On Malting

Vikre Distillery does not prize certainty. We don’t prize efficiency. We don’t aspire to dial everything in and let it run. We’re ambivalent about mechanization, automation, and procedure. We instead prize creativity, innovation, experimentation, improvisation, and above all, craft.


This led us to a recent apparently stupid experiment: malting our own barley. In old Scotland barley was grown near distilleries, malted on site in a process called floor malting, and kilned over peat fires. We’re working towards making a single malt whiskey that truly reflects our own wild place. So we have a couple local farms growing barley for us, and we have Lake Superior water, and we have local peat. The obvious next step was to malt our own barley.


About a week ago we took half a ton of this local barley and steeped it in a stock tank. It quickly took on a terrible smell of cheese. We started aerating it, which turned our stock tank into a giant bubbling cauldron of stinky cheese. After steeping we shoveled it out into big cheesy piles on the floor, turning it a couple times a day. We were looking for signs of germination, which we didn’t see, so we shoveled it back into the tank for more steeping. Then we shoveled it back onto the floor for a couple more days, and then raked it out into a uniform stinky cheese layer. After about a week, absent signs of germination and tired of smelling like cheese, we gave up.


We had failed.  And we had made an absolutely epic mess.


We brewed the grain anyway of course, as one would brew raw rather than malted grain, and it’s fermenting away as we speak. Then we started cleaning up. There was barley in every possible nook and cranny, stuck in every grate and drain.


But guess what? It was sprouting! We had malted barley, everywhere!


We succeeded, sort of! Call it a learning opportunity, or a mostly failure, or a qualified success. Whatever you call it, we’re one step closer to that perfect local single malt, and we’re having fun. We’ll take it.

-Joel Vikre