A Walla Walla, Wash., malting company has received a new industry accolade.

Mainstem Malt received second place for its 2018 Walla Walla Genie Pale malt in the Craft Maltster’s Guild’s new Malt Cup awards. The award honors quality and craftsmanship in malting.

Mainstem Malt founder Phil Neumann said the award recognizes his company’s work over the last four-plus years and the importance of malt quality and innovation.

“Malt hasn’t been very exciting for the duration of the growth of craft beer and spirits and artisanal milling and baking,” Neumann said. “Now to have this first-ever acknowledgement of the importance of malt quality and that there are a bunch of companies and individuals trying to push the limits of malt quality, I think it’s a signal to the industry that malt is advancing rapidly.”

In a field of 21 international competitors, Root Shoot Malting of Loveland, Colo., placed first. Carolina Malt House of Cleveland, N.C., placed third.

This year’s competition focused on pale malts.

Neumann’s company uses a “Grain Like Grapes” philosophy, a similar approach to the wine industry’s emphasis on the effect of terroir, the natural environment in which a wine is produced.

“The idea that unique flavors can be brought about by growing a specific varietal in a specific place in a specific year,” Neumann said. “We believe and we’re seeing some initial research that’s showing us that all this stuff matters for malt quality and flavor.”

Neumann said the company is “super transparent” about where each bag of malt comes from, down to a specific field, and lets the industry uncover the nuances and flavors from each field.

Many small maltsters are also sourcing from single fields, but Mainstem Malt features it as a key aspect of its brand, Neumann said.

The award-winning malt used LCS Genie, a spring malting barley variety from Limagrain Cereal Seeds. The company is looking to explore other varieties for flavor and agronomic performance, including winter barleys and varieties developed by Oregon State University and Washington State University, Neumann said.

The company contracted with three farmers on 200 acres in 2017, and 150 acres in 2018, receiving higher yields while raising winter barley. This year, it will contract with seven or eight growers on roughly 700 acres.

The company is leasing a new facility owned by the Port of Walla Walla. The company must raise $750,000 in financing, which it has partially obtained, Neumann said.

The space is in a former can manufacturing plant. The company would start with 24,000 square feet.

Neumann hopes to move into the office by April 1 and be operating in the new location by the end of November.

Mainstem Malt currently produces 150 tons of malt per year under a partnered malting model with malting companies in Spokane and Burlington, Wash.

Capacity would start at 600 tons per year in the new facility.

For the awards, Montana State University’s Barley Breeding Program conducted a malt quality analysis on each submission and prepared samples for blind sensory testing. Malts were assessed for appearance, aroma, flavor and mouthfeel by a panel of craft malt industry experts, according to a guild press release.

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