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Admiral Maltings & Crisp Malt Barley Collaboration

Echoing the collaborative spirit that’s become a hallmark of the craft brewing industry, two maltsters separated by an ocean and a continent are embarking on a first-of-its-kind partnership. Crisp Malt, with its renowned floor maltings established in 1870 in Norfolk, England, and Admiral Maltings, an artisan maltster from California’s Bay Area in the United States, are undertaking an unprecedented international floor malting collaboration.

Sprouting Partnerships

The seeds of this transcontinental alliance were planted a decade ago when Admiral Maltings co-founders Ron Silberstein, Dave McLean, and Curtis Davenport first visited Crisp Malt’s facilities and one of their barley growers at Branthill Farm in Norfolk. As a longtime customer who cherished Crisp’s floor malted offerings during his previous tenure as a brewer, Silberstein noted he was especially enamored with the traditional techniques still employed at the historic English maltings.

“We spent half the day there being shown around. It was fantastic,” Silberstein recalls of the 2015 research trip. For the American craft maltsters, the visit provided an inspiring glimpse into an age-old floor malting process used for centuries before modern industrial methods primarily replaced it.

American craft maltsters at Crisp Malt HQ in Norfolk, England

A Crazy Idea Germinates

It wasn’t until the 2022 Craft Brewers Conference in Minneapolis, MN, that the idea to collaborate germinated. Silberstein, Crisp Malt Technical Director Dr. Dave Griggs, and others started chatting about how breweries frequently team up on collaboration brews. “What’s stopping maltsters from doing collaborations?” someone posed. Just like that, a crazy idea took shape.

“Why don’t we swap barleys and do this joint project where Admiral will malt UK barley, and we’ll malt US barley?” Griggs recounts. “Then we’ll get respected brewers in the respective countries to brew with it.”

After a brief false start in early 2023, a plan to launch the collaboration finally crystallized. In January 2024, Crisp sent Admiral a container of heritage Haná barley, a landrace variety with roots dating back to the 1850s Moravian Empire in what is now the Czech Republic. In return, Admiral will ship Butta 12, a unique variety developed by past plant breeder Dr. Lynn Gallagher at the University of California Davis (UC Davis), to be floor malted at Crisp’s historic facility. The second iteration of the collaboration will take place next year.

A craft brewing collaboration between Crisp Malt and Admiral Maltings in the USA.

Honoring Ancient Traditions

For the two maltsters, this first-ever international collaboration is about more than swapping unique grain stocks. It’s a celebration of the ancient art of floor malting- a craft connecting modern artisans to the earliest techniques for producing quality malts.

“This is focusing a spotlight on the renewal of a traditional method that people have passed by in favor of cheaper labor and less space,” says Silberstein. “It’s a celebration of floor malting, a celebration of variety, and their contributions to flavor in what we’re doing.”

By resurrecting heritage barley landraces like Haná and exploring their expression through a traditional floor malting regime, the collaboration taps into the grains’ rich history and provenance. It’s an opportunity to experience these varieties, initially manifested centuries ago.

Research Meets Tradition

While celebrating tradition lies at the heart of this collaboration, it also presents an opportunity to study the nuances that traditional floor malting can impart empirically.

As David Griggs explains, a floor malthouse’s gentle, low-airflow environment allows subtleties to be preserved that modern pneumatic malting may strip away. “You go into the floor boxes, it’s like a cathedral – you could hear a pin drop in there…there’s no airflow,” he describes. “I think we’re losing things in the big airflow plants we’re retaining in the floor malting.”

Prior analytical research done by Crisp Malt comparing their floor malts to pneumatically produced versions revealed distinct differences in the volatile organic compound profiles. “If you look at the mass spec fingerprint, there were peaks present in the floor malt which weren’t there, or were much reduced, in the pneumatic malt,” says Griggs.

While they didn’t analyze whether those specific compounds imparted flavor differences, Griggs posits “it doesn’t take too much of a leap of imagination” to connect those chemical distinctions to the malt flavor dissimilarities that brewers widely report between the floor and pneumatic malts.

What’s clear is that Crisp’s research exposed quantifiable variations resulting from each malting regime’s process. “We also showed a difference between varieties,” Griggs adds, underscoring how a barley’s specific genetics intersect with the malting house’s methodology to create unique sensory profiles.

By supplying both Admiral-malted and Crisp-malted versions of the same Haná barley variety, this collaboration provides a rare opportunity to explore those interplaying impacts of variety and process in a head-to-head comparison detached from other variables.

While the collaboration will provide an avenue for research, it seems the most compelling analysis may come from the subjective impressions of the brewers and drinkers experiencing these transatlantic malts side-by-side. As Griggs concludes, “there is a difference” – now it’s a matter of rendering it experientially through this symbolic grain swap.

Dr David Griggs, Technical Director at Crisp Malt

Cheers to Craftsmanship

Ultimately, however, this collaboration is a unified celebration by two traditional maltsters of the ancient techniques and heritage malting grains that have stood the test of time. By bringing these elements together across continents, they aim to highlight the art of floor malting while providing craft brewers with a singularly unique opportunity.

“It’s a fun project,” says Griggs, already looking forward to the beers that will showcase the fruits of their efforts. “Most brewers like a bit of something different to do.”

So raise a glass when these transatlantic malts start flowing into beers in the coming months as brewers get their hands on the first iteration of Admiral-malted Haná. It will be a toast to craftsmanship, tradition, and the unwavering appreciation for quality and heritage that keeps the ancient art of floor malting alive.

Stay tuned for the next installment in our collaboration blog series, which will provide insight into the recent malting of Haná at Admiral’s facility in Alameda, CA.

About the Author

Jesse Bussard is a writer and a marketing communications professional based in central Pennsylvania. Through their business, Cowpunch Creative, they collaborate with agricultural and craft food and beverage brands, adding the punch they need to stand out.

Find out more about Jesse Bussard here.

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