A Man Finds His Passion in Malt
In the last decade, the number of craft breweries in Virginia has grown more than 600%. With 260 commercial operations in the Commonwealth, demand for ingredients is also up – a fact that led one man to quit his corporate job and dive deeply into the business of making malt.
There was nothing in Jeff Bloem’s past to suggest that he would become a maltster -- the official and historic name for people who nurture malt. He majored in political science at college and didn’t drink much, but he was intrigued by the brewing process and by the biology of one essential ingredient in beer.
“Malt is simply grain that has been tricked into sprouting," he explains. " Everything about this building here is about re-creating mother nature. We just control how it grows, how fast it grows, how uniformly it grows and then when to make it stop growing.”
His 6,000-square-foot factory contains large vats where barley grains soak in warm water, are dried and roasted. It’s the culmination of a dream that began in his basement.
“That’s really where I honed my craft," he recalls. "I just went ahead and built a malt house, and I joined the Craft Maltsters Guild and leached every factoid from those brains that I possibly could.”
He called his company Murphy and Rude – an homage to the dogs he grew up with.
“They were two schnauzers. Murphy was the dog that was in the house before I was. He was the old wise man, and he represents in the malting world kind of the traditional methods of doing things. I mean we still malt in ways that they did thousands of years ago. Rudy was the puppy. We called him Rude for short. He represents the new technology, new innovative thinking, creative experimentation side of things.”
After three years of learning and finding investors, he began building the factory – his wife supporting him and two kids -- and the children doing their part to make the malt house a success.
“Theo, my 3-year-old, actively helps me shovel crystal malt out of my drum roasters and then my 6-year-old – he is infatuated with the fact that barley grows out in the cracks in my driveway.”
Bloem built a reliable network of barley farmers and found others to take the leftovers from his operation.
“So this is a mixture of these very high protein rootlets, some husk material as well as some discarded whole malted kernels, so this is actually a good supplemental feed source for farmers, with the added benefit of it being free.”
The client list grew quickly.
“I supply Random Row Brewing, South Street Brewing, Spencer-Dudden up in Fredericksburg, 1781 Brewing, Strange Ways in Richmond – also some breweries that have not actually opened quite yet.”
And no wonder. Bloem offers the flavors they want.
“Pilsner and pale, Belgian malts like Viennas and Munichs, as well as dry roasts and crystals and caramel malts.”
And as the only malt house in Virginia, he supplies fresh ingredients – something he claims his competitors can’t really do.
“You know a lot of malt being used is coming in overseas, so it’s spent a lot of time in a bag, on a pallet, in a shipping container, on a freighter, and then into a warehouse and then onto a truck to another warehouse, onto a truck to a brew house.”
By contrast, he’s able to supply fresh malt to local producers overnight!
Consumers can judge for themselves what difference that makes when Murphy and Rude hosts tasting events at Kardinal Hall in Charlottesville on June 28, at Beer Run on the 29th and at Reason on the 30th.