By Jacob Moore
In our inaugural newsletter, we talked about some of the considerations for expanding your malthouse. While these same factors apply to starting a malthouse, you may be wondering about the differences between methods and styles of malting. The worksheet we provided in our initial article was based on a generic system using a germination and kiln combination vessel (GKV) and is useful for rough cost analysis. However, when looking at starting a malthouse, it is beneficial to compare and contrast between malting methods and identify the pros and cons of each style.
There are four primary methods to consider - floor malting, using a germination box or vessel, utilizing separate germination and kilning vessels, and a combined germination and kilning (GKV) system. This article provides a comparative guide to these four approaches, contrasting the infrastructure needs, production capacities, operational differences, and flexibility for future expansion of each method. For those pressed for time, we've listed the pros and cons of each system in the below TL:DR breakdown.
Comparing Infrastructure Needs
All malthouses require a building in which to operate making it a logical starting point for our comparison. They will utilize similar vessels for grain storage, racks for storing finished bagged products, buffer tanks for steep water, and similar pieces of equipment for cleaning and bagging. Another commonality of all methods and systems is the need for a building of suitable height. For example, a 6-ton steep tank is roughly 18 feet tall without factoring in any transfer system for incoming grain. Ductwork for germination vessels and kilns can affect this as well. Systems can, of course, be designed to accommodate most spaces but this will often add increased cost due to logistical constraints.
Floor malting will require the largest floor space out of all the methods due to the necessity of the thinner grain bed to allow appropriate aeration. Assuming a 4-inch grain bed you would need a minimum of 250-300 sq. feet per ton of barley. Thus, if you intend to produce 6-ton batches you would need a +/- 1,500 to 1,800 sq. ft. malting room. You would also need a steep tank (approx. 120 sq. ft.) kiln, and an air handler (A/H) which can push the total floor space needed to around 2,520 - 2,820 sq. ft. (assuming roughly 900 sq. ft. for the kiln and A/H) without any consideration for system layout.
The middle option regarding space would be utilizing a germination vessel and a separate kilning vessel. Most often this would be a Saladin box, which condenses the grain bed into a smaller space and uses a mixer to turn the grain during germination. A 6-ton Saladin box takes up roughly 300 sq. ft (including space for the germination air handler) but would need extra space for access platforms. Once again you will need space for your kiln and kiln A/H as well as the steep tank which would be the same as if you were floor malting, or +/- 1,020 sq. ft. Again, with no consideration for system design or layout the space needed would be over 1,320 sq. ft.
A 6-ton drum germination & kiln combination vessel (GKV) or box-style GKV system would take up the least amount of space due to using the same vessel for both germination and kilning. This would remove the extra space from the kiln, leaving the drum-style systems at +/- 1,200 sq. ft.
When taking into consideration an actual system layout, GKVs are the clear winner in the space department. For either box or drum style, you could fit three 6-ton GKVs, a buffer tank, a steep tank, and an A/H into a 41-foot by 66 ⅔ feet space (2,733 sq. ft). That is roughly the same amount of floor space you would need to floor malt but with 3 times the capacity! The smaller space requirements of the GKVs and even the separate vessels allow easier scaling of production as your business grows.
Maximizing Production Capacity
Speaking of capacity, the production cycle of malting (steeping, germination, and kilning) is essentially the same regardless of the method used, however, the system configuration can affect the annual production volume. Germination takes up most of the production time and is the “natural” bottleneck timewise during production. Because of this, increasing your production capabilities requires increasing your ability to germinate more grain; requiring more vessels, which of course may not be feasible when starting, or utilizing a style of production that allows you to start germination of a new batch of malt before you are finished processing a batch.
Combination germination and kiln vessels (GKVs) are convenient as the handling of green malt between germination and kilning is eliminated. However, the downside of a GKV is the vessel is tied up for the full duration of both the germination and kilning phases. A system configuration using a separate germination vessel, either floor malting or using a box/drum, and a dedicated kilning vessel allows you to start the germination of a new batch of grain when you transfer an existing batch to the kiln. This effectively cuts your batch cycle down by one day and while starting a new batch one day early does not sound like much, it does add up over time.
Assuming you operate 50 weeks of the year with a combined 6-day cycle, 5 days for germination, and 1 day for kilning, you could process +/- 58 batches in a GKV. However, if you can start germination one day sooner by utilizing separate vessels for each stage, you can process +/- 70 batches, and an extra 12 batches per year! Keep in mind that transfer time, cleaning, and maintenance will of course change these values, but it does show the benefit of the separate vessels.
One last area where comparing the different methods makes sense is the actual operation. Floor malting is the most hands-on method for malt production. You will be able to see, smell, and touch much of your grain as the malt bed is turned by “hand” throughout the germination process. This does of course come with an increased commitment of time, either from you or employees, which may not be feasible for everyone. Choosing to use any other method does open the possibility for more automation of the process. With the right transfer method, certain systems can be operated by one or two people, which is of benefit to those who are not able to have many employees, if any. As with many things in life, there is a cost to increased automation, in this case, the cost is increased capital needed upfront.
Allowing for Future Expansion
While some methods take up less space and some require less capital at start-up, as stated at the start of this article, the considerations for starting a malthouse are not independent of each other. Responsibly meeting these requirements can enable you to add additional methods as your business grows. Choosing to start via floor malting to help control start-up costs does not mean you cannot add GKVs in the future to help scale your production capabilities. Starting with a Saladin box and a separate kiln gives you the option to add in a malting floor without the need for a new kiln. At the end of the day, the right method of malting for you will be one that can meet your production capacity, with the infrastructure needs that you can support, and has the financial requirements that you can afford.
Ready to start your malting operation? Schedule a free consultation with our team of experts to discuss your production goals and select the ideal malting system for your needs. We'll evaluate your space requirements, budget, and growth plans to guide you in choosing the right equipment for your facility. Whether you're leaning toward floor malting, Saladin boxes, or GKV systems, we can advise you on the pros and cons and help customize the perfect solution for you. Don't go it alone - leverage our decades of experience to start on the right foot. Contact us today to schedule your free consultation!