Dave McLean and Ron Silberstein have been leaders and peers in the craft brewing industry for decades. They founded the celebrated beer companies Magnolia and ThirstyBear, respectively, and together were among the founders of the SF Brewers Guild and SF Beer Week.

 

In 2015 they joined forces to launch a new business, Admiral Maltings, to fill a gap in the local brewing industry by producing freshly made malt, a key ingredient in beer and some spirits.

 

When McLean and Silberstein started their breweries, local malt was not readily available, so they had to buy it from producers in other parts of the country or from Germany or England.

 

“This meant that our beer was not 100% local, nor was it as fresh as it could be,” said McLean. “I always wished that I had a way to brew Magnolia beer with locally grown grains. That’s been a missing element from our American craft beer story.”

 

McLean and Silberstein did not have experience making malt, so they partnered with Curtis Davenport, an organic farmer with malt-making experience, and Admiral Maltings was born. They converted a former Navy dry goods warehouse in Alameda into a 20,000-square-foot malting facility and got to work.

 

Fast Facts

• A key ingredient in beer and some spirits, malted barley is the primary ingredient in beer and is the source of its fermentable sugar in addition to providing certain flavor and aroma properties.

• Admiral Maltings is unique in California for using the “floor malting” technique, the most time-honored, traditional method of germinating barley.

• See a list of brewers and distillers that use Admiral’s malts

 

Dave McLean and Ron Silberstein have been leaders and peers in the craft brewing industry for decades. They founded the celebrated beer companies Magnolia and ThirstyBear, respectively, and together were among the founders of the SF Brewers Guild and SF Beer Week.

 

In 2015 they joined forces to launch a new business, Admiral Maltings, to fill a gap in the local brewing industry by producing freshly made malt, a key ingredient in beer and some spirits.

 

When McLean and Silberstein started their breweries, local malt was not readily available, so they had to buy it from producers in other parts of the country or from Germany or England.

 

“This meant that our beer was not 100% local, nor was it as fresh as it could be,” said McLean. “I always wished that I had a way to brew Magnolia beer with locally grown grains. That’s been a missing element from our American craft beer story.”

 

McLean and Silberstein did not have experience making malt, so they partnered with Curtis Davenport, an organic farmer with malt-making experience, and Admiral Maltings was born. They converted a former Navy dry goods warehouse in Alameda into a 20,000-square-foot malting facility and got to work.

 

Four years later, their business concept is proving a success, with more than 300 brewers and distillers using their many styles of malt to make beer and spirits. Demand for their malt is so high that they can’t keep an inventory. But McLean, Silberstein, and Davenport have a mission beyond generating revenue — they are also testing a proof of concept.

 

“We are trying to create an environment where it makes sense for farmers in California to grow premium malting varieties of barley,” said McLean.

 

The logic goes that if they educate brewers and consumers about the difference fresh malt can make in the quality of beer, they can increase demand in the market for locally produced malt, and thus create an incentive for local farmers to grow barley and other small grains. These grains typically require much less irrigation than other crops and can even be dry farmed, giving farmers with an opportunity to grow an environmentally friendly, sustainable cash crop. The Admiral team contracts with California farmers only, and currently has relationships with family farms in the Sacramento Valley and in Tulelake regions.

 

To increase awareness of the importance of malt to great tasting beer, McLean and his partners opened a pub, called The Rake, in their Alameda malting facility. The pub serves local beers made with their malt and provides patrons a peek inside the malting process, known as “floor malting”. To germinate the barley they first soak it and then spread it out on a massive floor, raking or turning it multiple times a day (large windows in the pub provide a view to the floor). The final step is heating the grain in a kiln, which stops germination and creates the flavor components of the malt.

 

 

“There’s a lack of understanding of what malt even is and a big part of our agenda is to educate people about it,” said McLean.  “We want people to come to the pub and have a regular craft beer experience, but because all of the beers are made with our malt, it becomes kind of a showroom for what the brewers and distillers are doing with our malt.”

 

By all accounts their proof of concept has been proven to be a success. Sales of Admiral’s malts are steadily increasing, March 2021 was their best sales month ever, followed by an even better one in April. They have plans to expand their facility to increase production of malt by 40%.

 

“We are seeing a return to a time when brewers did actually get their ingredients closer to home — we are part of a nationwide movement toward that,” said McLean. “I feel like the proof of concept certainly happened – there’s a strong interest in locally made grown grain.”

 

How does SFMade help Admiral Maltings make it work? Said McLean: “A couple of years ago we participated in SFMade’s CMA+ program which was very helpful for us. We got some great insights into how to make things more efficient from the production side and from the accounting standpoint. It’s really great to have support of an organization like SFMade because being in a manufacturing business in Bay Area, where costs are high and margins are tight, we could use all the help we can get.”

The California Manufacturers Accelerator Plus® (CMA+) is a CMTC program designed for small and medium-sized manufacturers providing a fresh review of their business, bringing technical expertise and leadership to identify and solve problems. Advisors assist local manufacturers in identifying and implementing solutions to remove barriers to growth.


 

East Brother Beer Company: Why we use Admiral’s malts

 

Paul Liszewski, head brewer at East Brother Beer Company in Richmond, CA, uses a variety of malts form Admiral Maltings to make their specialty line of beers.

 

“It really comes down to the flavor. Having access to a maltster who is almost right down the street from us means we get the freshest product possible, which is a great asset. When you are using fresh malt all the nuanced flavors are still prevalent.”

 

 

“I have a feeling that craft malting is becoming one of the next big things in craft brewing.”