Already being hailed as a “fantastic idea” for the local craft beer industry, plans are in the works to bring Long Island’s first malted barley production facility to the Riverhead area by the summer.
In the coming months, Brian Zimmerman is hoping to find a location in Riverhead Town where he can establish the Island’s first malt house, which is considered a missing component to the region’s emerging craft breweries and their goals of using all locally grown products.
Zimmerman, the owner of the operation known as Z’s Barrel House, said the company is looking to grow and process its own barley, rye and wheat for area breweries by July.
And he’s already planted the seeds.
In October Zimmerman planted 5-acres of barley on a field located on Twomey Avenue.
The next step, he said, is finding the right spot to process the yield once it’s harvested in the spring.
“I need that facility quickly,” he said.
The facility would house equipment used to soak, germinate and dry barley grains, which is how malt is made.
While the North Fork is mostly known for its wine, craft beer is quickly making a name for itself in the area, with the establishment of four local breweries during the past five years.
Zimmerman, of Amityville, credits his new business venture in part to the state’s new farm brewery law, which he said opens up opportunities for farmers. A state-issued farm brewery permit allows for some flexibility in serving alcohol and in expanding retail operations.
The legislation requires participating breweries — those operating as farm breweries — to make their product using at least 20 percent grain grown in-state. Distillers, too, need to source 75 percent of their grain from New York, according to the law.
As reported in a September northforker.com article, hops farming, once common in New York State, has been making a comeback on the East End as farmers experiment with growing the ingredient, which is necessary to offset the sweetness of malt sugars in beer.
As for malted barley, there are currently five malt houses in New York State with the capacity to sell to craft brewers. The closest one to Long Island is located in Tioga County more than 250 miles away. The waiting list to get grain from those New York-based facilities can be up to six months long, Zimmerman said.
This makes growing barley, wheat and rye on the North Fork benefical to both the local craft breweries and to his business, he said.
“There is a need for this type of business on Long Island,” Zimmerman said. “There is a lot of opportunity here.”
Co-founder of Greenport Harbor Brewing Company and secretary of the New York State Brewers Association, Rich Vandenburgh, agreed.
Vandenburgh, who has been growing grains for his brewery in Cutchogue and Peconic, said a local malt house would help cut down on costs associated with shipping malted barley back and forth. The facility would also help the North Fork continue to brand itself as a craft beer destination.
“It is a fantastic idea,” he said. “It is a missing piece for the grown craft beer on the East End, and Long Island in general. If we can have it grown, harvested, malted and brewed all on Long Island… I mean, what better way to create a regionally specific and recognizable product?”
In 2015, Zimmerman hopes to plant 25 acres of barley, rye and wheat. But first he will need a building to house the malt house production facility.
For start up capital, Zimmerman has launched a Kickstarter campaign, and online fundraising tool. He has raised $755 toward his goal of $40,000 needed to purchase equipment and set up the facility for brewing.
Z’s Barrel House is the latest local business looking to launch its beer crafting goals with the help of Kickstarter, an online fundraising website.
In 2012, Matthew and Lauri Spitz raised more than $30,000 through a successful Kickstarter campaign to help establish Moustache Brewing Company in Riverhead. Wading River hop farmer John Condzella also surpassed his Kickstarter goal of raising $27,000 in 2013 to bring a German hop-harvesting machine to the East End.
Zimmerman said he’s been working with Riverhead Town and the state Department of Agriculture and Markets to find the right spot in Riverhead for the facility.
“Riverhead is where I want to be,” he said.
Although Zimmerman, a former staffer at Cornell Cooperative Extension at the Suffolk County Farm and Education Center in Yaphank, has been connected to the area and farming throughout his career. He also has a special place in his heart for craft beer.
In 2005, he unwrapped a home brewing kit. Though it was small, Zimmerman quickly became passionate about craft brewing, experimenting with different flavors and grains.
“The beer was good and the fun never ended,” he recalled.
He is an avid home brewer who’s honed four specific beer recipes using his malt, hops and yeast infused with a variety of homegrown spices including yarrow, meadowsweet, sage, bee balm, and lavender.
In the future, Zimmerman said he isn’t discounting the idea of opening his own tasting room to sell craft beer, spiced malt soda, seasonal produce and locally raised meat products.
For now, however, Zimmerman said he will stick to getting his farming business growing. He is hoping to close on a building as soon as possible and be making malt to distributed by July, he said.
You can donate to Z’s Barrel House’s Kickstarter campaign here.