By Sam Wheeler
For Oregon Beer Growler
On the banks of the Alsea River, Duane Miller is growing Siuslaw Brewing from the ground up.
Miller, the owner and brewmaster of the 1-barrel operation, also grows 50 acres of barley for malting and harvests several varieties of hops to supply his own brewing endeavors — as well as those of surrounding breweries in the future.
About 7 miles west of Alsea along Highway 34 — approximately a 42 minute drive southwest of Corvallis — the barn-inspired brewery building is nestled in a picturesque property between the road and river. Currently, interested drinkers can get growlers filled there or find a rotating selection of Siuslaw’s beers on tap at Deb’s Cafe in Alsea. A favorite among drinkers is the Grass Clippings Cream Ale, said Miller, whose son Jesse developed the recipe.
“My son is a wizard at the recipes, he is just remarkable,” Miller said.
Jesse also develops many of Siuslaw’s other concoctions and is a regular homebrewer. In a way, Jesse inspired his dad to open the brewery, Miller said. It wasn’t until Jesse tossed around the idea of starting a brewery in Eugene that Miller began to consider it. When Jesse dropped the plan, Miller decided to quit his road building and excavation business, sell his equipment and launch Siuslaw.
Miller always had aspirations of growing his own ingredients for Siuslaw’s beer. This year’s crop includes 3 acres of barley on the property, another leased 20-acre field down the road — both of which Miller tends — and a 25-acre plot outside Corvallis, where Miller hires a farmer to grow, harvest and clean the barley. The Corvallis field could grow as large at 100 acres by next year, Miller said.
All the barley Siuslaw grows comes from the Full Pint seed developed by Oregon State University’s Barley Project. Additionally, Miller has purchased a combine and seed cleaner to harvest and prepare the barley for malting, and he is currently building a custom barley malter.
“You can’t buy a small-batch malter. They just don’t exist, so we’re actually just building the malter itself,” he said. “It’s been great.”
Once things get rolling, Miller is considering spinning off the malting and hops portion of Siuslaw into its own company.
“I am hoping that [the malting] takes off and gets bigger than the brewery. That’s what I am actually shooting for,” Miller said. “I have already had four other breweries really showing interest. … The way they’re looking at it: ‘The more local, the better.’”
To turn the barley into usable malt, the grain must be sized, cleaned, steeped in water under controlled conditions, air dried, induced to germinate, dried again to a specific moisture content and cleaned for sale. Miller hopes to do 3,000 to 4,000-pound batches once the malter is complete.
Miller also tends 90 hop plants growing on the brewery property, favoring the Cascade and Centennial varieties, but growing several others. Although the barley is harvested using a combine, all of the hops are hand-picked.
Nothing special to the farming, Miller said. The hops and barley grow great out in Alsea. “You plant just as early as you can in the spring, as soon as it’s dry enough to get out on the fields, and there it goes.”
16558 Alsea Hwy, Alsea
541-740-1606 (Miller recommends visitors call ahead to ensure brewery is open)
By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The barley research at Oregon State University is attracting worldwide and local attention from brewers, researchers and scientific institutions.
Department head Pat Hayes suggested two women researchers as subjects for this issue.
Tanya Filichkin heads up the tissue lab that pioneered the double haploid genetic process for barley about two years ago. A 15-year veteran of the department from Russia, Filichkin patiently explained the entire process to me, step-by-step. Although I generally understood it, I would not pretend to be an expert when explaining it.
The process, which uses spores from barley tillers to grow green regenerates in lab cultures, cuts the time to breed a pure barley line from 12 years or more to one or two. Significantly, Filichkin and her assistants are not manipulating genes or doing any genetic modification to develop this pure line. “We’re using natural processes,” she said.
“We collaborate with many industries. Our main goal in the lab right now is to get a pure line for malting quality.”
One of their clients is Anheuser-Busch. The mega-brewery tried unsuccessfully to produce its own double haploids. Now they have a contract with OSU to buy 1,000 plants for $19 each. Filichkin said OSU has customers from around the globe, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and several universities.
Laura Helgerson oversees the barley greenhouse and cares for the experimental plants, both indoors and in the fields. She started as a temporary worker three years ago after graduating with a degree in environmental studies. Soon she was a full-time, permanent faculty research assistant.
She said that the industry standard has changed from 6-row to 2-row barley, partly because that’s what brewers want. Craft brewers, especially those in the Northwest, are interested in having a locally grown and malted barley to complement the local hops for a true Northwest beer. Great Western in Vancouver has been the only malting name in town until recently. Now there are three craft malting operations.
Tanya Filichkin, the head of the barley tissue lab at Oregon State University, holds a cultured container of rooting plantlets. The OSU barley research group pioneered the genetic process of producing double haploids out of anther culture, reducing the time to develop pure lines from 12 years to two.
Seth Klann has been growing one of OSU’s barley varieties called Full Pint. His family runs a large farm outside of Madras in Central Oregon. Klann malts their barley under the Mecca Grade Estate malt name.
Tom Hutchison, out of Baker City, owns Gold Rush Malt. He contracts with a local farmer to grow Full Pint barley.
And Rogue Brewing is leasing a 200-acre barley farm in the Tygh Valley. Rogue is growing winter and spring malting barley and has trademarked the varieties as Dare and Risk. Rogue has used both types for brewing and distilling. Other Northwest craft malting operations are in development.
Does barley matter for beer flavor? That’s one of the main questions OSU’s barley researchers are seeking to answer. One of the school’s grad students is currently involved in a flavor project. Besides breeding barley for flavors specifically requested by craft and microbrewers, other desirable traits include cold tolerance and disease resistance.
As craft brewing continues to grow, barley production is rising in Oregon to meet the increasing demand for local ingredients. With the influx of some new funding, OSU will soon have a lab for malting small, experimental varieties.
The recent FDA approval of barley as a healthy, outstanding source of fiber with a unique profile that fights cholesterol has opened up a whole new line of interest in the grain that was once primarily grown as feed for livestock, said Filichkin.
To keep up with all the OSU research activity, follow them on http://barleyworld.org.
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