Spirits Alley Gains Ground

Admiral Maltings crafts a key brewing ingredient at Alameda Point.


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Ron Silberstein has brought a floor-malting barley facility to Alameda Point.

Photo by Jon Page

Inside a former naval warehouse at Alameda Point, Ron Silberstein steered a custom-built wheelbarrow across a radiant-cooled concrete floor. Within weeks, a blanket of sprouting barley kernels would cover that floor and Admiral Maltings would soon produce its first batch of malt for local brewers and distillers.

But for all that floor will provide, the Alameda resident couldn’t stop glancing at the building’s original redwood ceiling, which stole his attention when he first scouted the site.

“It looked to me like a redwood cathedral, and I just thought this is so beautiful,” said Silberstein, who is also the owner of ThirstyBear Brewing Company in San Francisco. “What we’re doing is the traditional method of floor malting, and to do that in a building with this kind of historical character ... was so much cooler than any of the other warehouses I’d seen.”

The enterprise from Silberstein and his co-founders—Dave McLean of San Francisco’s Magnolia Brewing Company and Curtis Davenport—won’t be the first alcohol-related business at Alameda Point. But it will be the first floor-malting barley facility in California since Prohibition, and it’s part of a new wave of companies taking root near Spirits Alley. Almanac Beer Company, which has contract brewed at other breweries since 2010, will open its first production brewery in the same building as Admiral Maltings this fall. Nearby, Oakland’s Urban Legend will soon move its wine production to the former naval station, joining St. George Spirits, Rock Wall Wine Company, Faction Brewing, Building 43 Winery, and Hangar 1 Vodka.

Unlike the other companies, Admiral Maltings will focus on producing malt, a crucial ingredient for brewing and distilling. Through periods of steeping, germinating, and drying, the malting process converts raw barley into malt, making starches available in the grain. Later, brewers steep the malt, which creates a fermentable sugar necessary to make alcohol. While Admiral Maltings cannot compete on yield and price with larger producers that make the vast majority of malt, it aims to offer a flavorful, local alternative to breweries and distilleries in California.

“It’s not that the malt is bad,” Silberstein said about the malt from larger producers. “They actually make a pretty big variety, but it’s very distant from where we’re brewing,” as far away as the Midwest, Canada, England, and Germany. Admiral Maltings buys its barley, a drought-tolerant crop, from farmers in the Sacramento Valley. That’s an exciting prospect for Almanac, a brewery that strives to brew beers made with ingredients from Northern California. “We don’t want their malt to taste like English malt,” said Jesse Friedman of Almanac. “We want it to taste like California malt, like Alameda malt.”

Photo by Jon Page

Curtis Davenport, a partner in Admiral Maltings, planned to start the first batch of malt in early August.

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Almanac’s proximity to the malt house comes with an extra perk. “We can sell malt fresh out of the kiln,” said Davenport, the head maltster. “I think that might be our biggest selling point.” Silberstein agrees. “It’s like getting fresh baked bread versus packaged Wonder Bread,” he said.

Silberstein started plotting his vision for a malt house in 2010. In the following years, he studied the trade, visited other maltsters, and met Davenport, an organic farmer who started malting in a shipping container in Santa Barbara. Davenport, who now lives in Oakland, will make 10-ton batches and aerate the barley on the floor with a specialty rake, which Silberstein said is more gentle on the malt than mechanical methods used by large maltsters. “It allows for the character that’s inherent in the malt to come out more,” Silberstein said.

Davenport planned to start the first batch of malt in early August, and Admiral Maltings handpicked its roster of first-time customers, including St. George, Faction, Almanac, Anchor Brewing Company, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, and Russian River Brewing Company. At St. George, master distiller Lance Winters plans to make a whiskey that should be ready for the malt house’s 10th anniversary. At Faction, brewer Rodger Davis will brew a single-malt pale ale for enjoyment much sooner.

Silberstein looks forward to showcasing beers made with his malt at The Rake, a pub and tasting room that will open this fall adjacent to the malt house. In a nearby building, a developer is hoping to bring an additional brewery to the block. Where some might see competition, Silberstein—ever the optimist—eyes opportunity.

“I always believe that a rising tide floats all boats,” he said, in between sips of an IPA on Faction’s patio. “That’s why we started the San Francisco Brewers Guild, because we can do much more as a guild than we can as a single brewery. And I believe that here, too. I believe that it’ll become more of a destination and draw more people, and I think it will be great for all of us.”

 

Admiral Maltings, 651 W. Tower Ave., AdmiralMaltings.com

 

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