Penns Valley

Spring Mills maltster hopes business blossoms

Adam Seitz shows off the area that will be his malt house in Spring Mills on Tuesday, July 8, 2014.
Adam Seitz shows off the area that will be his malt house in Spring Mills on Tuesday, July 8, 2014. Centre Daily Times

Adam Seitz’s voice echoes off the walls in his empty malt house.

Seitz, of Spring Mills, said that by next summer Penns Mault will be humming to the tune of machinery as it malts Pennsylvania-grown barley.

That’s his goal — not to be just one of the few startup malt houses in Pennsylvania — but possibly the only in-state house to solely malt homegrown barley.

“Pennsylvania has an awesome brewing culture, but all of the malting barley is grown out of state and all of the malting is done out of state,” Seitz said. “I think we have a good enough climate for it, and I’m confident we can grow malting barley throughout the state.”

He was motivated by the proliferation of craft breweries and wanted his malted barley to be the link in the chain from the farmers to the brewers — creating a truly Pennsylvania beer.

Penn State agronomy professor Greg Roth said Seitz’s attempt to establish a malt house in Pennsylvania after the industry died in the state at least three decades ago is a rare endeavor.

“It was a different culture back then,” Roth said. “Malting is much more prevalent in Europe or the Western states. There’s a few other folks trying to start up malt houses in Pennsylvania. It’s a little bigger in New York and Massachusetts.”

He said New York just passed legislation that encourages malting in the state. “But we’re actually in a better place to grow barley. Our yields are higher, and we can produce a better quality grain.”

But Seitz’s vision for a “truly local beer” has naysayers.

“I get both sides of it where some say ‘you’re crazy’ and ‘you’re never gonna be able to do this,’ ” Seitz said. “Farmers are pretty excited because it’s a new market opportunity. They like the idea of being able to grow and consume a Pennsylvania product.”

Seitz has hurdled challenges; the biggest one, according to his wife, was finding a building to purchase. He bought malting equipment for five years, but he couldn’t find a place to get started until this spring. Seitz became even more pressed to find a location and open the business before they have their first child this fall.

“I have never doubted his ability to do this, but a lot has happened in the last few years that he’s worked on this,” said Faith Ryan, Seitz’s wife. “The night before the auction we both cried, because the stress of knowing everything could change the next day was so intense.”

The couple bought the property at auction in January and closed on it in May.

Seitz had to find local farmers who thought it was possible to grow malting barley in the state. Although Seitz has six farmers contracted to grow barley in the fall and winter, Andrew Batdorf, of McVeytown, began to grow barley for him in March, which will be harvested within the next month.

Part of the reason growing malting barley is rare in Pennsylvania is due to its severe thunderstorms from spring to fall.

“A lot of what can go wrong is weather related,” Batdorf said. “I have friends that don’t farm, and they’ll say how beautiful of a day or week it is. Meanwhile, I’m thinking about how we could use rain anytime now. Then, there are heavy thunderstorms that could damage our crops. It’s the same with any crop.”

Farmers growing malting barley also have to be wary of diseases, like the barley yellow dwarf virus that spoiled a trial variety that Seitz tried with Penn State three years ago. Seitz said his farmers will grow 100,000 pounds of barley for him by next summer, though it’s impossible to know how much of it will be a high enough quality to malt.

Seitz will test the locally grown barley in his laboratory just inside the front door of his building for its germination rate, protein content, disease-causing agents, grain uniformity and size. It all has to meet standards suitable for malting, and later, brewing around the state.

The enormous room next to it is where Seitz will move in a 40-by-6-foot cheese vat, which he will modify this fall to steep, germinate and dry barley that has passed his inspection.

Still, the malt house is largely barren, barring a few old, dust-plagued shelves and tables. But Seitz doesn’t see it that way.

“To onlookers it’s just a dirty, empty building,” Seitz said. “But to me it’s already a beautiful malt house.”