For anyone who has seen our website or asked us why we started a malt-house in Hadley, MA you know our story. We liked to homebrew and support local agriculture so we started a malthouse. That is the story, but is it the whole story?
To tell the truth we were not avid homebrewers, just liked to make beer about once a month. We consider ourselves localvores but still buy bananas from Trader Joe’s when we want them. So why did we decide to build a malthouse? All I can really say is once the idea of starting a malthouse came into my mind; I just could not stop thinking about it. Malting was and still is what occupies my brain at least half of my waking hours.
It was 2 years ago that we were writing our business plan and hoping that someone would give us the money needed to build our business. During that time, I had become immersed in research about malting and growing malting barley and most of that research lead me into the past. I had found a librarian at UMASS that was willing to help me find old USDA farmer bulletins about barley and malting. These old articles helped me to trace varieties of barley that were grown in New England in the 1600′s. Around that time I was told by a historian in Hadley that she remembers hearing about a malthouse right down field from where we live. I loved hearing that but was reluctant to believe it.
I could not find much evidence of actual malthouses in New England except for Frank Jones in Portsmouth, NH. When I have time, I still do internet searches to try to find more evidence of malthouses in New England and low and behold last week I hit the jackpot. Through googlebooks I found a text from 1905 called The History of Hadley written by Sylvester Judd. In this book on page 66 is a paragraph that mentions 3 maltsters that lived in Hadley in the mid 1600′s. John Barnard and his son Francis and Andrew Warner. With these names I was able to do more research using online genealogy sites and old maps of Hadley. Sure enough Andrew Warner was documented as a maltster. It also looks as though his land was in the original meadow settled and parceled out in Hadley. This is the meadow our malt-house is perched a top and where we now grow our heirloom barley.
There is so much history available about Hadley. What was grown here, how beer was made and sold, how “hops grew wild in the intervales of the CT river”, and now even evidence of who malted those grains some 350 years ago. Right where we are doing it today.
While touring malthouses in the UK this summer, Christian and I were impressed by how each malthouse worked to preserve their history. Tuckers Maltings is a living museum and working malthouse. History about malting and its ties to agriculture were brought to life in humorous ways and many school children tour this facility each year as they are tought about their local history. Walking through Tuckers was like walking back through time 200 years. From the moment you enter through the door at Warminster Maltings you are greeted by old photos, books, and malting tools from hundreds of years before. Chris Garratt, their Head Maltster, confess that he constantly checks Ebay for any old malting books or items that may come up for auction so that he can add them to the collection. It is the former owner of Warminster, Dr. E.S Beaven, who in 1905, himself reached back into history to find the Scandanavian varieties Plumage and Archer which he then bred together to create Plumage Archer. This variety eventually became the grandmother of Marris Otter. The maltings we visited in Scotland were also deeply rooted and extremely proud of their history. If you are still reading this and in case you couldn’t tell, I could seriously go on for hours about this subject. It is fascinating stuff but it does make me wonder, are we doing enough to preserve our history? This kind of history? I know for me and others I have met, it is this kind of history that we are made by.
I would encourage anyone with a little time on their hands to search for references of maltsters, brewers, and/or malthouses in their town. If you find any evidence, I would really like to know about it. It would be so interesting to piece together the history of malting and brewing in America before it became so centralized.
As we look forward toward this new year let’s also continue to look back, for both are full of mystery, excitement, and beer.