USA: Briess to close 118-year old malthouse

Briess Malt & Ingredients Co., a specialty maltster which is now run in its fifth generation, has announced to decommission within the next three years its 118-year-old malthouse at its headquarter in Chilton, Wisconsin. Instead, the company will increase the capacity at its Manitowoc site, which is located only 44 kilometers (27 miles) west of Chilton on the shores of Lake Michigan. In addition, the company will build the Briess Experience Center, “a space where our customers, partners and employees can interact and learn,” according to Ryan O’Toole, President and COO of Briess.

“The Chilton Malthouse has been malting grains for over a century,” said O’Toole. In the 1930s third generation maltster Eric Briess emigrated from Czechoslovakia to the U.S. and began exporting U.S. malt to customers whose sources of malt had been cut off as a result of the war. In the 1950s, he formed a relationship with the Chilton Malting Company to supply the Briess family malt export business with malt. He acquired capacity of the Chilton Malting Company, implemented improvements to increase capacity and product mix and installed roasters for the production of roasted caramel malt. Since then, the Chilton plant has been producing specialty malts.

“That tradition of malting and providing specialty malts will continue in the Manitowoc facility in the same manner as it has in Chilton,” said O’Toole in a press release. For this purpose Briess continues to invest heavily in the former Busch Agricultural malt plant, which the company bought in 2014 for USD6.2 million.

Initially, the plant on Manitowoc's lakefront consisted of a large grain storage, cleaning and grading facility and six decommissioned malthouses. When Anheuser-Busch stopped producing malt, it took apart much of the equipment, some of which was sold to other malt companies. However, Briess managed to bring the largest malting with 65,000 metric tons back online, thereby more than doubling Briess’ malting capacity.

Originally, the Manitowoc plant was destined for the large-scale production of base malts, while Briess continued to produce specialty malts at its other two Wisconsin malthouses in Chilton and Waterloo.

In 2017 the company announced to invest USD17 million in its Manitowoc plant, including replacing an aging structure and installing a roaster and automated packaging line for the production and packaging of specialty roasted malts. “Now all Briess production sites will have roasting capability,” said O’Tooleat that time.

The closure of the outdated and inefficient Chilton plant is a consistent step in achieving efficiencies in the production and logistics of the malt. Nevertheless, many customers will regret this step as it also means a loss of tradition in times when brewers start to appreciate even more those intangible values.

In order to compensate for that loss, Briess has now also announced to establish the Briess Experience Center, “an environment that will stimulate the sharing of knowledge, the development and application of products and the strengthening of great relationships,” according to O-Toole. “The Experience Center will house components of our development and application equipment, a training and knowledge sharing classroom and a social engagement area. The history and journey of Briess through 143 years of malting and ingredient production will be woven into the fabric and visual displays throughout the space. We wish to share the knowledge of our craft, our culture and our longstanding Briess traditions with our customers and team at this site. We look forward to sharing this experience in the next 24 months.”

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