Sugar Creek Malt Co. continues to set high standards

By Rachel D. Russell / Photography By Rachel D. Russell | August 01, 2016
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You might remember a “little” malting company I wrote about last year in our fall issue by the name of Sugar Creek. I got to know these malters—the Michalke family—at their open house last year on July 16. And again this year on July 9, they invited me out to Lebanon to their second annual open house to share their knowledge of grain, malting and local beer with beer lovers like me.

“This is a good year for barley.” Caleb Michalke said as he looked around at all of us standing in their pole barn bursting at the seams to meet malting capacity.

Yes, last year the deluge of spring rain made for a bad barely crop, but this year things are booming and they’re working with a 400,000 pound haul of their grains combined with other local farm grains, and next year they hope to see one million. (As a matter of fact, Caleb’s father, Jim, arrived late to the open house this year as he was out cutting rye on the picture perfect summer day.)

And if you’re wondering what else has changed at Sugar Creek, you’re asking a good question. On the tour last year, the Michalkes only had one germination bed and they were using a floor germination system, as well. Now, they have two larger beds that are much deeper and allow for more grain to be germinated at once. Also, the Michalkes have added a smokehouse to their resume.

“We have smoked just about everything…lavender, cardamom, plum and woods,” Caleb’s wife, Whitney, said as Caleb opened the smokehouse door and began to explain to us how the smoker can handle 400 pounds at once. The product then has to be hand bagged completely separate from other non-smoked barley due to the smell.

Why a smoker, you might wonder? It’s just another way Sugar Creek is adding creativity to an ever growing beer market.

“You can only get about 4–5 smoked malts in the brewing world, and we are trying to open that up,” he said.

Those of us with demanding beer palates who always want a taste of something new and different can’t really argue with him. And next year, they plan to get a roaster from Purdue University to create even more variety.

Let there be no doubt: Sugar Creek Malt Co. is setting a high standard for malters across the country and providing local, homegrown choices for Indiana brewers. Cheers to us all! 

Caleb Michalke shows off Sugar Creek Malt Co.'s smokehouse and smoker.
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