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Going local: Schwebach’s fills void by producing malted barley for NM brewers

Schwebach’s barley crop in the Estancia Valley. (Courtesy of Ryan Schwebach)

The absence of local malted barley inspired Schwebach’s LLC to produce it in the Estancia Valley and Hatch.

It was brought to the attention of farmers Ryan Schwebach and Harvey Morrow that the only thing local in many New Mexico craft beers is the water. The farmers wanted to offer New Mexico breweries an option to buy local, and they began growing high-quality, two-row barley. Canteen Brewhouse, Marble Brewery, Steel Bender Brewyard, Ex Novo Brewing Co. and Turtle Mountain Brewing Co. tried the first batch.

“When I went on this endeavor, I thought, they’re going to like local,” Schwebach said. “They’re going to love it. We’re going to get this stuff malted, and they’re just going to take it off the shelves. Come to find out the first batches of malting turned out some horrible malt. … Fortunately, these guys, as a trial basis, said, ‘Let’s make some beer.’ They all made small batches. … So they made a very simple beer that will extrapolate the flavors, color and reaction of the malt.”

Schwebach and Morrow decided to attend malting school in Colorado and soon learned what went wrong with the first batch.

“What had happened is the guy that was malting it for us they missed a couple steps,” Schwebach said. “They didn’t take the time to identify the type of barley they were using. It created poor barley. … I remember sitting down at the table with these brewers, and the first thing I told them is, ‘Guys, I apologize for giving you crap, but I want to thank you for trying.’ The next thing, we were pouring beers, tasting it, and the conclusion was they all made some really good beer.”

Schwebach had plans for an on-site malting facility to meet demand. Beer Creek Brewing Co. in Santa Fe will begin using 100% Schwebach’s LLC malt.

Schwebach’s LLC is growing high-quality, two-row barley at its farm in the Estancia Valley. (Courtesy of Ryan Schwebach)

“It all has to be good quality, and that is something that we need to get our own malting facility to home in on, and that’s a challenge,” he said. “It’s an art. It’s a true art to malt any grains, which is exciting, but you also have to look at the profitability of it. … Harvey has a harvested 20 acres. He’s got a lot of barley down in Hatch that he’s looking to malt some of it or sell green. I currently have 110 acres growing that will be harvested probably in about six weeks.”

Plans for the malting facility have been put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the economy.

“To put a malting facility up at a scale that will serve some of these brewers, it’s a pretty large investment,” Schwebach said. “Originally, we were going to put our name out and get it across to all the brewers and start taking orders and working directly with brewers. COVID kind of stopped all that.”

For now, Schwebach’s LLC is working with a maltster in Wyoming. The plan is to start work with him and refine the recipes to create superior product.

Overcoming obstacles has always been a part of the agriculture industry.

“This chaotic, turmoil environment that we are in economically is an everyday thing for (us in agriculture),” Schwebach said. “It’s a common effort. That’s the name of the game. … Every year I put that corn in the ground, you don’t know if it’s going to come out. … That’s what (agriculture) is all about. You never know the outcome, so you just keep rolling with it, and that’s where this barley is. I don’t know the outcome, but every time I take just another step or another glimpse or learn another thing everything tells me it’s worth pursuing.”

Schwebach’s father began the farm after relocating from Kansas in the 1950s. Schwebach and his wife partnered with his father to buy his uncle out. Schwebach has three sons who are fourth-generation farmers, and he became a Torrance County commissioner to help the agricultural industry thrive.

“This valley has changed, and that’s why I’m now a commissioner, to try to help mold a sustainable future for this valley,” Schwebach said. “… That is one of the draws to the barley. … Essentially, you can take 240 acres of barley and get a good product, and that amount of acreage is doable for three people to harvest, plant, maintain and then continue to malt it throughout the year, and it has potential to provide a very healthy living for a couple families.”

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