Sure, you know a lot about the beer you drink, but how much do you know about the barley behind it? For me the answer was virtually nothing until Anheuser-Busch showed us first hand how much care goes into a Budweiser from grain to glass. COED spent three days with AB InBev executives in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Idaho Falls, Idaho for an in depth look at the passionate people and the places behind the process.
(Disclosure: AB InBev paid for this complimentary trip. The opinions expressed are my own.)
The adventure began at the Teton Mountain Lodge in Jackson Hole. We had a half day to unwind and see the sights. I took the gondola up the Deck bar with my friend Joe from Joesdaily.com. This incredible outdoor bar had amazing 280º views of the Grand Teton National park and the winding Snake River. After a few Buds, we headed back down the mountain to meet up with the rest of the group for some more Buds and some burgers. It was here we met the AB team and the rest of the media we would spend the next few days with.
AB InBev brought out the heavy hitters for this one. Dave Maxwell, Director of Brewing, North America (not pictured), Colleen Lucas, Budweiser Brand Director (above center)…
Ralph Judd, Director of Raw Materials (above left), Gary Hanning, Director of Global Barley Research (above right), Rob Naylor, Manager and Brewmaster, Research Pilot Brewery (below left), Lisa Derus, Corporate Communications (below right) and John Drake, Plant Manager at the Idaho Falls Malt Plant (above center). We all hung out, got to know each other over a number of Buds and burgers. We couldn’t have been amongst a better group of people.
The next morning we loaded up on a bus and trekked across the Tetons into Idaho.
The first stop was Clark Hamilton’s Triple C barley farm in Swan Valley, Idaho. The Hamilton farm is one of many independent barley growers in the Idaho area that supply raw barley to Anheuser-Busch.
We met up with Clark during harvest. He explained that weather and climate are important factors for growing a healthy barley crop and that nature can make or break a season. Anheuser-Busch has the highest quality standards for their grain and provide farmers with new modern tools to assist in the growing process. With the help of AB’s Smart Barley program, farmers are now able to access and compare data online with other barley farmers around the world facing similar crop conditions.
We took a walk through the barley fields minutes before it was set to be cut by the large combine machine.
The combine was working against time as a huge storm was pushing in on the horizon. Water is an important part of the malting process (which we will discuss shortly), but quite a foe during harvest.
We moved on up to the farm house for a private lunch and beer pairing as a hell of a storm blew in.
The appetizers were ridiculously good. They consisted of many varieties of elk, buffalo and cheese. This could’ve been the main course and I wouldn’t have complained in the slightest.
Rob Naylor spoke about the special Budweiser varieties he paired with the meal. Each of the beers were conceived and created at the Anheuser-Busch Research and Pilot Brewery.
From there, we headed out to The Budweiser Idaho Barley Malt plant in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Anheuser-Busch has 12 breweries in North America, but only two barley malting plants. If you’ve ever had a Budweiser in the US, the odds are pretty good the malted barley came from here.
The harvested barley is brought in by truck and by train and moved by conveyor belt underground to the 6-story steeping tanks.
The raw barley begins its malting journey on the 6th floor. The first process begins by separating the impurities. The tanks are then filled with water to increase the moisture level of the gran. Forced air is added and the combination of water and oxygen start the germination process.
When the barley has finished steeping for 48 hours, the barley is transferred down a flight to the germination tanks. The grain sits here at a regulated temperature for four days which allows sugar levels to increase.
Shovels and snowshoes hang on the wall outside the germination tanks. Plant manager John Drake tells us it’s not a good thing if the snowshoes come off the wall and assures us it’s a very rare occurrence.
Once the desired sugar levels have been met, the barley (now malt) is moved to another story down into a giant kiln for drying. The dried malt is then shipped to Budweiser breweries around the country. You can see the next steps here.
After a full day in Idaho, we headed back to Jackson Hole to get ready for the night’s activities.
Like past Budweiser events, they went all out. We were met at the resort by a pair of horse drawn covered wagons to take us on a sunset ride to dinner. The temperature dropped 40º from earlier in the day making the trip a bit chilly, but awesome nonetheless.
Our host for the evening was Captain Bill (not 100% on the Bill part). He was a character straight out of a dime novel. A true cowboy who splits his time between Wyoming and Arizona depending on the season. He told crazy campfire stories about his time in Jackson Hole and took us out back for a roping lesson in the rain.
All in all, the only downfall to this trip was it was too short. I have been on a number of trips with Anheuser-Busch and have witnessed first hand, the determination and dedication that goes into crafting every beer. But more than the process itself, I have to say what makes Budweiser a great beer is the people behind it. Thank you for an amazing time.