Employees: 2 (plus help from employees of Olander Farms)
The father-son team of Steve and Todd Olander are moving from growing barley for the big breweries to the craft sector with a top-of-the-line, German-made malthouse readying for takeoff.
Longtime Northern Colorado farmers, the Olanders have worked the land in Northern Colorado since the 1930s. "He's third generation and I'm fourth generation," says Todd of his dad and himself.
After growing barley for Anheuser-Busch and Coors since the '80s, it was time for a change at Olander Farms. "We just wanted to branch out and not grow for Coors anymore," says Todd. "It's not as fun as it used to be."
Instead of contract growing, the Olanders were able to select what strains of barley they wanted to plant and grew test crops of seven different varieties in 2015. Above-average precipitation made analysis difficult. "Everything yielded amazing," says Todd.
"We're just trying to see what barleys will grow well in Colorado and be beneficial to the brewers and the distilleries," he adds. "It's going to be a process."
After narrowing down the options of the seven tested the previous year before, Todd planted three varieties of barley on 300 acres in 2016 and recently completed its inaugural harvest for for the craft market. The barleys: a "baseline" AC Metcalfe, and a pair of European strains in Limagrain Genie and Odyssey. "We're probably the only ones growing Odyssey in Colorado this year," he says.
He gives credit to the family's 1,500 acres of land, where the Olanders also plant corn, alfalfa, and wheat. "This is a really good growing area," says Todd. "We get high yields and high quality. There's a reason Coors is here."
"I just want to provide the brewers and distilleries with an option for malt," says Todd. "There hasn't been a relationship there."
"They'll have more trackability," he adds. "We control everything from A to Z. We find the barley we want, we plant the barley we want, we grow the barley we want."
Root Shoot Malting recently finished installing an automated $1.2 million Kaspar Schulz drum malting system that was imported from Germany. Drum malting "Iwas a pretty popular system back in the day," says Todd. "It fell out of favor because the capacity wasn't there."
While the big brewers malt tens of thousands of tons at a time, Todd says he wants to take a craft mentality to malting for "better quality and consistency” and do about 10 tons in a batch. That figure that will still rank Root Shoot in the top five craft maltsters in the U.S., with similar capacity to Colorado Malting Company. He hopes to initially malt more than 500 tons a year, with capacity to triple that figure soon.
The Kaspar Schulz malting system "was a very large investment and a very hard decision," Todd adds. "We have to have consistent results."
But he's optimistic that the business will be a success. "The harvest was good," says Olander. "I'm confident we're going to produce some of the best malted barley in the U.S."
Root Shoot is launching with a pair of demonstration beers brewed with his first batches of malt by Loveland-based Grimm Brothers Brewhouse and Centennial's Resolute Brewing at the 2016 Great American Beer Festival. "We're going to have a booth down there," says Olander.
Challenges: "There are quite a few," laughs Todd. "First of all, just growing the barley is a challenge Mother Nature can do whatever she wants."
But launching a new malting operation is no small feat. The system's installation is in the works, with a target of being fully operational by mid-August.
Opportunities: Selling barely to the region's craft brewers and distillers. "There are all sorts of opportunities," says Todd. Colorado's craft brewing industry "continues to grow and we'd like to grow with it."
Needs: Above all, awareness. "To get our name out there and word of mouth, people talking about the quality," says Todd.