By Dustin Gouker
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The harvest this year at Mecca Grade Estate Malt was more about the future than the present.
After harvesting a full 300 acres of Full Pint barley and overproducing in 2016 to fill up its storage, the farm and malthouse outside of Madras grew by just 40 acres this year.
But in that same field were 30 different selections for The Next Pint Project, a partnership with Oregon State University for breeding a new variety of barley that will eventually be used by Mecca Grade. (The Full Pint variety was also bred by OSU.)
It was the second of a three-year program. Last year, there were 130 crosses planted at the farm, whittled down to 30 this season based on a variety of factors, eliminating strains that didn’t work out.
After this year’s harvest, the field is down to eight, with the goal of selecting one variety that the farm will produce moving forward, according to co-founder Seth Klann.
“The selection criteria will be based on finished beer for that variety,” said Klann. “We’re looking for something bred exclusively for our conditions in Central Oregon, our irrigation, and hopefully we find some sort of unique flavor, because that’s what it’s all about.”
Barley is often an afterthought for breweries, but Mecca Grade — which raises its own barley and also malts it on the premises — is trying to change that. Most malt for brewing in North America comes from a few large producers. But by farming its own unique barley and malting it, the business is creating a niche for itself in the craft brew industry.
“Because we’re an estate malt house, people ask us ‘Well does all your stuff come from your own farm?’ And I answer ‘Yes,’” said Klann, who runs the farm with his father. “And I think it surprises a lot of people, because even other craft malt houses are having to source from all over the place.
“So everything comes off of our own family farm. And I know that it limits production, but on the other hand the only people that are invested in it are me and my dad,” Klann continued. “We’re not set up to have explosive growth and become this huge thing, and I know the brewers we work with don’t want that either. So as long as we can keep things slow and steady and putting out really rare reserved malt, that’s what we are going to do.”
The list of brewers and beers using Mecca Grade’s malts is constantly growing. (You can see a full lineup on the website.) The Ale Apothecary in Bend now makes all its beer with Mecca Grade malt. Yachats Brewing on the coast uses it for about 95 percent of its beer, according to Klann.
This fall, you’ll see beers using this year’s harvest at Hood River’s pFriem Family Brewers and Logsdon Farmhouse Ales, Klann said. Deschutes Brewery, which has produced several beers using Mecca Grade’s product, has another beer in the making that will feature the farm’s crop.
“We’re going through the process of getting all of our barley certified Salmon-Safe, and that’s been big for Deschutes, and it’s been big for Crux [Fermentation Project],” Klann said.
But Oregon craft breweries are not the only destination for Mecca Grade’s malt. About half of it goes to California; its pilsner-style malts are being used in hazy IPAs.
“Our malt is definitely not cheap, and I think in Oregon the price is going up, but it kind of prohibits people from experimenting with better and more local ingredients,” Klann said. “But down there the price has already gone up, so people are just kind of chasing after the next secret ingredient for making better beer.”
Beer makers as far away as Allagash Brewing Company in Maine have also used Mecca Grade.
If you’re looking for Mecca Grade malt for your homebrew, you can find it at retailers in Portland (F.H. Steinbart Co.), Bend (The Brew Shop) and Corvallis (Corvallis Brewing Supply).
By the Brewers Association
For the Oregon Beer Growler
With more big labels snapping up smaller craft beer producers, the Brewers Association is making a move to help educate beer lovers about the origins of their beloved beverage. The not-for-profit trade group dedicated to promoting and protecting America’s small and independent craft brewers launched a new seal in July that’s meant to single out those businesses.
Featuring an iconic beer bottle shape flipped upside down, the seal captures the spirit with which craft brewers have upended beer while informing beer lovers they are choosing a product from a brewery that is independently owned. These breweries run their businesses free of influence from other alcohol beverage companies that are not themselves craft brewers.
Independence is a hallmark of the craft brewing industry, and it matters to the brewers who make the beer and the beer lovers who drink it. A recent study commissioned by Brewbound and conducted by Nielsen found that “independent” and “independently owned” strongly resonated with the majority (81 percent) of craft beer drinkers. Increasingly, they are looking for differentiation between what’s being produced by small and independent craft brewers versus Big Beer and acquired brands. Beer drinkers, especially millennials, expect transparency when it comes to their food and beverages. That transparency and underlying ownership can drive their purchase intent.
“Independent craft brewers continue to turn the beer industry on its head by putting community over corporation and beer before the bottom line. They continue to better beer and our country by going beyond just making the beverage. These small businesses give back to their backyard communities and support thousands of cities and towns across the U.S.,” said Bob Pease, president & CEO, Brewers Association. “As Big Beer acquires former craft brands, beer drinkers have become increasingly confused about which brewers remain independent. Beer lovers are interested in transparency when it comes to brewery ownership. This seal is a simple way to provide that clarity — now they can know what’s been brewed small and certified independent.”
The seal is available for use, free of charge, by any of the more than 5,300 small and independent American craft brewers that have a valid Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau Brewer’s Notice, meet the BA’s craft brewer definition and sign a license agreement. It is available to both member and non-member breweries of the BA. In the coming weeks, months and years, beer lovers will see it on beer packaging, at retailers and in brewery communications and marketing materials.
“Craft brewers build communities and the spirit of independent ownership matters” said Rob Tod, chair of the Brewers Association board of directors and founder of Allagash Brewing Company in Portland, Maine. “When beer lovers buy independent craft beer, they are supporting American entrepreneurs and the risk takers who have long strived not just to be innovative and make truly great beer, but to also build culture and community in the process.”
While small and independent craft brewers represent 99 percent of the 5,300-plus breweries in the U.S., they make just 12 percent of the beer sold in the country. The rest of U.S. beer sales come from Big Beer along with imported brands. As large brewers continue to have unprecedented influence and acquire millions of barrels of formerly independently brewed beer, the seal differentiates in a crowded and increasingly competitive marketplace.
Elysian Brewing in Seattle, Wash. throws a Great Pumpkin Beer Festival, which in 2014 featured 92 pumpkin brews, a costume contest and 1,200-pound pumpkins filled with beer. Dick Cantwell, formerly of Elysian, said it’s important to have unique ideas for festivals. Photo courtesy of Elysian Brewing Company
By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
“Staging a Kickass Beer Event” takes planning, planning and more planning, according to the four presenters of the “DIY Beer Fest” at the 2015 Craft Brewers Conference, held in Portland in April.
Dick Cantwell, former head brewer and co-founder of Elysian Brewing Company in Seattle, said it’s important to differentiate the event and make it special. “If you don’t have a unique idea, it’s not worth doing,” he said.
For example, Elysian certainly brings plenty of unique elements to its two-day Great Pumpkin Beer Festival, which features pumpkin beers front and center, a costume contest and giant 1,200-pound pumpkins filled with beer.
“We try to retain the Christmas-morning effect,” he said. “Last year we had 92 pumpkin beers and 18 were ours. We have beers people have never tasted before or heard of before.”
Cantwell helps guest brewers with beer ideas for the event with only one restriction — they have to contain pumpkin. The brewer from Allagash Brewing in Portland, Maine, named last year’s contribution Drunken Promise in reference to his promise to Cantwell to make a pumpkin brew.
Barnaby Struve, co-founder of 3 Floyds Brewing Co. in Munster, Ind., said to, “plan ahead to manage the crowds. Our Dark Lord Day is the only time to buy Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout.” He recommended coding tickets with different groups, such as A, B and C, to control times and lines for pickup “if you have a special beer release at your festival.”
Other considerations: “Know what is legal in your municipality. Check for permit requirements and get the necessary ones. Go to events as a consumer and take notes. From the customers’ perspective, they are experiencing what you’re all about,” said Struve. “Make sure that your customers leave happy. It’s important to have this goodwill experience.”
Just the opposite happened last year at the Cigar City Brewing Hunahpu’s Day Festival in Tampa Bay, Fla., said director of marketing Geiger Powell. Named for a Mayan myth, the festival is a release party of Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout. In 2014, they tried something different. “We wanted to streamline the event and shrink the population. The $50 ticket included all the beer from the festival and the opportunity to buy beer bottles,” said Powell.
Originally, the attendees name was required to be on the ticket. “We changed our mind because so many people complained,” said Powell. “We should NOT have changed our mind.”
They had many fraudulent tickets and ran out of bottles. People were unhappy. “Riots broke out and yes, you can watch it all on YouTube,” he said.
The next day, Cigar City offered full refunds, free beer in the tasting room and paid out $200,000. “Ultimately it was positive with lots of press, and the next month we had our best sales ever,” said Powell.
This year was a different story. The tickets cost $200 and included food and four bottles of stout, plus access to more than 200 beers from 60 different breweries. “We insisted the name on the ticket match the ID of the attendee. We treated our brewers in town right. That’s essential because brewers will tell everyone,” he said.
Beau’s All Natural Brewing in Vankleek Hill, eastern Ontario, Canada holds an authentic Oktoberfest for two days in early October that swells the population of the small town. CEO and co-founder Steve Beauchesne said, “We have 8,000 people and 2,000 cows in town. Last year we had 20,000 attendees.”
They also had a big problem last year with their shuttle service. Since Beau’s is 50 minutes east of Ottawa, they offer a shuttle option as an add-on to the base ticket price.
“Last year it poured rain all day, creating a real mud fest,” said Beauchesne. “At the end of the day, everyone wanted to get on the bus at the same time and go home. But we had people waiting in line for more than an hour. We had mistakenly decided to go with less buses because we could loop them.”
He said they have a full-time person now in charge of Oktoberfest. “When we did our first one, we pulled it off in six weeks. Last year was our worst because it was the latest in the year that we started planning for it.”
Cantwell said planning for the Great Pumpkin Festival begins the minute the current one is done. “We have to pick a date and people want to plan,” he said.
He also recommends a thorough, detailed checklist, before and after. “We always underestimate the peak,” he said. To keep lines short, they split the beer into 25 serving stations, each with three or four beers. They also have a roving special beer.
Struve said they begin planning in December for the Dark Lord Day in April.
The group had different opinions on volunteer help. Powell said Cigar City has all their staff work the festival as well as volunteers from homebrew clubs. But Struve said that 3 Floyds does not use volunteers, only paid staff because of liability issues, regulations and required licenses. And Cantwell said Elysian does use volunteers, but they have to be licensed pourers. However, all agreed on the importance of paying participating breweries for their beer.
The takeaway? Diversify with food, music and other breweries, so it’s good for the whole industry.
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