There is a sort of alchemy that goes into brewing and distilling—grain, water, yeast and time yield something beautiful and delicious.
Down in Alamosa, brothers Josh and Jason Cody of Colorado Malting Company (CMC) have spent the last decade helping Colorado brewers and distillers attain ideal alcoholic alchemies with farm-grown grains and hand-tended malts. Colorado staples like Spirit Hound Distillers, A.D. Laws, Coors and New Belgium have harnessed CMC malts to produce libations past and present.
Malting is at the center of brewing and distilling. Fermentation occurs when yeast consumes sugars, converting to both carbon dioxide and alcohol. Malting harnesses the natural enzymes in grains to help that process.
Cereal grains are packed with starch, which the seed uses as fuel to sprout and grow. When the outer layer of the grain is exposed to water, a chemical process kicks off that feeds the dormant embryo, giving the plant what it needs to grow past the top layer of soil.
Malting is a way to harness that natural process, soaking the seeds and dehydrating through heat to trap those enzymes in a dormant state, Josh explains.
“Those enzymes are ready to go back to work and then you have a very durable product that can be shipped and stored,” he adds.
The Codys grow a few hundred acres of grain on their family farm, including varieties of barley, wheat, rye and millet. Everything is malted on land that’s been homesteaded for 90 years.
The Codys were dairy farmers until 1995, when growing fields of barley for Coors became the farm’s primary source of income. By 2004, the farm was struggling with debt and the Codys were considering selling. But their grandmother suggested converting to a malting business ahead of the surge in craft breweries. Malting equipment at the time was designed for massive operations, scaled to meet the demands of companies like Coors or Budweiser, so the Codys had to develop their own.
“It was born out of necessity,” Josh says. “We engineered a lot of technology that other maltsters now use around the country.”
When CMC started, the craft malt world was just a handful of companies. Now it numbers in the hundreds, with competition like Proximity Malt setting up shop not far from the Codys’ farm. With business changing and the market evolving, Jason said they’ve shifted more to malting grains for distilleries than breweries in the past half dozen years.
“We’re at our maximum production capacity right now, bar none,” Jason says. “Not all of it, but most of it goes to distilleries.”
The maltsters haven’t given up their beer-soaked roots though, he says. Most malting companies keep a brewing system on hand to test their malts, the Codys just take it one step further. Five years ago the Codys launched Colorado Farm Brewery, where they “pioneer new malts” from their fields.
“A lot of our smoked malt catalog came about after tasting the beers Josh made with it,” Jason says. “It’s cool to be able to taste our flavors real time instead of depending on our customers for feedback.”
Ingenuity and efficiency are necessary for both the farm and the brewery, the brothers explain. Making beer is a very water-intensive process, while the San Luis Valley has some of the lowest precipitation in the state. Josh worked with the state of Colorado to develop a recycling program for the brewery’s wastewater, minimizing the impact on water usage as much as possible.
“We need irrigation water all the time,” Jason says. “To be able to take the grain out of the field, make a beer with it, then put the wastewater back on the crops is pretty rad.”
The Codys know that both CMC and the brewery will need to expand to meet demands from customers, but Jason insists they want to keep the family feel and continue to stay away from normal commercial growth models.
“We want our business to be in harmony here,” he says. “We’ll grow with the companies we work with, but we don’t want to turn this into the next thing available in every liquor store. We want people to have to seek us out, come find us and experience what we are.”