Pilot Malt House Brings a Virginia First to Craft Brewing

Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Todd Haymore announced Virginia’s first dedicated malting operation at a ceremony today at Black Hops Farm in Lucketts.

Work has already begun. Erik May, owner of Michigan-based Pilot Malt House, said that he already has between three and four hundred acres of grain in the ground, and hopes to have the nearly $1 million, 12,000-square-foot malting operation up and running in time for next year’s harvest. The new facility will be at Black Hops Farm.

“Seeing the things that have happened right here at this facility, it’s been amazing, and it tells us one thing— it tells us that farming and agriculture in Loudoun County continues to grow and be strong,” Supervisor Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin) said.

The partnership between Black Hops Farm and Pilot Malt House, an artisan craft malt company, was born at the annual national Brewers Association Craft Brewers Conference in Seattle this year, and fostered by state government and Loudoun County. May said he met Secretary Haymore at that conference and sat down to talk—over drinks, of course.

“We and I had a bunch of beers, and I said, ‘yeah, we can do this,’” May laughed.

Pilot Malt House
(Norman K. Styer/Loudoun Now)

Jonathan Staples, owner of Black Hops Farm, said the vertical integration between different steps of brewing makes sense.

“The economics of growing malt grain barley and grains—they’re not that great, because there’s nowhere to process them,” Staples said. When he heard that Pilot Malt House might not be able to open a branch in Virginia, Staples pursued them.

“Typically, you’d be in an industrial area, with natural gas, but the rents are really prohibitive for agricultural things,” Staples said. “So when that wasn’t going to happen, we came back and followed up with them, and said, ‘look, we’ll do whatever we need to do to make it work for you to be here if you can make it work with propane.’”

Now, Pilot Malt House is planning to build a facility at his farm and buy more than two million pounds of Virginia barley, wheat, and rye worth more than $300,000 over the next three years.

“It took a lot of late-night phone calls to these guys in Michigan, and a lot of support from the county,” Staples said. “Loudoun Economic Development are really a great matchmaker.”

Secretary Haymore presented Loudoun County with a $19,500 Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Grant at the ceremony, which Loudoun will match, to help assist with the project.

“The governor has made increasing the craft beverage industry part of my strategic plan as secretary of ag and forestry,” Haymore said. “I’m treating craft beer, distilled spirits, wine, just like I treat soybeans, corn, and all the other commodities out there. We’re working to help it grow.”

Pilot Malt House will fill a gap in Virginia’s growing craft beverage movement. It will be the first dedicated malting operation in the commonwealth, and one of only a handful of malting operations on the East Coast. Virginia has more than 100 breweries, and nearly two dozen of those are in Loudoun.

“Pilot Malt House will close the missing link in Loudoun’s farm brewery industry,” Loudoun Economic Development Director Buddy Rizer stated in a press release announcing the partnership.

“This is a significant win for the Commonwealth as it fills a need for current and future craft brewers,” Governor Terry McAuliffe stated in the release.

“I just wanted to take a quick second and make a quick toast to the success of Loudoun County, but not only to that but to the continued efforts of everyone that made this possible,” said Matt Hagerman, co-founder of Lost Rhino Brewing Company in Ashburn and Lost Rhino Retreat restaurant in Brambleton. “Cheers!”

Contact Renss Greene at rgreene@loudounnow.com.

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