Central Montana is known as the Golden Triangle.
“Some of the best barley and wheat are grown here," said Brandon Roberts, co-owner of Golden Triangle Brewing Co. in Fort Benton.
The barley farmer is the most important ingredient to brewing beer.
Ryan Pfeifle is a barley farmer and malter in Power, the owner of Farm Power Malt. He partners with breweries in creating specialized malts for brewing beer. Much of the barley he grows goes to Coors.
Pfeifle invented a single drum malting mechanism that does all three processes in one. Starting with the first step of steeping, step two, germination, and the final step, kilning.
“It doesn't look significantly different, but if one were to chew on it, you would taste a significant difference in the malt. All the cell walls have been broken down and that encapsulates all the starches. So now the starches are available for the brewer to use,” said Pfeifle comparing malted and unmalted barley.
Farm Power Malt hosts a young man from Argentina named Tomas Serenelli. He has a background of distilling whiskey. Tomas works in the fields for Pfeifle Farms learning the malting trade in the U.S.
Pfeifle and Serenelli's mother met at a conference in Canada. Serenelli made a deal with Pfeifle to bring the barley farming and malting ways to his family farm in South America.
“Without high-quality barley, you can't make a malt and you can't make good beer or whiskey,” said Serenelli.
High quality is what they produce - a product that gets shipped to brew masters like Brandon Roberts.
“The maltster is going to do their thing, taking the grain, turning it into that malt, which basically gives us as brewers access to those stored carbohydrates,” Roberts said.
It’s one big science experiment. Roberts takes the enhanced grain from Farm Power Malt and crushes it down into a mash, where he gains access to the energy of the seed. Then boiling into an oatmeal-style mixture. Rounding off with yeast and hops to finish the recipe.
Roberts says boiling the beer allows for longevity.
“Awesome malt-barley that comes out of the region," he said. "We're able to work directly with these farmers. And because we're so small and even with Ryan being fairly small scale as he is, it made for a great partnership for us to just take a couple thousand pounds over to him, have him malt that for us, and then we have our own custom malt basically for a year.”
Roberts added that although the barley and wheat grown in Central Montana is similar to that grown in Idaho and North Dakota, using Montanan-grown products allows for drinkers to taste the flavors of the region.