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)
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.