Multi-generational family farm keeps it local and sustainable, from grain to glass
What’s unique about Origin Malting and Brewing is that it’s kept all in the family. Starting in the barley fields of Strathmore, Alberta, Origin Malting and Brewing is backed by five generations of barley farmers.
“It’s a great quality malt. We make sure it’s top grade before it even comes to the malthouse from the farm,” says Meleah Geeraert, taproom manager and co-owner of Origin Malting and Brewing Company.
Once the barley is harvested, the best bins are ear marked for the malting process. From Origin’s malthouse, it’s taken to the brewery where it is then made into 12 different craft beers.
While Origin Malting and Brewing Company only started back in 2017, its heritage dates back to 1910 when Meleah’s great-great-grandparents, Henry and Florence Hilton, immigrated to Canada and established the multi-generational family farm and business, known today as Hilton Ventures Ltd.
Spanning across 12,000 acres of land located east of Calgary, Alberta, the family farm has been growing quality barley for over 60 years. Hilton Ventures is currently owned and operated by Spencer and Lynne Hilton (who are also Meleah’s parents), Sterling and Lianna Hilton (aunt and uncle), and Dane Hilton (brother).
For Spencer, he says the connection between Hilton Ventures and Origin Malting and Brewing, was simply a natural step for the family business.
“Much like the Napa Valley region is known for great wine grapes, this part of Alberta is well-known as a great malt barley growing region,” says Spencer.
Barley is among Canada’s largest crops alongside wheat and canola. The grain is grown throughout Canada, but compared to other provinces, Alberta leads in barley production.
Alberta’s terroir is perfect for growing barley—the combination of warm days, cool evenings along with the typical dry prairies fall creates the perfect environment for growing barley.
As the fifth generation, Meleah alongside her husband and partner, Kyle Geeraert, introduced the family venture into the malting and brewing industry.
To the Hilton family, it was a natural connection to grow and malt the barley and brew the beer right near home.
After a visit to the United States, they found state-of-the-art malting equipment and brought it up north to their hometown of Strathmore. Right at the peak of the Alberta brewery boom in 2017, the Origin team opened their own malthouse, perfecting malt barley and selling it to local breweries across Alberta.
“We also wanted to supply our malt product with Western Canadian breweries, so they can add the story of their beer produced from Origin’s Alberta malt, right from our family farm,” says Meleah.
Once Origin started construction on the malthouse, they also opened their own brewery, creating a truly local grain to glass experience while proving the quality of their malt.
Sustainability from Grain to Glass
Along with years of barley growing experience, the Hilton family has also passed down the family’s long-time commitment to sustainable farming both in the field and now in the Origin Malting and Brewing’s operations as well.
“We’ve had a good culture in our family—going back to the second and third generation—about the conservation of the environment. More specifically, it started with the conservation of soil,” says Spencer.
Conservation tillage is a well-known sustainable farming practice today. Back in the 1970s, it was still a growing concept in agriculture, and Meleah’s grandparents were among the first farmers to pioneer soil conservation through reduced tillage.
When the soil is tilled, it releases the stored carbon back into the atmosphere. By comparison, a conservation no-till farming system, holds the carbon in and helps the soil build organic matter.
For example, in 2020 using no-till, Hilton Venture’s farm was able to take 3,500 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide out of the air. The carbon is sent into the roots and the oxygen is released back into the atmosphere through the process photosynthesis.
The Origin team continues to implement sustainable practices into its Malting and Brewery operations. Since the family farm is just down the road from Origin Malting and Brewing, it makes for an efficient local system—less energy is used when transporting product from one facility to another while also minimizing their overall ecological footprint.
Additionally, Origin works with farmers to repurpose the by-product from the brewery and malthouse.
“Once we start the brewing process, we actually have what’s called spent grain,” Meleah says.
Spent grain is the leftover malt barley from the brewing process. It makes up about 85 per cent of breweries’ by-product. In some cases, spent grain is simply disposed in landfills. When possible Origin donates the spent grain and malt screenings to local farmers to feed their livestock.
With a long-standing family history to the Strathmore community and a commitment to local sustainable agriculture, both Origin Malting and Brewing Company and Hilton Ventures continue to grow.
“[There’s] that growing trend, whether it’s your food or anything, [where] people want to know that it’s coming from a local place—especially from a local family farm,” Meleah says.
Sources  Barley—Alberta Barley https://www.albertabarley.com/our-priorities/barley/  Culinaire Magazine—Alberta’s Booming Barley Industry http://culinairemagazine.ca/alberta-s-booming-barley-industry/#:~:text=Our%20cool%20winters%20and%20dry,production%20and%20innovation%20in%20farming  Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture—Brewer’s spent grain: a valuable feedstock for industrial application https://doi.org/10.1002/jsfa.6486