I have always wondered why the Northwest has become such a hub for breweries and micro beers. Everyone has a different answer, from the naturally pure water available to us, to the care we take in choosing our food and grain. The truth though might be simpler than that.
Hidden within a maze of containers and factories in the Port of Vancouver, the Great Western Malting Company has been providing malt grains to brewers since 1934
(the year before prohibition ended). Over the decades, Great Western has grown from a local provider to one of the world's biggest, and thanks to a partnership through the United Malt Holdings, they carry partnerships in Canada, Australia, and the UK, making them part of the 4th largest malt supplier in the world.
For those that may not follow the world of beer, Great Western provides germinated malt to brewers. Germination is the process of increasing the water content of grain, then heating it. Repeating the process changes the type of malt, and the type of malt changes the color, flavor, and look of the malt. Brewers can then choose the type of malt they like, and when combined with varying levels of hops, new styles of beer emerge.
Last week I lucked into a tour of the facility with Director of North American & Business Development Jay Hamacheck and Plant Manager John Cuti.
“I have seen our business and focus grow from trying load malt into a customer's pickup every couple of weeks to being the focus and passion of this plant,” says Hamacheck. “Those same customers that took a pickup load every couple of weeks now take multiple bulk truck loads of malt each week.”
And grow it has. With 85 employees, 27 different SKUs, producing 125,000 metric tons of malt per year, the plant sends its malt via freighter to Asia, train throughout North America, and in some cases, pickup truck. One of the things that separates Great Western and helps make the Northwest some micro brew friendly is that Great Western is willing to experiment on new malts for brewers.
“We can hit the niche markets, we can do some pretty weird stuff,” says Cuti. “We can do stuff that is economically possible and gives the brewer a lot of options.”