Malt House Planned to Supply Long Island Craft Breweries

Brian Zimmerman discusses ZBH Malting in a Kickstarter video.
Brian Zimmerman discusses ZBH Malting in a Kickstarter video.

Long Island’s first malt house is being planned on the East End in order to supply malt to local craft breweries and distilleries, and if all goes well it will be up and running in time for July’s harvest.

The man planning the malt house—a facility where cereal grain is turned into malt—is Brian Zimmerman, who has had a long career working on farms or with farmers. He’s worked for Cornell Cooperative Extension as a farm technician in Yaphank, and for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resource Conservation Service, helping farmers with conservation plans and engineering.

For his new endeavor, named ZBH Malting, he’s contracted two East End farms to grow barley and other grains to supply the malt house. The grains are beneficial cover crops—that is, crops that hold the soil in place and add green material—which could prove more profitable for farmers than the cover crops they would otherwise plant, he says.

Between two farms, he has 5 acres of grain in the ground. Zimmerman asked Tom Romanski in Calverton to grow wheat and barley and Zilnicki Farms in Riverhead to grow hard red wheat. “It’s very good for malting, and it’s very good to bake with as well,” Zimmerman says of hard red wheat. Barley is another ideal grain for brewing, and he says its not often in the mix at Long Island farms.

Zimmerman explains that malt is derived from germinating grains, then stopping the germination at the right time. The grains are soaked in water to initiate germination and to get the enzymes working to break down the starches, making sugar, he says. When it gets to the point of peak enzymatic activity, that’s when it is halted.

The grains are then dried, made to be a little drier than they were before germination.

Grain that hasn’t been through the malting process won’t make beer. “You’re not going to get much of anything,” Zimmerman says. “It’s just going to be a starchy mess.”

The sugar derived from malt activates the yeast used in brewing. “The yeast has to use something to grow and divide and eat,” he says. The sugars and yeast create alcohol and carbon dioxide.

Zimmerman used the website Kickstarter to create a campaign to raise $40,000 in capital. The campaign has only received $1,590 in pledges with nine days to go, but Zimmerman is not concerned. He says he will get the necessary funds for the malting equipment another way—and the Kickstarter was successful in the sense that it generated interest and publicity for his idea.

He will buy used dairy equipment, and other other equipment, then modify it for malting. He plans to process 2,000 pounds of grain a week. He is on the hunt for a building, and says he intends to be located on the East End, near the farms.

“The equipment’s been designed; everything’s ready to go,” Zimmerman says. “We’re just looking for a place to put it.

Currently, the closest malt house is 250 miles away, he notes. A New York State law requires that breweries that wish to qualify as farm breweries must get 20% of their grain from a New York State source—and at least 80% starting in 2018—so Zimmerman is confidant his malt house will find customers in Long Island breweries and home brewing clubs.

The malt house, which is considered a food production facility, will have to be ready for inspection in June, so it can start processing grain as it is harvested in July, Zimmerman says.

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