Erik May is no stranger to travel. He works in Battle Creek, lives in Middleville, and has even spent time as a flight controller in Afghanistan.
However, with his most recent venture, the entrepreneur is attempting to keep things a little more localized.
Along with business partner Paul Schelhaas, May recently opened the Pilot Malt House, West Michigan’s only independent, small batch maltery.
“We recognized a gap and niche where we can fit in: [have] Michigan growers grow barley for us, and we’ll turn it into malt and sell it to Michigan breweries,” May says.
May says more and more breweries are keeping their sights on acquiring local ingredients for their beers, however, malt has been difficult to come by in this area, forcing brewers to order from larger malt manufacturers in Wisconsin, North Dakota, and other places.
Malt, a germinated cereal grain, is primarily made from barley and provides the fermentable sugar that is essential to making beer.
“Industry-wide, malt is about 90 percent barley, though you can do it with wheat and rye as well, depending on what the brewer wants,” May says.
What Pilot Malt House wants to do is become the primary malt supplier for as many Michigan breweries as possible, and then perhaps move into the wholesale business, providing a variety of different malts to home brewing stores.
“We hope to have a half dozen or so staple (varieties) that we sell,” May says.
All the company’s plans have yet to fully germinate, however, as Pilot House has only been an official entity for about two months and has yet to move into its permanent home, a building near Zeeland that May and Schelhaas recently found.
“We hope to move in around the first of the year to our commercial space and very soon after create our system and begin buying grain [and working] with farmers to get contract barley growing,” May says.
The company is currently in talks with a few Northern Michigan farmers who, this coming planting season, will grow barley exclusively for Pilot House. May hopes the intake of fresh barley will be enough to allow the company to hire a few employees to help with the malting process.
“It’s definitely something we’ve talked about. It’s a pretty labor intensive process if you really want to do it right, and we do,” May says. “You don’t need to have 24/7 coverage, but it needs to be pretty close and we would look at hiring a person or two so that hopefully we can maintain close to 24 hour a day coverage on the malting.”
Writer: Jeremy Martin, Second Wave Media
Source: Erik May, Pilot Malt House