Nearly 20 years after the Miller Brewing Plant in Fulton closed its doors, a new craft malt house is opening in the same factory.
The 1886 Malt House is setting up shop in what is now the Sunoco ethanol plant, where more than 25 million bushels of corn are processed every year. The two businesses will share the facility's scale house, lab technicians and maintenance employees. The actual malting of the barley will take place on the north side of the plant.
"This is a highly processed controlled grain facility and there's a lot of lab testing that goes into quality process management, that kind of thing is key for malting," said Noel McCarthy, founder of the 1886 Malt House and one of eight new employees it will employ.
But Fulton Sunoco plant spokesperson Erin Tones admits that some people may be wary of a beer that was partially made in an ethanol plant.
"It certainly has come up as a concern," Tones said. "I think what we are doing here is ensuring a very high quality consistent product and I think that asset that we have here will outshine any other concerns."
The owners of the malt house have invested more than $12 million into the equipment.
The 1886 Malt House arrives as New York state's craft beer industry is flourishing. But, there's a potential issue. In order to be considered a farm craft brewery in the state, a certain amount of New York-grown barley must be used in the manufacture of the beer. That amount will steadily increase in the coming years. And Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) says few farmers in the state are willing to plant barley right now.
"It's [barley] more delicate," Schumer said during a visit to 1886 Malt House. "If you have a bad growing season -- if there’s too much water or too much cold or heat -- the malt barley is less likely to be a successful crop than regular barley or other grain crops. So, farmers are reluctant to grow it because they're afraid they could lose all of their money."
Otsego, Genesee, Cortland and Ontario are the only four New York counties that can currently insure their barley crop with the federal government. Schumer says he is actively trying to get the new U.S. secretary of agriculture to make that insurance available to the entire state.
1886 Malt House is expected to open this summer.