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 Aaron Brussat
For the Oregon Beer Growler
If you think of Portland’s beer scene as the sun, Portland’s beer festivals would be its solar flares, sunspots and cosmic wind. It’s always burning — exothermic blasts of molten malt, hops, yeast and beards swirling and bubbling with every new beer release party. A tower of foamy fire appears on the horizon; we shield our eyes and say, “Oh look, a beer festival!”
Every beer festival fills a niche, and many open beer drinkers’ eyes to what lies just beyond their experience, that errant bottle in the back of the fridge. Portland Farmhouse Weekend provides a city-wide opportunity for beer lovers to go deep into a largely misunderstood sect of beers. The “Weekend,” set for Friday March, 31 through Sunday, April 2, is an extension of the Portland Farmhouse & Wild Ale Festival, now in its fifth year, held at Saraveza Bottle Shop.
To say that founder Ezra Johnson-Greenough has a few beer festivals under his belt is an understatement. He’s been conceiving and organizing events in Portland for years. Johnson-Greenough started the Portland Fruit Beer Fest, and his fingerprints are all over Portland Beer Week and many other tap-related happenings. Some are annual; others spring up and are gone, not unlike styles of beer on a taplist suited for today’s fickle consumer.
Johnson-Greenough’s goal for the Farmhouse & Wild Ale Festival is to “make it the best fest of its kind. We’re increasing the size of tents, hours and beer. The last couple years have been more stagnant. There was no marketing budget for the fest.”
This says a lot about the popularity of the event; Saturday’s general session last year was packed shoulder-to-shoulder with people vying for tastes of rare beers from big names like The Ale Apothecary and Jester King Brewery.
In expanding the festival, Johnson-Greenough has also expanded the concept. On top of Upright Brewing’s eighth anniversary party, beer releases and educational seminars around town, Wander Brewing, from Bellingham, Wash., will bring its 25-barrel coolship to town for a collaboration brew with Breakside Brewery. The project will generate beer for the event in coming years.
The festival includes a beer release specifically for attendees. Last year, The Commons Brewery produced The Croze, a pale beer fermented in open-topped barrels (croze is a cooperage term referring to the groove at either end of the barrel that holds the head in place). This year’s very limited release is a lambic-style beer from Logsdon Farmhouse Ales. Brewer Shilpi Halemane, who’s been at the Hood River brewery a year-and-a-half, started a program of beers brewed in the “Methode van Lembeek” with veteran wild ale brewer Curtis Bain. For the festival, “We thought it might be nice to showcase and sneak preview a single barrel that tasted really good.”
The beer, Saraveza Sour, is brewed with Pilsner malt, raw wheat and aged hops. The brewing process uses a multi-step mash (raising the temperature several times to activate different enzymes) and a two-hour boil. The beer is transferred from the kettle to a coolship — a wide, shallow metal vat open to the country air. There it picks up a bevy of microscopic hitchhikers that will eat their way through the complex sugars in the wort. The inoculated wort is transferred to conical fermentors for two weeks before it is racked into used American oak barrels.
The final product is “in the 5.5% alcohol range. It is tart and Brett-forward with a funky aroma, very clear and bright. It has a classic lambic profile; that’s kind of the goal.”
More and more breweries in the country are experimenting with spontaneous fermentation. They pay homage to the classic Belgian appellation while showcasing the “terroir” of local yeast and bacteria. The wort can be produced in the same way anywhere, but it is the surrounding air that ultimately gives the beer its personality.
What Is Farmhouse Beer?
In our modern era of opaque, flesh-colored IPAs that taste like the Tropicana test kitchen, it’s easy to lose sight of the creative work being done with Oregon’s state microbe Saccharomyces cerevisiae (ale yeast) and its cousins Brettanomyces (a “wild” yeast), Lactobacillus (a common fermenting bacteria), and others — the fermenting family tree is more like a forest.
Most brewers will credit Saison Dupont as the godfather of farmhouse-style beers. It was first imported to the United States in the 1980s, and helped to usher in the idea of beer as a flavorful beverage. It defies accurate reproduction by way of its yeast, which some speculate to be a blend of strains. With a simple malt and hop regimen, the beer gets its particular spicy-fruity profile from unusually high fermentation temperatures.
The new, Americanized genre of “farmhouse” beers encompass a range of styles, flavors and colors, as their origins are multifarious and knotted in untold agrarian histories.
“I like how broad a term it is for the range of things you can use,” says Halemane. “I dislike it for the same reason. If I read a description and it says ‘farmhouse ale with cherries,’ that could mean anything.” At Logsdon, “By virtue of brewing it in a barn, we could make anything and call it a farmhouse ale.” Very tricky. Overall, the farmhouse flavor relies on the characteristics of fermentation and is augmented with the brewer’s choice of malt, hops, wood, fruit and/or spices.
The Farmhouse & Wild Ale Festival has one rule: only U.S. farmhouse-style beers.
“There’s no reason to discriminate if it was made on a farm or not,” says Johnson-Greenough. “It matters how good it is. I’m looking for yeast-forward, Belgian-inspired beers from breweries known for their farmhouse beer — mostly. It’s a very exciting year because there’s more and more options.” Some of the breweries making their debut this year include Alesong Brewing & Blending, Astoria’s new Reach Break Brewing, Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery and Yachats Brewing.
Learn more about Portland Farmhouse Weekend at portlandfarmhousefest.com.
Yachats Brewing + Farmstore recently added to its 7-barrel brewhouse, including a six-head bottling line and wind machine that will power the glycol chiller. Pictured, left to right, assistant brewer Aaron Gillham, director of brewery operations Jenna Steward and head brewer Charlie Van Meter. Photo by Michael Kew
By Michael Kew
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Brewer on the roof: “I’m snowblind whenever I first walk up here.”
We squint in the glare. Sunday afternoon. Over there is the ocean. We’re at the beach, but we’re not.
In shades and a black hoodie, Charlie Van Meter sips fresh kolsch from a glass. From his downstairs brite-tank tap, of course.
“It’s nice being right on 101,” Jenna Steward, his wife and director of brewery operations, says. She’s on the kolsch, too. “Even if people don’t expect to stop in, they see our sign and decide to take a break and see what we’re about.”
Third story — technically the flat, white roof — of Yachats Brewing + Farmstore. This used to be a bank. Look 30 feet down: Highway 101 and the somnolence of Yachats, population 700. Look up: clear sky. Look west: blue Pacific forever. Look south: the Yachats River estuary, shadowed by Cape Perpetua — the fabled green fist of rock, knuckling the white waves.
“The dream,” Van Meter says, “is to put a third-story taproom right here so we can all have this epic view. Yachats is beautiful in the sun — and in the rain and wind. It’s great for storm watching, too. People will sit and watch the chaos around them.”
In 2015, Van Meter and Steward (both 28) relocated from Hood River at the wish of Yachatians Nathan and Cicely Bernard. Three years earlier, the Bernards flipped the old bank into a farmstore hub, selling local meat, produce, fermented food and all sorts of cool garden gear. The bright, helpful space was crafted with salvaged Oregon wood and wine barrel furniture. It became an intersection for this tranquil community.
“We’ve got a ‘coast time’ outlook on things,” Van Meter says, exhaling, admiring the view. “It’s Yachats Time, like ‘island time’ in the tropics. A nice, relaxed pace.”
Unfortunately, the Bernards are not here today. They’re likely eight miles upriver, tending to their sunny permaculture homestead. Here at the brewery, they’ve left the proverbial gate ajar for their young yeastmaster; Van Meter and Steward (with assistant brewer Aaron Gillham) are taking full advantage. New additions to their 7-barrel brewhouse include a six-head bottling line for 500 milliliter glass with “limited release sales, hopefully by Thanksgiving,” Steward says before pointing at a roof next door. “And over there is the proprietary wind machine that’s going to power our glycol chiller.”
Van Meter is an anomaly. Just a few years into his wort-wrangling, he stood onstage at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival, fist-bumping Charlie Papazian and sporting a shiny silver medal for a peach saison he helped brew at his (now) alma mater, Logsdon Farmhouse Ales. That happened after he’d dovetailed jobs at Portland U-Brew and Uptown Market into his first pro-brewing gig at Sasquatch Brewery in Hillsdale. This was in 2012, the birth year of Yachats Farmstore. Logsdon’s Chuck Porter — colleague of Van Meter and an old friend of the Bernards — then cameoed to mash a few farmstore ales with Bernard’s 20-barrel pilot system.
But the system had to grow. Logsdon again pollinated the Yachats fold, this time via Van Meter/Steward.
They fit in.
“Yachats is an eclectic collection of people who very intentionally decide to live in this town,” Van Meter says. “It has a weird magnetism. People with all kinds of crazy skills and backgrounds end up here. I like to say Yachats is a collection of wizards.”
It’s getting hot here on the roof. More kolsch, anyone?
On draught downstairs in the bustling eatery/store/bar are 13 house beers. There are three kombuchas, seven guest beers, two meads, three ciders and two wines. There’s a saison with Szechuan peppercorns, a saison with plum and lavender, a saison with sage, a saison with lemongrass and rosebud….
“We like to keep it fresh, keep it new, keep it tasty,” Van Meter says. “Farmhouse ales are close to my heart — probably my ‘traditional’ beers. They capture my imagination in terms of the history of the style and the romanticism of oak and its charms and attention to the simple ingredients.”
“Simple grain bills and hop bills. A lot of the stuff I make is just a little bit of pilsner malt, a little bit of wheat, and combinations of yeast and adding fruit or spices to it. There is so much you can do with a small palette, like a painter’s palette. You can make a lot of things within the saison/farmhouse category with only a few ‘colors,’ if you will. It’s complex, yet it can be refreshing. There are lots of subtle flavors to come out of these combinations of yeast. Brewing is like being a yeast shepherd. You try to give it its ideal conditions and food and let it take care of itself. You’re just there to help it get into a package.”
I gape at the long wooden tap wall, a palette of choice in a place that is nothing but.
“This brewery is its own living thing,” Van Meter says. “We’re just letting it grow to what it wants to be.”
Yachats Brewing + Farmstore
348 Highway 101, Yachats
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.