Our mission with Hanabi is to readdress beer’s primary ingredient, grain, by finding the rock-star varieties, growers, and terroirs, and putting them center-stage. Our Hanabi grain-forward style is a direct expression of this effort.

Admiral Maltings and the Concept of Grain-Forward Beer

This season’s offering is unique because it was brewed using fresh, locally sourced grains. While this hardly seems revolutionary, it’s surprisingly atypical for brewers to have the opportunity to work with grains grown locally. Scarce little brewing barley has been grown in California since Prohibition destroyed the industry over a hundred years ago. Indeed, contemporary craft brewers everywhere are almost entirely reliant on generic commodity grains grown elsewhere by farmers whom they’ve generally never met or spoken with.

Beginning around 2010, a movement of small farmers, bakers, chefs, and ‘craft-maltsters’ interested in higher quality, healthier, and more delicious grains sought to construct an alternative supply chain to the existing system. Their work is enabling a new world of diverse and characterful Farm-to-Table grain-based foods and beers. Without these producers, our vision for Hanabi would just be a pipedream.

This season’s beer features grain that we sourced from Admiral Maltings, a local California company formed in 2017 by two veteran San Francisco brewers and an organic farmer, who envisioned a future where Farm-to-Table beers (beer made with locally grown grain) are possible.

To provide context, it’s useful to know that between the farmer and the brewer lies the ancient, traditional practice of malting. This involves germinating the grain to make it more digestible to eat or drink, and then lightly toasting the grains to prepare them for brewing. This is the role that our partner Admiral Maltings most crucially fulfills. They practice an age-old technique called ‘floor malting’, along with laborious hand-raking to turn the grains as they are germinating, that lends a great depth and complexity to their flavor. They are one of the few brewery grain suppliers in the country who practice this ancient art, and are the only one in California. To choose this traditional hands-on method over more modern, mechanized means of sprouting brewing grains, resonates strongly with the Hanabi way of doing things. We believe that the human nose, taste, and senses are still the most powerful and sensitive tools for directing the brewing process.

As two small companies, Admiral and Hanabi, with mutually aligned interests in grain quality, we are able to work together and create the possibility of Farm to Pint beers where the farmer, maltster, and brewer all put their heads together simultaneously to create beers that are special and unique.

From Hunter-Gatherer to Industrialization and Beyond

In a time when hops are often placed at center stage with respect to craft beer, why are we so focused on grain? Well, besides being the main ingredient in beer besides water, it was also one of the founding food crops of human civilization! We think that’s interesting. When humanity started transitioning from roaming bands of hunter-gatherers into permanent settlements of organized civilizations some 10,000 years ago, it was facilitated by being able to grow a stable food supply. One of the very first foods that humans figured out how to farm were cereal grains! This led to some of the earliest civilizations that sprang up along the Fertile Crescent. The cultural significance of the sacred grains becomes clear when you consider it in that context.

At Hanabi, we have sought out and brewed with some ancient grain varieties as well as contemporary ones, and it still blows our minds that human beings have eaten and been sustained, and imbibed in fermented beverages, from this noble family of plants literally since the beginning of civilization.

Further, the process of ‘malting’ the grains to make them more digestible, and to release their whole host of healthy vitamins and minerals, is equally as ancient. Early civilizations would soak baskets of grains along the banks of rivers, or in freshwater pools, and then once the grains sprouted, spread them out to dry in the sun and wind. When handled in this way, the breads and porridges they produced from them were more nutritious and digestible. Although the particulars are buried in history, fermented grain teas (beer) developed directly from these sprouted and dried (‘malted’) grains as well.

So then, it’s worth noting that until the Industrial Revolution, beer was often a product of many small farmers, as was wine. However, the coming of industry, and ideas like ‘specialization’ caused the path of beer and brewing to diverge from that of winegrowing during the 1700’s and 1800’s. While many contemporary wineries are significantly involved in the farming of the grapes that they use to make wine (either by direct ownership and management of the vineyards, or by close collaboration with the farmer/owner), very few contemporary craft breweries are involved with the agronomy of their grain supply. Since the brewing grain supply market is highly consolidated in modern times (with just a few, very large suppliers), there is little opportunity for medium and small breweries to sway the farming practices, grain variety selection, or anything else about this central ingredient to their beers.

However, that is changing with the grains renaissance that is underway, facilitated by small farmers willing to work with uncommon varieties of grains and maltsters like Admiral Malting who are willing to germinate and then toast these small batches of special grains to prepare them for the bespoke beers that they will be brewed into.

We think that this is significant.

Finally, now, for the first time in over 100 years, a craft brewer has the opportunity to put their heads together simultaneously with farmer and maltster, to grow and create something together where decisions can be made throughout the process, literally from planting the seeds in soil, all the way through to serving the beer in the glass that are in harmony with each other. We think this opens the door to higher quality, more interesting beers than ever before, and brewers in general are only beginning to scratch the surface of the possibilities. Like in the culinary sense of Farm-to-Table, this trifecta of small farmer, small maltster, and small brewer make possible the dream of producing what could be considered Farm-to-Table beer. That idea excites us.

It seems fitting that just 9 miles away from where Alice Waters and her Chez Panisse restaurant famously ignited the Farm-to-Table movement in 1971, Admiral Maltings would be making this idea possible for Californian craft brewers today. We are honored to be living in this time and place. Let the sparks fly!