mushroom head

I’ll admit, sometimes I rest on my laurels when describing any brown beer I’m drinking: “I don’t know, I guess it’s malty?” Malty. Like calling something “interesting,” it’s a cop-out that implies flavor while hardly saying anything at all. Maybe notes of toffee? A rye spiciness and a clean mouthfeel? The breadth of characteristics malt can impart is as wide as it is complex. Still, I can see why drinkers struggle to place what makes malt so special. Suffering from a case of middle child syndrome, malt lacks the panache of palate blasting hops and fails to rile the zeitgeist like wild yeast does—but that doesn’t mean you should ignore it. At the foundation of every good beer is its grain, and while malt remains an unsung ingredient in the public eye, there are some passionate maltsters out there looking to change its reputation.

Enter Mushroom Head Malt Company. The brainchild of husband and wife duo Richard and Danni Vierzen, Mushroom Head represents a merging of its founders talents—Danni’s scientific mind and Richard’s ability to harvest just about any crop on Earth in full. A hand on his father’s dairy farm since he could swing a rake, Richard has grown into a man who understands and loves land. He affectionately refers to his own with feminine pronouns, “A heavy rain and her soil will spill into the pond,” and “She’s gonna put out a great harvest this year.” From the looks of it, she most certainly will.

mushroom head

Richard and Danni’s malting journey began a few years back after a bad farm deal. We’ll spare the nitty gritty. Essentially they were forced to shift from their normal farming practices and turn lemons to lemonade—or barley to malt if you will. “We first attended the Great lakes Hops and Barley convention in 2016 thinking that hops would be a good idea,” Danni said. “We quickly saw a need for Michigan barley and we had already been growing top grade cereal grains for the last 10 years.”

So they erected a barn to germinate and kiln grain and then, bingo, a malt farm was born.

Recently, I paid a visit to the Vierzen’s farm in Saranac, MI and spent the day learning more about the process from seed to grain sack. Mostly though, I moseyed about the grounds marveling at their field of barley that stretched into infinity. The Calypso Winter barley with its waist-high stalks swaying in the breeze looked like hairs wisping off an impressionist’s paintbrush. We took a hay ride to the edge of the plot and Richard let me pluck a couple kernels for taste. Plump and healthy, they burst with a sweetness like a grass jellybean. The symmetry and size of the plant suggested a yield that might exceed even Richard’s expectations. Last year the Vierzens harvested about 100,000 pounds of barley. This year the bounty could double, a win-win for Michigan’s agriculture and its craft breweries alike.

The way Danni sees it, there’s a sense of pride to incorporating locally sourced crop. “When I go drink a beer made with Mushroom Head malt, I know I am drinking something one-of-a-kind,” she said. “It has a flavor unlike anything you can buy online. The freshness that comes from buying local cannot be matched!”

Early adopters of Mushroom Head agree. The boys at Thornapple Brewing used some of their cracker malt for a SMASH (single malt and single hop) saison and were impressed by a level of quality not usually seen in our state. In another case, Gravel Bottom tinkered with their Hoppy Bliss wheat IPA recipe to include 2-row pilsner malt from Mushroom Head. Onsite expert Ben Darcie found that the malt gave the beer a bigger body and a better platform for the Michigan grown hops to shine too. “It’s an exciting reflection of where we are,” Darcie said. “It’s our soil and sun encapsulated. We’ve put Michigan in a glass.”

For now, you can find Mushroom Head malt popping up for wholesale at homebrew shops like Siciliano’s and in Michigan beers made by some of our best breweries. That said, it’s well worth the field trip to meet the Vierzens and hear their story firsthand. They’re a tight-knit family, charming and hospitable, and I’m sure they’d welcome you with open arms and beer in hand. While they continue to make a name for themselves with their exceptional product, watch as they grow like their namesake fungus.


Holland, Mich–New Holland Brewing is proud to release their 2016 Tulip Time brew – The Hollander!

On Tuesday, April 26, New Holland’s collaborative brew, “The Hollander – Michigan Saison” – hit taps at their Downtown Holland Pub on 8th. The Hollander is collaboration between New Holland, Tulip Time, the City of Holland/Windmill Island, and several Michigan suppliers, including Empire Hop Farms, Top Hops, Hopyards Of Kent, Hophead Farms, Michigan Malting, Pilot Malt House, and Craft Cultures.

The Hollander is pure Michigan from top to bottom, featuring a yeast strain from the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula in the U.P., all Michigan-grown hops, Michigan-grown and malted barley, and pure Lake Michigan water.

New Holland has been a longtime supporter of Michigan agriculture; with 100% of their pub specialty beers brewed with 100% Michigan ingredients, 100% of the time. Also, several production beers and spirits feature Michigan-grown ingredients, such as Michigan Awesome Hatter (Michigan IPA), The Carhartt Woodsman (Wood-aged Pale Ale), Mad Hatter (Midwest IPA), Paleooza (Michigan Pale Ale), Pitchfork Wheat Whiskey, and new release Blue Haven Gin, featuring Michigan blueberries.

New Holland Pub on 8th brewer, Steve “Bert” Berthel is no stranger to celebrating Michigan ingredients in his pub specialties. “As someone who has embraced the idea of supporting local farmers and sustainability in my personal life for years, it is truly an honor for me as a brewer to be aligned with a company that will allow me to bring my values to my job.” Berthel continued, “I am excited to be able to have a day where we can make a beer that showcases the high quality ingredients that these Michigan suppliers are providing us and be able to showcase the finished product at this year’s Tulip Time celebration.”

New Holland has been supporting the Tulip Time Festival for nearly a decade and is proud to once again be brewing the official beer for this Holland, MI based festival which is one of the largest festivals in the country. Tulip Time will run May 7-14 with multiple parades, concerts and events throughout the week.

The Hollander was officially “tapped” on April 26 at the New Holland Pub on 8th following an event for the Tulip Time Board and is available at many local Holland establishments through mid-May as well as the New Holland Pub on 8th in downtown Holland along the parade routes. It will also be featured at various Tulip Time festivities throughout the week of the festival. For more Tulip Time information, visit their website.