Subscribe to Our Mailing List
Get the latest news and updates with our Proximity Malt newsletters.
A Wisconsin startup wants to add a new flavor to Delmarva’s growing craft-brewing industry.
If Proximity Malt has its way, it will process locally grown grains such as barley, wheat and rye into malt for craft breweries across the mid-Atlantic.
It has chosen as its local base of operations a site with deep roots in grain production: the former Laurel Grain Co.’s complex on Bi-State Boulevard. The company bought the land and its aging group of grain elevators and storage tanks in December for $950,000, according to Delaware online property records.
It also is moving ahead with a second malting plant in southern Colorado. Both are expected to be running by early 2017.
“I think we’ve got a lot of positive interest from customers at this point and we’ll see where it goes,” said Amy Germershausen, Proximity’s sales and marketing director.
The company may be small, with just three employees. But their efforts already have gained a gubernatorial endorsement in Delaware.
In a statement, Gov. Jack Markell said he “is pleased that Proximity has chosen Delaware to locate their production facility.” He added: “Delaware has a skilled base of small grains producers to support their raw material requirements. We welcome their decision to locate in Sussex County.”
Once in operation, the Laurel facility should employ 20-25 people, Germershausen said.
The company hopes to provide a new market for local farmers, she said.
Many already grow barley and other grains as cover crops during the winter to help prevent erosion and keep nutrients from polluting waterways such as the Chesapeake Bay. Last year, First State farmers grew nearly 1.8 million bushels of barley on 22,000 acres of cropland and 4.2 million bushels of wheat on 14,000 acres, according to theU.S. Department of Agriculture.
With some tweaks in the varieties those farms grow, the grains could be suitable for craft brews, Germershausen said. Brewers prefer “toasted” flavor from their grains, but the high-yielding varieties most farmers grow yield a “grassy” flavor instead.
The Laurel location stood out because the company could salvage some of the equipment and infrastructure while tapping into the area’s booming craft-brewing market, Germershausen said.
“It’s an old feed mill. It’s got some great concrete bins we’ll be utilizing, and we’ll be building the malting units right along side it,” she said.
The plant is expected to have a production capacity of 25,000 tons of malted grain a year.
The company has been working with the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control on cleaning up the former granary. The 18-acre site is designated as a “brownfield” over the presence of asbestos in some of the buildings.
That remediation work is nearing completion, Germershausen said.
All told, Proximity is expected to invest $40-$50 million in the facility, said Melody Booker-Wilkins, Sussex County’s economic development director.
“That’s significant economic development news to hit Sussex County and particularly western Sussex County,” she said.
Burley Oak founder Bryan Brushmiller said he looks forward to the facility’s arrival. The Berlin-based brewery contracts with a farm near Snow Hill to grow its grains, but they have to be shipped to Massachusetts and back for the malting process.
He envisions environmental and marketing benefits from the Laurel facility. It would reduce his carbon footprint and burnish his beer’s standing among locavores — people interested in consuming locally grown food.
“We’re a culturally driven area,” Brushmiller said. “What it’s going to allow to happen is it’s going to connect local farmers with all these local breweries that are popping up and starting to come out.”
by: Jeremy Cox