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
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.