Community vs. Commodity: Why you should use Craft Malt

Skagit Valley Malting was founded to support family farms in the Skagit Valley earn a viable living by building markets for the grains they grow out of necessity in their rotation practices. For our company, the best way to do this was to build a malting company around the processing needs of the high-quality barley grown in the Valley. Before there was a malthouse Skagit barley went to animal feed, now in the last year, 89% of Skagit Malt has been sold to Washington brewers and distillers. Skagit Valley Malting didn’t invent localized and regional economies, it was the norm until post World War II and the industrialization of our food. But now with the advent of craft malt, we have an opportunity to prioritize communities once again by working directly with farmers and our customers.

Craft malt may seem like a new concept, but it’s really the return to a business model that’s as old as American brewing. In the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century, maltsters and brewers were largely local and regional businesses before massive waves of consolidation defined the mid-twentieth-century.

Why you should choose craft over commodity


The west coast consumes on its own some 276 million pounds of malted barley a year for craft beer production (assuming 55 lbs of malted barley per barrel of beer). Yet, on the west coast, there are just seven craft malthouses, if these malthouses produced 10 million pounds of malt it would only be 3.6% of the malt consumed in 2018.

The reality of high volume malting operations is that they need a massive supply of barley across multiple states, typically, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and North Dakota. Malthouses then need to pull from this supply of grain year-round which requires various middlemen such as grain elevators and grain co-ops, the more people involved in the supply chain the lower the profits for everyone. While smaller farms may participate in this system the economies of scale can prohibit their ability to turn a profit. There is another effect of this supply chain, in order to build this commodity system compromises have made in flavor to produce grains that are high yielding and homogeneous. The USDA collection has over 30,000 barley’s and about 15,000 of those are varieties/landraces. Furthermore, Crop Trust states that there are 70,000 types of barley in the Svalbard seed bank and 31,761 varieties with long term support from Crop Trust. Yet in 2018 there were only 29 varieties of barley approved for malting by the American Malting Barley Association. The possibilities for flavor exploration are endless but the majority of malt is produced in a system that isn't capable of exploring those possibilities. If you truly want to differentiate your beer from industrial beer the first place to start is your ingredients because the same malt that makes craft beer also makes commodity beer. 

What does Craft Malt mean to SVM

  • SVM is an independently owned operation 

  • In 2019 we will produce 2500 US tons of malt (5 million pounds) 

  • 94% of our raw grain purchasing came directly from Skagit farmers within a 12-mile radius of our malthouse in 2018

  • 100% was sourced within a 280-mile radius

  • From July 2018 to June 2019, 89% of Skagit Malt was sold in the Washington state 

  • Our furthest grain source this year was Goschie farms in Silverton, Oregon, 281 miles from the malthouse.

  • Skagit Valley Malting was founded to benefit local farmers and will continue to source the vast majority of our raw ingredients from the Skagit Valley.

The Craft Maltster’s guild defines Craft Malt as 

  • Relatively small scale. Craft maltsters produces between 5 metric tons (5.5 US tons) to 10,000 metric tons (11,000 US tons) per year.

  • Sources ingredients locally. Over fifty-percent of grains are grown within a 500-mile radius of the craft malthouse.

  • Independently owned. The malthouse must be independently owned by a seventy-six percent majority of ownership.


For brewers in the state of Washington, local grain means local beer, for brewers outside of Washington it is an opportunity to participate in a new grain system. A system that prioritizes the health of the land, the viability of small farms in a non-commoditized system and lastly the endless possibilities of malted barley flavor. 

For the last 30 some odd years the beer culture in the United States has begun shifting away from macro produced and distributed beer and have realized the value in supporting local craft beer in our communities. The next step in the evolution of our beer culture is to focus on the value of our ingredients. Consumers and brewers accept craft beer as a rejection of the conglomerates that produce the majority of domestic beer and beer production. Craft beer is a freedom of choice and a return to how beer was consumed historically in our communities. The same logic applies to craft malt, a rejection of conglomerate grain companies towards a more historically accurate grain system that values the freedom of the consumer to choose where their ingredients come from.  

The same indicators we accept as the definition of Craft Beer parallel the values that define Craft Malt. 

Craft beer 

  • An American craft brewer is a small and independent brewer.

  • Small. Annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less (approximately 3 percent of U.S. annual sales). Beer production is attributed to a brewer according to rules of alternating proprietorship.

  • Independent. Less than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by a beverage alcohol industry member that is not itself a craft brewer.

  • Brewer. Has a TTB Brewer’s Notice and makes beer.

Now with over 60 craft maltsters in the US, and more on the way, we are experiencing a shift in craft beer and distilling where value is being returned to grains we rely on to express our craft. Localized economies are the future of not only craft beer but agriculture in the United States. 

West Coast malt consumption breakdown: 


  • 566,949 barrels of craft beer produced in a year (Brewers Association, 2018)

  • 31,182,195 pounds of malted barley 


  • 1,032,369 barrels of craft beer produced in a year (Brewers Association, 2018)

  • 56,780,295 pounds of malted barley 


  • 3,421,295 barrels of craft beer produced in a year (Brewers Association, 2018) 

  • 188,171,225 pounds of malted barley