Ignatius Briess picked quite the year to start malting barley in Czechoslovakia. It was 1876 and Alexander Graham Bell had just been awarded the patent for the telephone in the United States. That year eight million visitors to the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition witnessed innovations ranging from the typewriter to Heinz Ketchup. From 1860 to 1890, in fact, a record-setting 500,000 patents for new inventions were issued in the United States, leading then-Patent Office Commissioner Charles Duell to make his famous misquote, "Everything that can be invented has been invented" in 1889.
The age-old process of malting barley for beer seemed to stand in stark contrast to the industrialization of the Gilded Age.
But Ignatius Briess was a visionary who knew something about both the world's passion for beer and grain. He understood the need for a constant supply of high quality malt for beer. And, being a grain trader in Moravia, Czechoslovakia, he was also keenly aware of the opportunity that lay in the abundant barley fields of his country.
Like his counterparts in America who were designing light bulbs and motion pictures, Ignatius Briess jumped on the entrepreneurial bandwagon.
Building a reputation
"The finest barley is grown in Moravia, and particularly that of the 'Hanna Plain,'" an 1891 report on Austrian-Hungarian commerce noted. The first Moravian malthouse had sprouted up around 1860. By 1891, there were 100 malthouses in the region, 60 in Moravia alone.
The Briess malthouse was one. Ignatius Briess and his cousin Wilhelm Briess advertised their "Excellent Hanna Malz" for export, a claim confirmed by the 1891 report: "The very best reputation is attached to Hanna malt, 100 kilogrammes of which will bring from 3 to 5 florins more than any other malt.".
Ignatius's son Rudolf had joined the family business and helped it gain worldwide recognition as a reputable supplier of high quality malt. In 1894 Rudolf was aggressively expanding their export business. In time, Rudolf Briess's "Malzfabrik" became renowned worldwide, specializing in export to Germany, Belgium, the United States and Latin America.
A visionary like his father, Rudolf then added malted barley ingredients for baking to the product mix. Marketed as "Maltomonopol" and "Maltoferm", the malt extracts were produced in a brewhouse located next to the family's malthouse in Moravia.
Meanwhile, in a small rural Wisconsin town on the other side of the pond, a small group of businessmen had pooled their resources to build a malthouse. The Chilton Malting Company flipped the switch in 1901, providing local farmers a place to sell their barley plus jobs for men in the community.
New century, new digs
In Czechoslovakia, however, things weren't so tranquil. As the family-owned enterprise grew during the early part of the 20th Century, clouds of war and political and economic unrest threatened disruption. Third generation maltster Eric Briess had the foresight to immigrate to the United States in the 1930's and become involved in the domestic malting industry.
The Briess family's European malting operation succumbed to the devastation caused by World World II. Rudolph Briess had died in 1942 at the age of 73. But, from his office in New York City, Eric Briess kept the Briess family business alive by supplying export customers whose sources of malt had been cut off as a result of the war.
Seeking to grow business, Eric established a relationship with the Chilton Malting Company, acquiring its production capacity in the 1950s and implementing improvements to increase capacity and product mix.
The story of the K-Ball Roasters
Specialized drying equipment for the production of roasted malts was one of the first upgrades. Several K-Ball Roasters were brought over from the G.W. Barth Company of Germany, which marketed and sold them simply as "ball roasters".
So what's with the K-Ball name? The "K" stands for "kugel" which is German for "sphere" or ball". We can speculate that someone assigned the nickname of K-Ball to the roasters and the name stuck, but that's pure speculation. We're open to correction!
In the 1960s additional K-Ball Roasters were added, bringing to four the total number in operation. Churning out 600-pounds of roasted caramel malt at a time under the watchful eyes of an experienced malthouse crew, the K-Balls performed all roasting duties at the malthouse until the 1970s when drum roasters were installed. Additional drum roasters were added to the Briess inventory in the 1990s, sending the K-Balls into retirement.
The story continues
Existing equipment was also upgraded, and processes made more efficient. In time, the output of the facility tripled and export and domestic shipments continued to grow.
In 1971 when Eric Briess died, his son and fourth generation maltster/brewer Roger Briess took over the family business. Trained at the famed Weihenstephan University in Germany, Roger continued not only the family tradition of malting but also of seeing into the future. He recognized the potential of the young American Craft Beer movement and had those first drum roasters installed in the malthouse.
Then, positioned for growth, in 1978 the Chilton Malting Company became Briess Malting Company. Briess Malting Company became the leading malt supplier to the American Craft Beer Industry by rolling out innovative products and services for the small microbreweries. Briess was the first malting company to offer malt in small quantities, packaging specialty and base malts alike in 50 pound bags.
In 1980 a mill was added to provide preground malts to microbreweries that had no milling capabilities. The Briess technical staff worked individually with new breweries, formulating beer recipes and pilot brewing recipes at its Chilton location. The list of specialty malts grew by the year to help satisfy the expanding palate of creative craft brewers. A silo purchase program was introduced to help finance the installation of silos at growing microbreweries.
Briess Malting Company was establishing a unique and aggressive specialty malt business when Roger Briess, like his grandfather Rudolph Briess, looked to the baking industry for growth. The result was the re-introduction of Maltoferm® malt extracts for baking in the 1980s. The move propelled the company forward, making it North America's only vertically integrated malting company.
Roger saw additional potential in the food industry, plus the need to make brewers flakes and other grain ingredients for brewing. In 1990 the company commissioned a new plant named after its signature product line, Insta Grains®. In 1995 malting capacity more than doubled when a second malthouse was purchased in Waterloo, Wisconsin. And in 1997 a roasting operation was built there to expand specialty malt production.
Monica Briess, wife of Roger, took over the family business after the unexpected death of Roger on April 25, 2001. In 2002, Monica, sons Craig and Colin, and the entire company celebrated the commissioning of a state-of-the-art extract plant in Chilton. The new, on-site plant was a dream of Roger's. Ground had been broken several years earlier for the modern plant that houses a fully automated 500-barrel brewhouse for the production of brewer's grade and food grade malt extracts.
To better reflect its position as North America's leading supplier of specialty malts to the brewing industry, and innovative supplier of specialty ingredients for foods and beverages, the company name was expanded to Briess Malt & Ingredients Company, a division of Briess Industries, Inc., in 2003.
In 2005 a dryer was commissioned in the extract plant, giving the company total control, under one roof, of the production, extraction and drying of malt extracts and natural sweeteners.
In 2006 the company celebrated 130 years of malting tradition.
The Briess family malting tradition continues today. One of the few family-owned malting companies remaining in the world, Briess is North America's leading producer of specialty malts. Melding sensory with modern quality control and testing practices, Briess handcrafts more styles of unique and full, rich-flavored specialty malts than any malting company in the world, plus a complete line of brewer's grade malt extracts, brewers flakes and adjuncts for brewing beer.
Carrying on the Briess family tradition that Ignatius Briess ignited more than 130 years ago, Briess Malt & Ingredients Company remains focused on providing quality products, impeccable service and innovative solutions to the American Craft Brewing Industry.
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