May 31, 2020
Hudson Valley Malt in Germantown uses grain from local farms and turns it into malt for beer production and distilling.
Hudson Valley Malt in Germantown uses grain from local farms and turns it into malt for beer production and distilling. They are the only malters in the Hudson Valley and the only malters in the state that use traditional “floor malting” techniques.
Started in 2015 by the husband and wife team of Dennis and Jeanette Nesel, the local character of Hudson Valley Malt’s product and their commitment to sourcing grain from regional farms made the malt an instant hit with brewers and distillers in the region. Along with needing access to quality malt for their production, the Nesels say Hudson Valley craft brewers and distillers were eager to use a malt that best captures the terroir they were looking for.
Malt is a necessary ingredient in beer; in fact a certain amount is required by law in New York. As both an art and a science, malting is a process of bio-chemically extracting the flavorful sugars from raw grain through a process or dehydration and sprouting. It’s an old practice and the Nesels are doing it the old way by taking the time (and space) to let the sprouted grain germinate while spread out in an even layer over a big open floor.
“We do everything old school,” said Dennis Nesel. “The flavors and aromas that come from our malt are more intense and unique to us and the area. It’s like going to a small local bakery.”
When the malt is being slowly and gently raked across the floor there’s a coincidental but unmistakable similarity to the aesthetic of a Zen sand garden. It takes longer and is more laborious to create malt this way but the Nesels are delightfully stubborn. And the process has yielded malt with body and character that just isn’t the same as malt created in tanks. The flavor is evident in beers and liquors using Hudson Valley Malt, including those from Suarez Brewery, Old Klaverack Brewery, Bees Knees Farm Brewery and many more.
“Our supply chain starts with the farmer,” Nesel continued. “We had the farmers, we had the brewers, we just needed the malter.”
After opening Hudson Valley Malt, demand increased immediately but to “floor” malt you need floor space and the Nesels didn’t have enough. It was clear to the couple that they needed to expand and they looked to the Columbia County Economic Development Corporation (CEDC) for a business loan.
In a joint effort with CEDC, HVADC connected Hudson Valley Malt with business operations consultant Brian Zweig through the HVADC Incubator Without Walls program. Zweig, who has been an independent consultant with HVADC for nearly 15 years, worked with Jeanette Nesel to help put a bulletproof business plan together so they could apply for the loan confidently.
“The loan application was a good process because you have to sit down and make a business plan,” said Dennis Nesel. “It can get quite complex. Doing that without help would have been incredibly difficult for us.”
Jeanette became aware of the funding opportunity in 2016, while taking a business class through CEDC with business development specialist Martha Lane. In 2018 Hudson Valley Malt began working with Zweig to create a plan for their expansion.
“I think this is a case where there’s an advantage for a business to get assistance to navigate the process of seeking financing,” said Zweig. “The experience that HVADC provides allows that process to go forward more quickly.”
The plan was done in May of 2019. Hudson Valley Malt got the funds they needed and a year later they are producing at double their operating capacity before the loan.
“We were having a hard time keeping up with demand,” said Jeanette Nesel. “We needed a lot more space. With the loan we were able to double the size of our malt house. They helped us go from producing 24,000 pounds of malt a month to 48,000 pounds a month.”
Understandably the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown uncertainty into the equation, with the Nesels concerned about what a summer without tourism will mean to the hospitality industry that fuels local craft beverage consumption. But brewers and distillers are getting creative with online ordering options and the farmers are planting their grain now.
“COVID has caused a slowdown with brewers but farmers have to be optimists and are still planting,” said Denis Nesel. “Our train is still on the track. Thanks to the help from CEDC and HVADC we had our best month ever in February. We are hopeful that people are realizing that if there was ever a time to support local business, now is the time.”
To learn more about the assistance HVADC provides through Incubator Without Walls, visit https://www.hvadc.org/incubator-without-walls Photos: Hudson Valley Malt