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 Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Stay on the nice list of the beer lover in your life by giving the gift of a special bottle that is worth a spot in the cellar. The picks here were curated by Mike Coplin, owner of 16 Tons in Eugene, and Ryan Fosbinder, purchasing manager at Belmont Station in Portland. One tip: “gift” an extra bottle to yourself.
The Ale Apothecary, Bend
House lactobacillus gives sour balance to malt and wheat structure. Added complexity from up to a year of aging in oak barrels, followed by a month-long dry-hopping — also in oak barrels. The result surprises with tropical and citrus aroma, with tart, earthy and herbal notes on the palate. 9% ABV
Captain of the Coast
Pelican Brewing Company, Pacific City
MacPelican’s Wee Heavy aged in Washington Wheat Whiskey barrels from Dry Fly Distilling in Spokane, Wash. Silky texture and complex flavor evokes creme brulee, dried apricots and sherry. 9.5% ABV
The Commons Brewery, Portland
Pucker up! Last released in 2012, this floral, earthy ale brings mild tartness and cherry notes from ale yeast, brett and 10 months of aging in a 60-barrel foudre. 6.3% ABV
Ninth Anniversary Peach Farmhouse Ale
Oakshire Brewing, Eugene
Released in 2015. A brett ale and wild ale each mingled with peach puree for two years before they were blended and spent another month on more peach. Fruit flavors hold strong. 6.2% ABV
Belmont Station 19th Anniversary Barrel-Aged Barley Wine
Ecliptic Brewing, Portland
Brewed for Portland’s oldest beer shop. Aged nine months in 12-year-old bourbon casks, this barley wine picks up rich barrel character: oak, caramel and heat. 12% ABV
Oakshire Brewing, Eugene
Oakshire snagged a recommendation each from Ryan and Mike. Oakshire’s sixth anniversary continued their Hellshire series with an imperial stout aged 12 months in Heaven Hill Rittenhouse Rye and Elijah Craig bourbon barrels. 12% ABV
Breakside Brewery, Portland
Gin meets hops meets brett in a blend of barrel-aged sour beers 16 months to 26 months old. Delicious now, but expect cellaring to further improve and refine its character. 7.7% ABV
16 Tons Sech 'n Brett
Logsdon Farmhouse Ales, Hood River
Session-style Szechuan Brett Seizoen brewed to commemorate the five-year anniversary of Eugene’s 16 Tons. Various yeasts influence spice and fruit notes, plus a crisp, dry finish. Pepper character enhances food pairings. Expect this bottle-conditioned beer to keep evolving. 6.5% ABV
Caldera Brewing Company, Ashland
Chocolate and bourbon step right up to the palate. Imperial porter conditioned on Maker's Mark-soaked oak spirals, then aged in Kentucky Heaven Hill bourbon barrels. 8.5% ABV
Conflux Series No. 2: Collage
Deschutes, Bend and Hair of the Dog, Portland
Both Mike and Ryan recommended this “artistic collage of cask-aging alchemy.” A blend of Deschutes The Abyss and The Stoic (each aged in pinot barrels) and Hair of the Dog Fred (aged in American oak and rye whiskey barrels) and Doggie Claws (aged in cognac barrels). Roasted accents and complex malt character underpin molasses, caramel and vanilla. Don’t be surprised if this beer improves after a couple more years. 14.3% ABV
OBG Blog Archives
Welcome to our archive pages! Read stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler from June 2012 to January 2018. For newer stories, please visit our new website at: