By Eric Peterson | Dec 01, 2016
Malt products for brewing
Industry: Brewing & Beverage
The Cody family has been growing barley in the San Luis Valley for generations. Formerly farming for Coors, they've gone their own way to supply Colorado's craft brewers and are seeing big growth in specialty malts.
Jason Cody's late grandfather (Bob) and father (Wayne) grew barley for Coors in southwestern Colorado for about 50 years before the business plan changed in the 2000s. They stopped growing Coors' proprietary barley varieties and took to the open market for other strains of grain they could market to smaller breweries.
"We just started thinking outside of the box," says Jason, Colorado Malting Company's president. "We thought we could add some value." And the shoe fits: "We're all big German guys who like to drink beer."
Jason says Dave Thomas, a former Coors employee, was his malting mentor. "He took me under his wing," Jason says.
Colorado Malting Company got its first malthouse up and running with "a lot of R&D, a lot of research, and just some good old farmer ingenuity." The company grows its grain exclusively on Wayne's farms, and Wayne is the majority owner.
The San Luis Valley Brewing company in downtown Alamosa was the first customer. The company started out selling 400 pounds a week. Wynkoop called on the third day and wanted 40,000 pounds. "We said, 'We'll tell you when we get there,’" says Jason.
More than seven years later, the operation is there -- and then some. The company is now shipping more than 1 million pounds of grain a year, typically 25,000 to 30,000 pounds a week to some of Colorado's largest craft brewers, including Ska and Avery, and nearby Three Barrel Brewing in Del Norte was the first customer in 2009 and now uses exclusively Colorado Malting malts in all of its varieties.
The company also supplies several of the state's distilleries. Denver's Laws Whiskey House is the largest customer by volume. "Every month, we send them five pallets," says Jason.
Colorado Malting Company now malts numerous varieties of barley, rye, and wheat, as well as gluten-free buckwheat, millet, and even quinoa. More than 90 percent of its customers are in Colorado, although it has taken on special roasting projects from such out-of-state breweries as Wisconsin's New Glarus Brewing and collaborated with Scandinavian malting powerhouse Viking Malt. "We're able to offer our brewing and distribution customers an exotic option in the U.S.," say Jason.
Closer to home, the Colorado market basically wants as much local barley as it can get. "We haven't reached the end, market-wise," says Jason.
The company started with a 2.5-ton system in 2009, installed a second system in 2010, a third in 2012, and added the fourth and fifth in 2014, followed a roaster in 2016. "We built all of our own equipment from scratch," says Jason. Most recently, in Aug. 2016, "We had a roaster automated with PLC controls and it's its own unique, proprietary design."
The Codys' investments have been met by increasing demand. "Every time people realize we've added capacity, it's gone," says Jason. "We're planting everything we can plant, and it's first-come, first-served."
And Colorado Malting Company is enjoying higher margins with premium malts. "The specialty part of our company has really taken off," says Jason, pointing to big growth in chocolate, beechwood-smoked, and biscuit malts. From just less than 15 percent of sales in 2011, higher-value specialty malts now represent more than 50 percent of revenue. "We're able to do some really amazing things."
Case in point: Jason says brother Josh Cody "has created a roasting technique that we own. We're calling it 'Old World Roasting.'" Josh takes his time, roasting the malt at lower temps for six or so hours instead of two. "That's really yielding some magnificent flavors," says Jason. For example, chocolate malt comes out "less bitter, more milk chocolate."
Challenges: "Just business-wise having so many opportunities and not knowing which ones to take," Jason says. "There's so much interest in craft malting. Time constraints keep us doing what we're doing." He adds, "It's a question of which way the malting industry's going.
Opportunities: "We're really focusing on the specialty malts," says Jason. "We're really focusing on the specialty malts, because that's where we see a lot of technique and know-how displayed."
Equipment manufacturing is another opportunity. Colorado Malting Company is planning to market its proprietary roaster for use at other maltsters and breweries, Jason says. The price has yet to be disclosed, but Jason says it'll be "a lot cheaper than the European competitors."
Needs: "To keep the company family-owned and working with local vendors," says Jason. "That's really our business model."
Not that Colorado Malting Company is resting on its laurels, he adds. "I've got in my head three large investment projects." He forecasts that the operation's capacity will triple by the end of 2018.