The Farmer and the Beer

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Zach Blake, proud father, husband and Zymurgist at Red Arrow Brewing Company

It all starts at the brewery on brew day, no wait… it all starts out on the farm field; so it begins, with the grain and hop farmers. Back in 1516 the Bavarians had concerns over terminology, they had fears anyone might start calling their fermented brews Bier. So the government wrote the Bavarian Purity Act to ensure that a beverage with only malted barley, hops and water could bear the name. At this time there were already well established breweries that had been in operation in one capacity or another for hundreds of years.

Many breweries had their own Oast House, for malting barley. Once the farmer’s barley was dry in the field, threshed and winnowed it was ready to be turned over to the Maltster. The craft of floor malting took many years to master and was passed on from one Maltster to another. They worked closely with the farmer to ensure the barley was ready for the malting process. Malting is the act of germinating the barley berry or seed, allowing a rootlet to form and then arresting the growth by drying it. Care would be taken to ensure the grains would not spoil or be damaged by over-handling. This was achieved by systematically raking a shallow bed of grain across a drying room with varying levels of humidity, called an Oast.

Another collaboration taking place was with the hop farmer. Hops, a perennial vine that can grow in excess of 20 feet requires large inputs of labor through the growing season and even more during harvest. Until the advent of mechanical harvesters much like the grain growing this was all done by hand. Yakima County Washington is now the largest producer of hops in the world; a conducive growing climate and a grouping of large scale farm coops have consolidated this crop to this one county.

Much like the grain belt in the prairies, large scale mechanical operations have driven this agriculture further and further from the brewer and the consumer. Unable to compete with the price and operational costs small scale Oasts for drying barley and hops have all but been abandoned over the years. The art of floor malting much like the thriving Chilliwack hop agriculture have become scarce. But with the informed consumer and the thriving craft beer industry we’re seeing a swing back towards small craft growers and producers, using local ingredients.

Some flag ship examples would be Rogue brewing in Oregon with a world famous hazelnut brown ale, brewed with their own farm grown ingredients. Driftwood brewing’s collaboration with Mike Doehnel, a Saanich Maltster, is bringing the tradition back to life. Brian and Rebecca are the owners and operators of Crannóg Ales, a certified organic brewery in the Gaelic tradition. Brian brews and Rebecca grows the hops among many other things. With the support of their local communities they’re changing the way beer is made and challenging the industrial complex. So next time you’re in the craft beer section, challenge yourself to find a bier working to localize the craft. Cheers!

 

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