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Moving with purpose through the blustery, snowy lot outside of her Wellington malt house, Twila Soles looks like a woman who’s comfortable in work boots.
Truth is, she’s had to trudge through muck more staggering than 16 inches of snowpack. Over the last decade, Soles has earned her graduate degree in food science and food safety; become a mom; battled ulcerative colitis; and launched Grouse Malt House, one of only two dedicated gluten-free malt houses in the country.
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And then she lost her husband.
“My husband was my biggest fan,” Soles says. “One of our first dates was touring used dairy equipment and dreaming about how we were going to retrofit it into our malt vessel.”
Twila and William Soles launched Grouse Malt House to help brewers make gluten-free beer that tastes just as good as their glutenous counterparts. The couple was just barely out of start-up mode when William died in 2016.
“I’m doing what I feel like I am supposed to do in this lifetime, and he was a huge part of getting Grouse started,” Soles says. “We had a one-year-old at the time, and there was a period when it was all too much. But I felt Will’s strength telling me, ‘You can do this.’”
And she did.
Grouse Malt House now provides breweries across the country—from New Planet Beer in Fort Collins to Ghostfish Brewing Co. in Seattle, Washington—with gluten-free malt made from heirloom millet, buckwheat, and maize. Soles has doubled her production capabilities nearly every year since 2016 to keep up with demand. “Our initial customers are growing, and their demands are growing,” she says.
Soles has built her customer base in an industry that is wary of going gluten free. That’s because—let’s face it—gluten-free beer has a bad reputation. “[Gluten-free brewers] were using syrups to develop gluten-free beer,” Soles says, physically putting air quotes around “beer.” “It is very challenging—arguably impossible—to make a finished product that tastes like beer out of ingredients that are not malt.”
Forging another path, Grouse Malt House turns gluten-free grains into malt through a process that includes steeping, germinating, kilning, and roasting. It results in beer that has more body and a better mouthfeel. Her malt can also be brewed into different types of beer, from Vienna lagers to stouts.
But Grouse Malt House products were a hard sell at first. “I approached a brewery in 2014, when we were just getting going. I gave them samples of the malt and beer,” Soles says. “They were like, ‘This is really cool, but we’re never going to do that.’ Now, two of their team members have an allergy or intolerance to gluten, or barley specifically. And they’re making a gluten-free beer.”