“Each malthouse is unique in its own way” Malting and Operations Manager of the Briess Waterloo Malthouse, Ron Mihalko begins. “You have to understand your geographical location and how it influences the temperatures, moisture levels, and overall atmosphere of your malthouse.”
Ron joined Briess in 2010 and has over 21 years of experience in the brewing and malting industry. Prior to joining Briess, Ron held the role of Brewing Team Leader for the filtration and fermentation departments and worked as Asset Care Planner while managing brewing maintenance systems, capital projects, and maintenance teams for MillerCoors in Milwaukee, WI. He worked in brewing quality and operations departments for various brewing companies including Stroh’s, Pabst and Guinness UDV Diageo. He also has extensive experience in malting having previously worked for Cargill Malt.
At the Waterloo Malthouse, Ron lines up his weekly and monthly production schedules by looking at the malts that will perform the best in his malthouse based on the current temperatures inside and outside of the malthouse and the humidity levels throughout the plant. Ron explains,
“A lot of people don’t realize it, but there are numerous factors you can adjust and influence to produce your malts. When you understand your malthouse and the factors that influence it, you can operate efficiently. Some barley varieties don’t make sense to malt when your external temperatures are reaching over 80° with a high humidity point. Similarly, other barley varieties perform well in these conditions. Because malting is vary hands-on, you have to be constantly monitoring your grains, whether they are roasting in a drum or kiln drying.”
Ron’s Waterloo team manually checks the malts in the roasting drums and kilns by grinding the kernels to a powdery consistency and visually comparing the color to their targeted malt in conjunction with automated controls, moisture readings, NIR and computer set airflows and temp set points. With numerous years of experience, a trained maltster can simply see, taste, and smell a malt to match it to a desired recipe. With Briess’ extensive specialty malt portfolio of over 70 specialty malt flavors and styles, it is critical that Ron and his team are able to replicate every style of Briess malt to perfection.
Weather is not the only factor that is taken into consideration when developing a production schedule. To operate efficiently, Ron looks at the different barley varieties to determine the best fit for the desired malt to be produced that is being kilned or roasted in a given day.
Because of Briess’ smaller facilities and unique style of malting, our maltsters have the flexibility to rearrange their malting schedules to naturally work with their environment. This approach to malting truly defines what is meant by “handcrafted” malt, as opposed to more automated systems where there is little to no flexibility when it comes to malting schedules.
The malting process becomes a dance of sorts, where the experienced Maltster understands his malthouse and the factors that effect it. He learns to work with the natural environment, moving with the constant changes, and developing [dance] steps to handcraft his malt. He is keen to his malt’s behavior, actively monitoring it to see if it needs more or less moisture, heat and airflow to determine modification levels. When the Maltster works with his malt and his environment he can create a rich, flavorful specialty malt that will add the desired flavors to a brew.
Note from the Editor: This blog is the first in a series of “The Briess Maltsters”, a series that will explore the Briess Facilities and the Maltsters who handcraft Briess Specialty Malts.