In 2015, the craft beer industry brought in more than $22 billion– a 16% growth in sales from the year prior. Small breweries are big business nowadays, and few know the business better than Fargo Brewing Company co-founder Chris Anderson.
“We still represent a very small part of the overall market share, and I think there’s still a lot of room for craft to grow,” Anderson said. “But I think we’re seeing a shift in the way the market is being approached…We are seeing a lot of breweries that are focusing more on servicing their local markets and their local needs.”
This shift is due primarily to increased consumer demands for flavor, freshness, and farm-to-table ingredients. But according to Anderson, there is still one step in the craft brewing process where these demands have not been met.
“Craft brewers tend to like to know where their raw ingredients are coming from, they like to have that connection because that’s something they can pass on to their consumers who value the transparency and farm-to-table concept,” he said. “Hops you can do that with in brewing, but you can’t really do that with malt.”
Malt is created by allowing barley to germinate in water, then drying it with hot air. The malting process develops the enzymes required for modifying the barley’s starches into sugars and, along with the equipment it requires, has historically been left up to a handful of large companies– leaving ambitious craft brewers to create their own rudimentary equipment, germinating barley on concrete floors and turning it with shovels. It his time-consuming, physically intensive work.
“I wasn’t really interested in flipping malt with a shovel, so I decided that there had to be a better way to do this,” Anderson said. And so, he invented Intelligent Malt.
Innovative solutions for craft malting
Intelligent Malt gets involved at every link in the supply chain. Currently, the company offers the ability to buy and sell raw, malting-grade barley through their online platform. By the end of 2016, Anderson hopes to commercialize a downsized, modernized piece of malting equipment.
This equipment, which Anderson has constructed with help from Appareo Systems, takes the manual labor out of malting and replaces it with precise sensor control technology, controllable feedback loops, and advanced algorithms for determining recipe parameters.
“The process for making malt has been the same since people discovered how to make malt,” Anderson said. “We’re taking very old, ancient technology, creating malt, and we are putting modern day sensibilities and fairly advanced control systems around it. We’re basically combining the old and the new.”
Intelligent Malt is looking to sell the equipment to those who wish to start their own malting companies, as well as barley farmers who wish to become a partner with the company. In such a partnership Intelligent Malt approaches the market, connects to brewers and distillers looking to purchase malt, and sends orders to the farmer. The partner executes each particular order, and Intelligent Malt ships the final products back to the brewers.
Along with the automated process inside of the tanks, Intelligent Malt utilizes a global cloud-based strategy through which they can communicate with machines over large geographical distances. This strategy will create a diffuse production network, potentially across all of North America, as well as allow consumers to connect to individual machines and see what is happening to their orders as they are being processed.
Intelligent Malt creates relationships between growers, maltsters, and brewers– and when all parties get involved, everybody wins. For farmers, there is an economic advantage: rather than selling raw barley for somewhere around $6 a bushel (just pennies per pound), they can sell finished malt product for 65 cents a pound. Brewers are given complete transparency with their supply chain, as well as the ability to customize their malt. And, most importantly, customers get the locally crafted taste that they crave.
Learn more about Chris Anderson and Intelligent Malt at 1 Million Cups, Wednesday September 14th at The Stage at Island Park.