The remarkable resurgence of craft breweries in Maine over the past decade has sparked interest in using Maine-grown grains in the crafting process. But before that cold beverage hits your glass, all Maine grains travel first to Canada to be malted. Malting is the three-step process that prepares raw grain for brewing. Without it there can be no beer – craft or otherwise. Enter Blue Ox Malthouse and its founder, Joel Alex. With a loan from CEI, participation by CEI Investment Notes, Inc., and funding from Maine Technology Institute (MTI), Blue Ox Malthouse is poised to become the premier supplier of conventional and organic malt from Maine grown grains.
The company connects the 5,000 acres (equivalent to 14 million lbs. or 7,000 tons) of malting barley grown in Maine to the $35 million in-state market opportunity of Maine-based breweries. Blue Ox Malthouse also provides an ancillary benefit to Maine’s agriculture sector by providing a market and increased opportunity to supply more crops to local retailers. The company plans to be a certified organic processor through Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), able to serve higher margin organic markets and to support sustainable growing practices.
In addition to providing 40% of the debit capital for Blue Ox Malthouse’s startup equipment costs and line of credit, CEI provided business counseling and support from CEI’s Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems program.
“From my first visit with CEI Small Business Development Center counselor Janet Roderick as a budding entrepreneur, through our successful loan application, CEI has been an integral support system for growing our company–it still is.”
–Joel Alex, owner and founder of Blue Ox Malthouse
In addition to CEI, Blue Ox Malthouse received significant support from Maine Technology Institute in grants and matching loans, participated in Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development’s 2014 Top Gun accelerator program, and received technical assistance and direct support from the Maine Manufacturing Extension Project, Maine Grain Alliance, the Libra Foundation, and others. As a result of this collaborative effort, Blue Ox Malthouse will have a considerable impact on the craft brewing houses in Maine and is forecasted to add five new jobs in two years with average compensation packages above $38,000 annually, including wages, healthcare, retirement, and a CSA share.
“The Blue Ox Malthouse Project is a great example of how an emerging generation of thoughtful entrepreneurs are returning to the land, developing value added niche offerings, and creating positive social and economic impact in the course of doing business,” said Art Stevens, CEI Loan & Investment Officer.