By Anthony St. Clair
For the Oregon Beer Growler
In advance of opening for the season on June 2, Detering Orchards sent out an eye-catching email to fans of their Coburg-area farm:
“During this off-season, we converted our old squash barn into a new place for people to relax and enjoy some of the best local craft cider and beer around. We are excited to announce a partnership with Eugene-based, award-winning Elk Horn Brewery. From farm-to-brewery, and back to the farm again, come out to Detering’s new Tasting Room to enjoy some Elk Horn hard cider or craft beer.”
Located north of Eugene, Detering was founded in 1934 and has become a seasonal, family-friendly mainstay destination for U-pick produce, a farm stand, food and drinks, festivals, games and other events on the working farm. In January of this year, Stephen Demergasso and his fiancee Tina Dao took over ownership. They immediately began considering new offerings to attract the public — not just for buying produce, says Demergasso, but to make the farm more of a place to “hang out.”
“The concept of the Tasting Room is you can taste the fruit in the drink,” explains Demergasso. “Detering has always made cider and done pressing for fruit. Elk Horn is a previous vendor, so I emailed and asked if they would like to have an exclusive relationship.”
Elk Horn’s owners, Colleen and Stephen Sheehan, visited and agreed. The Sheehans and Elk Horn helped Detering locate and install the equipment they needed and provided staff training on beverage descriptions and proper pouring techniques.
“It's a perfect symbiotic relationship,” says Colleen Sheehan. “Detering gets new clientele — the parents that enjoy shopping for fruit and roaming the grounds with their children while casually being able to sip on an alcoholic beverage — and we get exposure to a new group of people that might have never heard of us before.”
While Elk Horn has worked with Detering in the past, they have also often needed to source fruit and juice from farther afield. The new partnership helps them bring in fresh produce and juice straight from a farm that’s much closer to Elk Horn’s location near the University of Oregon campus in Eugene. It also adds another craft beer destination to the Coburg area, which is also the home of Crossroads Farm’s Agrarian Ales.
“I’m excited to experiment with something different and more local,” says Sheehan. “I want to do something with rhubarb, more flavors of cider, barrel-aging.”
The Tasting Room seats 30, but alcohol is allowed throughout the farm stand area. A sound system and TV allow people to catch a game or take in some live music. Visitors can wander the grounds among cows, goats and other livestock in pens, and kids (and kids at heart) can ride a new mechanical bull. There are four taps pouring two beers and two ciders from Elk Horn. Cheary Cherry and Peary Perry both featured Detering fruit. Elk Horn will provide exclusive brews for the Tasting Room as well as Elk Horn beverages available at the brewery (sometimes with slight modifications, too, such as extra cherry juice for the Detering version). Taps will rotate throughout the season as different crops come to harvest throughout summer and fall.
“We are looking at having something with rhubarb for July, maybe something else with cherries as we get those harvested and juiced,” says Demergasso, who coordinates with the Sheehans and the Elk Horn brewing team on ideas. “We definitely want to do a peachy blond beer after peach harvest, so probably come August we’ll have that available.”
As Elk Horn looks ahead to the rest of the season, they see the partnership as a way for their brewers to be as nimble as possible with the best, freshest and most local seasonal ingredients available. “As soon as they start producing fruit, we'll raid them,” says Sheehan. “Blueberries, cherries, peaches, apples — hopefully a little taste of everything!”
For Detering, Demergasso sees a chance to supply quality fruit and juice to an artisan local business and to find new ways to draw people to the farm. “I bought the farm because I believe in local farms,” he says. “It’s another way to supply the people of the south Willamette Valley with our fruit and other produce. Our farm is a fun place to hang out in the summertime, so we want to be a cultural hub for the community. People can come out here, get produce, have a drink and spend some time.”
30946 Wyatt Drive, Harrisburg
By Andi Prewitt
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
Dylan Goldsmith can tell when the beer buyers just don’t get what he’s doing.
When he begins to describe how he malts his own grain, he’s often met with blank looks. He hears questions like, “Well, doesn’t everybody do that?” It just doesn’t register. And that’s not just the buyers. All too many beer drinkers lack a clear understanding of what it takes to turn a raw barley kernel into usable malt.
“I think a lot of people just kind of have no idea about the process of it,” said Goldsmith, “which is why my job would be to try and see if I can elicit flavors out of the barley by my own process.”
This extra effort is what sets Goldsmith and Barley Sprout Restaurant & Brewery apart from other beer producers in the state. Since malting barley not only takes more time, but also additional space, you may be wondering where this Gresham business is brewing, serving pizza that’s made in-house as well as experimenting with grain. Well, if you tripped over the word “Gresham” just now because you didn’t realize the rather bleak outer-eastside beer scene had gotten a little busier, you’d be forgiven. It’s easy to miss the unassuming storefront when zipping along Southeast 223rd Avenue — a strip better defined by big-box stores and car dealerships than boutique breweries. But Goldsmith and co-owner David Shonk have managed to carve out a little slice of rural life in Gresham’s Twelvemile corner. Goldmith’s malting allows him to source much of his grain from local growers. Shonk, who’s also a farmer, uses some of his produce for both the food and beer. And you’d never know it by looking at it from the outside, but just a few hundred feet from four lanes of traffic and the nearby Lucky 7 Food Mart lies a secret garden of sorts. Behind the brewery, on Shonk’s family land, is a 4-acre farm leased to a Community Supported Agriculture organization.
Cultivating longstanding ties with farmers who grow everything from barley to hops is one reason why Goldsmith began malting. He pushes back against purchasing practices that simply treat “the ingredients for the beer as an anonymous commodity where you don’t know where it came from. You don’t necessarily know beyond certain reasonable standards how it was treated,” Goldsmith said.
Instead, he envisions a model where two businesses enter a form of commitment. A buyer, for example, won’t simply switch suppliers at the drop of a coaster should a competitor temporarily lower prices.
“The idea of having ongoing relationships with the farmers and the producers of your stuff to where you know if times get hard that we’ve been doing business for a while and we can support each other. Whereas beyond that, it’s just the free market,” Goldsmith said. “I think that is an important part of sustainability that’s difficult to quantify. But I think in the long haul, that kind of thing really does make a difference.”
Beyond the “I’ve-got-your-back” ethos that turned him on to malting, Goldsmith has other goals. The label on his IPA now says “100-percent Oregon farmer grown.” That’s because he buys those grains in-state and can process them himself. Eventually, he’d like to avoid buying from the big malthouses altogether. Additionally, he hopes to tease out the best expressions of the terroir of different grains. Goldsmith said he’s still discovering his skills as a maltster, but with time is curious to discover whether barley grown in, say, Goble tastes different due to geology versus grains from Sauvie Island.
While you now have a greater appreciation for the reasons why Goldsmith does this, the how may still be obscure. Malting is a four-step process that releases the barley kernel’s enzymes in order to break down the lattice of protein protecting the energy stored as starch — the stuff that’s converted to sugars brewers need.
The first objective of malting is to encourage the seed to begin the early stages of what it’s meant to do: grow into another barley plant. That’s initiated by steeping, which is step one. Goldsmith soaks and aerates his grains about three times until they’re 45 percent water by weight.
Germination is phase two — where the acrospires begin to push their way through the length of the kernel, unlocking those enzymes that degrade the protein. Air flow is key since the rootlets could tangle and become sort of a massive dreadlock, encouraging mold growth. To promote circulation, Goldsmith’s germination box has a false bottom — similar to a mash tun — and he turns the barley with a pitchfork.
After approximately five days, the grain is ready to dry. This must be done slowly at first to preserve the temperature-sensitive enzymes. When the barley is brought down to 3-5 percent water by weight, curing can get underway. How high a brewer runs that temperature and for how long is what really gives the malt its character.
A shorter summary of the malting process is reflected in the brewery’s name: Barley Sprout, which hadn’t yet been snapped up by another business to Goldsmith’s surprise. Though he’s not just making beer for the pizza restaurant. Goldsmith has revived his 10-year-old label Captured by Porches under the same roof and self-distributes those bottles and kegs, which was how he met Shonk before they decided to launch the Gresham brewery and eatery. Shonk used to run a natural food store in the same building and sold Captured by Porches beer.
“And it was an excellent account. His customers really liked it,” Goldsmith recalled. “I think if you compared the number of bottles sold to square footage of grocery store space, I’d say by that math it was the best account.”
The grocery’s chapter came to an end not long after a larger competitor took up residence nearby. But the change allowed Shonk to focus on upgrading his kitchen space.
“I was ripe for the opportunity to take on more stainless steel, more BTUs — take on the challenges of restauranteurship,” he said.
Goldsmith was also ready to move out of his cramped quarters in St. Helens to a bigger facility. Shonk proposed the partnership: “starting a restaurant and brewery together as a way to double our positives and share on the cost.”
This April marks one year since they opened, and so far Shonk said business has been steady due to positive word of mouth. And Goldsmith isn’t the only one at Barley Sprout now crafting beverages. Shonk’s Honey Lavender Lemonade has a tingly carbonation kick that’s proven to be such a hit, they sell to-go bottles. As the weather improves, you’ll be able to enjoy a lemonade or a beer in the restaurant’s backyard. Shonk plans to use part of the farmland for a beer garden, giving customers an opportunity to share a meal right next to a visual reminder about local source and sustainability — two values at Barley Sprout’s core.
“By creating a little bit of peace and quiet and deliciousness in this corner of the world, it ripples out,” Shonk said.
Barley Sprout Restaurant & Brewery
639 SE 223rd Ave, Gresham
Capitol Farms may be a modest-sized hop farm compared to other local growers, but the multigenerational family operation has deep roots and devoted workers. Some of the hop harvesters pictured here, Jorge Hernandez (foreground), Sergio Bravo (left) and Fidel Sosa, put in long hours when the cones are ready to come off the bines. Photo by Emma Browne
By Erica Tiffany-Brown
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
When you ask hop grower Mike Kerr about his favorite variety of hop, he’ll tell you it’s the Nugget.
“It’s just an absolutely outstanding hop to grow. It’s vigorous; it’s adaptive, if you will. It can adapt to hot growing seasons, cold growing seasons. It’s just a wonderful hop.”
Just like how the Nugget hop can adapt to whatever Mother Nature throws its way, Mike and his brother Andy have also had to learn how to become resilient.
At 160 acres, their Salem-area hop farm is quite humble compared to most local growers, but that hasn’t stopped Capitol Farms from having a full-scale amount of setbacks.
It was late summer 2013 when an aggressive thunderstorm made its invasion onto the farm, threatening the hard work the brothers and their crew had put so much time and effort into.
“We could watch it coming in on the radar and it was just horrible to watch. And it came and it knocked down 95 acres of Nugget hops. They were within just days of being harvested,” Mike said.
“At that point, you’re really faced with some challenges. You have your harvest window based on a 24-hour picking cycle and you immediately lose 12 hours because you can’t harvest at night because you have to bring in this complex machinery to help raise the trellis so that you can pick the hops. Then, you’re also faced with about a seven-day window before the hops start turning bad that are lying on the ground. So at that point, we didn’t think we’d be able to get through 50 percent of what was left. In fact, we knew we wouldn’t be able to.
“So, you’re out there walking through these fields that are just devastated … crop poles are looking like matchsticks … I mean it’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen in your life. And you’re looking at it going, ‘There’s just no way in hell.’”
And that’s when the Davidsons showed up.
A multigenerational family of hop growers about 20 miles north of Capitol Farms, the Davidsons had just finished harvesting their hops the day before and had sent their team home, but when they heard what had happened to the Kerrs, they called within hours to say, “Don’t worry about it. We’ll be there.”
All of a sudden, truckloads of equipment started coming in.
“Not only did they spend a week harvesting our hops side by side with us, but it wasn’t just a matter of sending their crew out to pick hops … I mean those guys were out in the field treating it like it was their own.”
Where does that desire to lend a hand come from? According to Mike, it comes from a family with a great sense of responsibility.
Jim Davidson, who passed away many years ago, held a monthly breakfast as a means to get other hop growers together and just chat, which helped foster a sense of camaraderie in the business that still lives on.
“The Davidson family was just remarkable; they literally saved our crop,” Mike said. “And I think you would find that anywhere in the industry today. People will really pitch in and help each other.”
Whether by blood relation or not, hop growing definitely seems to be rooted in a family environment.
Capitol Farms was started by Mike and Andy’s grandfather in 1951. He had grown hops in the St. Paul area and was the local buyer for S. S. Steiner, which is still a very prominent hop dealer today — located just down the road from the farm. His son, Mike and Andy’s father, came back after a stint in the Air Force and he farmed for a while before opening a computer store in 1980. Shortly thereafter, Mike ended up leaving Oregon State University to come back and help out with the farm, which ultimately led to the brothers purchasing the farm from their parents.
Mike and Andy made the decision a long time ago to diversify the farm, so they added a perennial nursery. “It’s a nice balance, it creates more work for our labor force year-round, which we feel is important,” but, Mike emphasizes, “Hops are our history, they’re our blood. Can’t imagine doing anything else.”
The brothers grow four varieties of hops on their farm: Nugget, Willamette, Centennial and Cascade. When asked about his favorite part of the growing process, Mike said it’s the springtime. “It’s the season of renewal. You start turning the earth and it just smells wonderful. It’s almost miraculous to watch the growth rate in the spring. Everything’s fresh, everything’s new.”
Mike, of course, enjoys the other times of the year, like the harvest season, but says, “It’s so go-go-go that you really rarely get a moment to pause to appreciate and enjoy it. You have to remind yourself to stop and enjoy those moments during that time because it’s pretty easy to get caught up in the rush.”
Although the Kerrs have weathered their share of storms, it sounds like they’ve found their balance. And just like those resilient Nugget hops, they’ll continue to adapt and grow with some helping hands and a good foundation.
By Andi Prewitt
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
To most folks, farming doesn’t sound like the kind of job that would be a thrill a minute. But if you ask the workers at Rogue about their experience, the words “exciting” and “fun” come spilling out of their mouths.
Perhaps the average person isn’t intrigued by farming because it’s become so far removed from our daily existence, beginning with the Green Revolution that brought on the use of chemicals and advanced technology in the 1940s, allowing for expanded production. Another factor may be simply that agriculture isn’t sexy. Combines and tractors and pulling things out of the dirt doesn’t really conjure up alluring images. And, quite frankly, farming sounds kind of dull. You are watching grass grow, in a way, as fans of passive pastimes would put it. But if farming were a spectator sport, the magnificent hop puts on one heck of a performance, climbing some 18 feet up a trellis in a matter of two months.
Hops are just one type of crop that the workers at Rogue Farms in Independence have to tend to during the harvest, which began in August and will run through September. The busy plot of land in the mid-Willamette Valley also produces grasses, multiple vegetables and honey from the resident bees. Each comes with its own unique challenges and this year, in particular, Mother Nature has thrown a couple of curve balls.
The best and most popular time to drop by Rogue Farms is during the harvest. There’s actually traffic — truck after truck comes rattling down the road, kicking up dust while hauling bulging loads of hop bines to the still-sturdy 1950s-era buildings for processing on site. The air is thick with the scent of the sticky lupulin powder from the cones. Down the way, another farm is sometimes simultaneously harvesting mint, creating a collision of unique, fresh smells. From sunup to sundown, the moving parts never stop. Even when the lights go out on the farm at night, one person keeps the kiln burning to dry the hops during the graveyard shift as crops adhere to their own schedule, not necessarily one that’s convenient for workers.
The bustling spectacle that is the harvest season is, of course, the highlight of the year for those who turn the soil. But getting to that point takes months of effort. Even when things have gone dormant on the farm, important activity is still underway. For example, the annual winter flooding on the property might sound potentially devastating, but it’s actually a gift disguised by nature. The nutrients and silt found in the water of the nearby Willamette River saturate the hop yards and replenish the soil. Rogue, who started growing the crop in 2008 to ensure they’d have an adequate supply in case of shortages and skyrocketing prices, started planning for the deluge by planting a cover crop of barley. The grass gets to be about 2 feet tall at its peak, but will never be harvested. Its sole purpose is to protect the hop rhizomes from washing away when the waters rise and act like a warm blanket during frigid nights.
While too much water doesn’t pose a threat, not enough water and this year’s exceedingly high temperatures can be risky. Luckily, hops love the sun. If the farm’s bines were a kid doing the rope climb in gym class, they’d have set a record. According to Rogue, that crop made its ascent faster than they’ve seen before. The cones developed right on schedule, but “ripened” a bit more quickly than usual.
The sun-soaked days moved up the harvest for many of the company’s crops, including corn, cucumbers, jalapenos, rye and wheat. Sweet pumpkins, which would normally rest on their land until September, were ready to go in early August. That meant that everyone from the Rogue office piled onto a bus, headed out to Independence armed with machetes and got to work on the squash, creating a sort of spontaneous team-building exercise without the eye-rolling-ly bad get-to-know-you games.
The ahead-of-schedule picking and plucking has kept the workers on their toes. But in Tygh Valley, about 30 miles south of The Dalles, the company has been facing fire warnings due to the dry conditions. One spark from a piece of equipment could ignite the field and tear through the crop. Rogue has continued with the harvest, but cautiously: they’ve slowed the speed of the combines, attached apparatus to tractors to create a firebreak if needed and kept a makeshift fire truck — a water tank — nearby.
Weather is just one risk in agriculture, and Rogue has learned that the hard way — as all farmers do. This year it was the attack of the killer slugs. Despite their reputation for moving slowly, these creatures made quick work of the farm’s rye seed. Twenty-four hours after planting 20 acres worth, the slugs had decimated half of the lot. That is the stuff of farmers’ nightmares.
Rogue also enjoys adding crops to their lineup. For instance, the farm’s jalapenos experiment started out in a planter box. They thrived and now occupy two acres in Independence. Last year, Rogue branched out by planting corn for the first time. They later discovered the seeds went into the ground a bit later than they should have. And come harvest time, Rogue couldn’t get anybody to combine the 5-acre patch because it was too small for the effort it would take. Workers ended up handpicking all of the ears instead. If that weren’t enough, another setback occurred after the corn was driven to Tygh Valley for floor malting. The shucker there broke on the first ear, so it was back to the manual version — removing the husks one by one. That experience served as a valuable lesson in organization, so this time around Rogue has someone who will combine and remove the kernels at the same time.
No two days are the same on a farm. The rain, the heat, the snow and the wind all make certain of that. And at Rogue Farms, there’s always the possibility that the brewmaster wants to take a chance on a new crop — continuing the adventures in agriculture. What Rogue or probably any farmer, for that matter, would want you to take away from a visit to the property is to truly understand and appreciate where the product — in this case beer — comes from. When people think about brewing, big, shiny fermenters and mash tuns likely come to mind. But there’s an entire agricultural endeavor that comes first. A day on the farm is an excellent way to bring brewing from the steel tanks right on back to the dirt.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.