Craft beer means a lot of different things to a lot of different people; that’s part of why it’s become so popular. But one thing rings true across all the varied interactions that people have with craft beer – the sheer number of styles , and variations of styles – on offer.
The days of having to choose between five brands of similarly flavoured light beer are over. Now there’s seemingly a beer for every imaginable occasion. And consumers aren’t the only ones benefitting from the plethora of pours available. Brewers are thrilled to be able to allow their creativity to flourish. A number of hop varieties, with the rise of locally grown hops across Canada, do a lot in adding to the large amount of choice that makes the craft beer movement so amazing. Tour any brewery and you’ll find a variety of hops and yeast from multiple sources on hand.
Get to the malt portion of the brewery, however, and the familiar logos of Weyermann or Canada Malting are everywhere. The two giant malting companies aren’t bad malt producers, but the standard inclusion of the two malt giants puts forth a frustrating limitation on a beer industry that thrives on variety, locally produced goods, and small, independent businesses.
Enter Barn Owl Malt. Barn Owl is a relatively new malting house on the outskirts of Belleville, Ontario. Operated by husband and wife team Devin and Leslie Huffman, Barn Owl focuses on creating a variety of small-batch malts that make use of local Ontario barley and the historic method of floor malting to bring forth a malt that separates itself from the commonly used brands in the best of ways. While they just opened last year, getting there took some time.
Tree planters in their previous lives, the Huffmans spent more than ten years working throughout Northern Canada. Tree planting led to several contracts in the forestry and mining businesses, but eventually, they turned their gaze toward Devin’s grandparent’s property, unused for many years, and saw in it a chance to settle down from an ever-changing life and build businesses that put their shared talents to good use.
“It got to the point where we were following the work, which led to staying in a lot of hotels and short-term rentals all the time and that got a little bit boring,” Devin Huffman says. “So we were looking for something to settle down with and this place was available and we were looking to do something a little more rural and agriculture based. So the property just sort of made sense for location and size.”
Once the Huffmans were settled in, the decision then became what specific business to actually open. The land itself hadn’t been used in 30 or 40 years, so it wasn’t a functional farm and the pair had to start from scratch. After kicking around a number of ideas for a niche, rural-based business, including something in the food industry, the idea of a craft brewery was one of the strongest contenders. But when they began to source brewing ingredients, they had a startling revelation.
“Just a lack of Ontario-based grain,” Leslie and Devin say, almost in unison.