Malt: The Missing Link

A beer made with all Jersey ingredients was not achieved until last year. The advent of Jersey-made malt finally made it possible.

Last year, in a team effort led by Cape May Brewing, a long-sought goal was achieved: a beer in which all four key components (water, yeast, hops and malt) are Jersey grown, made or sourced. Called Three Plows (for the state seal), the IPA sold out, but should be available again in September.

In May, Tuckahoe Brewing repeated the feat with an ale called Rabbit Hole. That name salutes Rabbit Hill Farms in Shiloh, source of the malt—the grail of Jersey beer ingredients.

Jersey hops and yeast have been available for awhile, and water is no problem. But barley is negligible here. Brewers can buy malted barley elsewhere, but like grapes in wine, malt in beer is thought to exhibit terroir, often defined as “the taste of place” imparted by the soil.

Enter Hillary Bakker Barile of Rabbit Hill Farm. In 2015, she and her family decided to devote a small part of their potato and sod farm to growing barley for malt. They chose the age-old, laborious method of floor malting. A mass of seeds is soaked and drained, laid out on a barn floor, and repeatedly raked to evenly distribute the heat as the seeds begin to sprout. The barley is then kiln dried. The process turns starches into sugars that yeast will later convert to alcohol.

Only the highest-quality barley is suitable for making malt. “Most barley prefers a cool, dry climate, not the warm humidity of the mid-Atlantic region, which exposes the crop to higher disease and pest pressures as well,” says Bakker Barile. “We fully anticipate that we may not produce maltable barley every year.”

So far, so good. “The Rabbit Hill malt is one of the more unique pale malts we’ve ever brewed with,” says Tuckahoe brewer Amanda Cardinalli, who used it in Rabbit Hole. “It has a distinct bready and nutty characteristic that allows for a dominant malt presence, even in a relatively light and dry beer.”

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