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 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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