed to start with and good growing conditions, and their farmers found that the grain worked well with crop rotation in putting nutrients back into the soil.
And for their brewers, Riverbend could bring a unique flavor profile. Riverbend’s process was almost like craft brewing—they were just craft malting. They brought little nuances to the process to contribute to the flavor of their malt, similar to the brew process. Plus, with the malt locally produced and regionally sourced, it offered the brewers an opportunity to cut their own unique footprints, the high quality of the malt providing them a chance to use a nice ingredient in the beer, and also promote the locally made malt in their marketing plans to sell more beer.
The full article continues below. Click to open in fullscreen…