From barley to bottle: Stamford brewer brings beer to the Greenmarket

Today, the New York Times's Diner's Journal blog has a glowing profile of Mark VanGlad, a young Stamford brewer who will be the first to sell beer at New York City's famous Union Square Greenmarket tomorrow. Even for a tiny microbrewer, VanGlad's Tundra Brewery is taking "local" to new extremes: He grows his own barley and hops, and flavors his beer with maple syrup from his family's farm.

Like many small producers, VanGlad has found that the playing field is tilted against small-scale local food. The article observes that there are some missing links in the local food chain:

Mr. VanGlad’s timing was impeccable. In 2009, the state passed legislation that allows New York brewers who make less than 60,000 barrels of beer a year to sell at farmers’ markets as well as at county and state fairs. Wineries were already allowed to sell at markets under the Farm Winery Act of 1976.

But for Mr. VanGlad, successfully growing the barley and hops was only half the battle. Like those at the vanguard of other local food movements — small-scale meat producers who lacked slaughterhouses and wheat farmers who lacked mills — Mr. VanGlad found a dearth of infrastructure when it came to processing the products of his agriculture.

To make beer from barley, it must first be malted — soaked in water to germinate, dried with hot air, cleaned and then roasted to the desired darkness. At first, Mr. VanGlad couldn’t find a malt house willing to process a small batch of barley. The handful of malt houses nationwide are mostly giantc plants that deal in 100,000-pound batches, when Mr. VanGlad had only couple thousand pounds of barley. He discovered Valley Malt, a small plant that opened in September in Hadley, Mass., after receiving a tip from an online beer-brewing message board.

Photo of malted barley by Flickr user epicbeer. Published under Creative Commons license.