BYRON CENTER — In the craft industry, an open house means to bring the latest brew talk, your beer and a friend.

For the open house at Pilot Malt House’s new location, everyone was invited — industry professionals, home brewers, craft industry members and plenty of tagalong friends who just like drinking beer and want to learn more about malt.

“It’s an opportunity to get to know the local businesses,” says Erik May, owner of Pilot Malt House.

“There’s a huge demand for local malt product here in Michigan, and there aren’t many malt houses. So after a slightly inebriated conversation with a friend, we said why couldn’t we do it?”

The malting process itself is dependent on many factors like temperature and humidity, so having a limited workspace used to really challenge Pilot’s employees. The old location was ‘teeny tiny,’ and Pilot employees would have to employ “very creative processes to manage the grain.”

“Temperature control was…interesting,” says Ryan Hamilton, lead maltster. “At one point, we had to set up fans to try and regulate it.”

But a challenge wasn’t something May and his fellow co-workers backed down from. Referred to as his ‘Dream Team,’ when he chose who was coming on board to Pilot Malt House, he chose friends. A friend who could fix anything — John Brenner. A friend who knew the art of brewing — Ryan Hamilton. And two other friends that handle graphics and the business side of things. All of these men recognize May as ‘the leader,’ but they all have the passion for what they do.

Together they formed the business mantra that raw grain plus love equals better beer and spirits. According to them, it’s just that simple and important.

But for those not in the business, it’s not quite that simple. Look around Pilot’s upgraded space, and you’ll see a lab in the far corner. Giant kilns along the wall. A gigantic heating and cooling tube hanging above guests’ heads. And packaged grains in the tons stocked all the way to the warehouse ceiling.

It’s impressive. There was a blend of chemistry, hard work and magic happening here.

Speaking at more length, May says everything starts and ends with the customer: “There’s such innovation and customization — to just sit down with a brewer and say, ‘what do you wanna do?’”

That level of creativity and service is what drives the dedication of the Pilot Malt House team.

“In the malt industry, [we’re] not tied to one specific brand or product, [we’re] here for everyone.”

And at the open house, everyone has an amazing time. Old friends and first-time meetings blur into friendly handshakes, with Pilot offering a great venue for making industry connections.

In the sea of impressive facial hair, I feel a bit lacking, but I forgive everyone as more and more growlers pile up on the community beer table.

“Whenever there’s a beer added to the board, I gotta come over and try it,” says a friendly stranger next to me at the community taps. “Try the [Greenbush] Apathy Oatmeal Stout.”

I do. And it’s wonderful. So wonderful that I also come back to try White Flame’s Smokin’ Banana Peel and Tapistry Brewing’s Heart of Napalm DIPA.  If I had more time, I would set up an impromptu, totally casual flight tasting of all of the beer on the table.

It’s a beautiful thing to see so many industry professionals and their product discussing the craft business while saluting Pilot Malt House.

“People in the industry are just awesome,” says Brenner, “and we want to show people what we’re capable of doing.”

With this much representation of industry power and creativity in one room, it’s easy to see that the Michigan craft possibilities are infinite.

For a complete gallery of photos from the Pilot Malt House open house, please visit our Facebook page.

Gravel Bottom Craft Brewery