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If you’ve sipped Alberta craft beer lately, you may have tasted barley grown, malted and possibly even brewed by the Hamill family who operate Red Shed Malting. In charge of the malting process, Joe Hamill also operates Hamill Brothers Brewing with his brother Matt. Joe typically starts his day in the business’s namesake red malt house on his family’s farm near Innisfail. In the germination room, where barley kernels are sprouted prior to roasting, it smells like fresh grass and cucumber. As he checks on the ongoing malting processes, he may begin work on a batch of specialty malt for a brewer client. “That’s when you get those nice biscuit, coffee smells coming out of the roaster,” Joe explained.

As part of its efforts to develop markets for the province’s barley, Alberta Barley’s Combine to Craft program is trumpeting the status of this world-class barley-growing region. Part of this effort is introducing beer lovers to barley farmers such as the Hamills.

A unique mix of factors contributes to the excellence of the barley that Alberta farmers produce. This includes rich soil, the leading-edge, sustainable practices of the province’s farmers and barley-
friendly growing conditions characterized by warm days and cool nights that come with relatively high altitude and proximity to the Rockies. Capitalizing on the province’s supply of high-quality barley are the maltsters who transform it into malt—the defining ingredient of beer—and the craft brewers whose ambition and innovation have created explosive growth in sales of Alberta beer.

“We want to tell that story. We think consumers should be proud of where their beer comes from,” said Shannon Sereda, Alberta Barley market development and policy manager. She hopes the program will help familiarize Albertans with the malting barley grown in their backyard as well as better establish the province’s international reputation as arguably the best barley-growing region on the planet. Parallel to the project’s reputation-
building objective is building public trust in the farm sector and dispelling myths about modern agriculture, she explained. “Consumers should be proud that our barley is grown in such an environmentally sustainable manner.”

Helping to tell this story of agricultural expertise, land stewardship, premium barley and great beer, the Combine to Craft website will feature a series of stories about the farm families that grow Alberta’s barley—and in some cases roast it to produce malt and even brew beer themselves.

“We think it’s a great program that’s going to connect the whole chain from farmer to maltster, brewer and consumer,” said Hamill. “It’s that whole vision of Alberta brewers using local, sustainable, traceable malt, and it brings that whole community together.”

These are exciting times for everyone involved in the craft beer community, including, of course, beer consumers. As Alberta brewers and consumers increasingly demand beer made with Alberta malt, Hamill believes the benefits derived by craft brewers and barley farmers will multiply. “If we grow more acres of barley, that’s going to be better for sustainability on our farms by increasing crop rotation,” he said. “I think farmers and brewers are tied together and it’s going to be a great relationship going forward.”

Stay tuned at this summer to meet the farmers who grow Alberta’s malting barley.


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