In its simplest form, beer is essentially made up of four ingredients—water, yeast, hops and malt. While many breweries take pride in using the most local of ingredients to make craft beer, until recently, almost all malts used in local craft beers were sourced from outside the Mid-Atlantic region. Enter Deer Creek Malthouse, the first commercial malthouse in Pennsylvania since before Prohibition.
Founded in 2012 by Scott Welsh, Josh Oliver and Mark Brault, Deer Creek is committed to supplying local craft brewers and distillers with handcrafted, sustainably farmed, traditional floor-malted products.
The malting process entails many steps. In simple terms, Mark explains, “First, we need to clean the grains to remove debris like dirt and rocks. Then it enters the steep tank for about a day and a half to get rehydrated and start the germination process. Next, we spread it on the floor in the temperature- and humidity-controlled germination room. It stays there for about four days and we turn it by hand with rakes or shovels every six to eight hours.”
He continues, “Once it is suitable for brewing, we have to dry it down in order to preserve the enzymes and develop color and additional desirable flavors. We do that through drying and curing in the kiln.”
The opening and operation of the malthouse clearly has been a labor of love for the trio. They renovated a 150-year-old barn located at Wynnorr Farm in Glen Mills and turned it into a malting operation. Because most malthouses work on a larger scale, they had to develop or adapt existing equipment to fit their small-batch malt production needs. For example, their kiln is a recycled shipping container that has been lined with Pennsylvania hardwood and a stainless false bottom so that air can circulate up through the grain.
Deer Creek leases about 63 acres of land on the farm to grow their grains, mostly barley. They also contract with several local farms to provide products. In alignment with their “keeping it local” philosophy, all of the grain used to support their production is grown on the farm or within 50 miles of their malthouse.
Deer Creek has also partnered with Penn State University in growing and studying experimental grains. Recently they hosted Penn State Professor of Agronomy Greg Roth for a field day. He explained to participants the challenges of growing high-quality malting barley in Pennsylvania and how to select better-suited varieties that are important for craft beer.
So, where can you taste Deer Creek malts in local craft beer? Recently brewed beers that use Deer Creek malts include Victory Brewing Company’s Pennsylvania Dutch IPA, Free Will Brewing Company’s DC Saison and Vault Brewing’s Altbier. Other local breweries that have used Deer Creek malts include Troegs, Lancaster Brewing Company, Sly Fox and Harrisburg newcomer Zero Day.
- Top and bottom photos: Deer Creek Malthouse
- Other photos: Ronna Dewey