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A New Business Accelerator Wants to Retool Appalachia's Economy

Brent Manning of Riverbend Malt House discussing planting techniques with local grain farmer, Tony Hill
Brent Manning of Riverbend Malt House discussing planting techniques with local grain farmer, Tony HillPhotograph by David Ackley

Brent Manning co-founded Riverbend Malt House in 2010 to supply local malt—the germinated grain used to make beer and whiskey—to brewers around the Southeast. Based in Asheville, N.C., Manning and co-founder Brian Simpson buy barley, wheat, and rye from farmers within 500 miles, try to use organic crops, and rake the grain by hand before drying it in their kiln. “What we’re hoping to play a role in is the development of an Appalachian-style beer, something that is connected to this area,” Manning says.

Riverbend Malt House is one of the stars of a new accelerator program meant to encourage sustainable businesses in Appalachia, a region of the country long dependent on coal, tobacco, logging, and other extractive industries. “Coal is being outpaced currently by the lower cost of natural gas,” says Sara Day Evans, a sixth-generation Kentuckian and founder of Accelerating Appalachia. “Folks are now having to come to grips with what kind of economy can work for this place.”