Central Oregon farmers seek to grow for beer

Local brewers want local ingredients

By Branden Andersen / For The Bulletin

Grow your own

GO! Magazine asked a couple of experts to weigh in on growing barley for malting and hops in your backyard.

“It takes a special sort of gardener, usually one who is a … home-brewer (and) barley enthusiast,” said Pat Hayes, professor of barley breeding and products at Oregon State University. “Barley can add dimension and diversity to any landscape. The good news is that it is easy to get rid of if you get tired of it, and it will not become a weed.”

Step-by-step directions and barley seedling purchases can be found at Hayes’ website, www .barleyworld.org.

Miles Wilhelm, who operated a small hop farm in Santa Rosa, Calif., before moving to Central Oregon and starting Smith Rock Hop Farm, said growing hops is pretty hard to mess up: Don’t over water and wait until the last frost to plant. In active growth with south-facing exposure, the vines can expand up to a foot per day, reaching up to 18 feet by harvesting time in late August. Hop starter roots, or rhizomes, can be purchased from online retailers as well as locally at Tumalo Hops.

— Branden Andersen

The ingredients that go into Central Oregon beers come from all different places. Hops grow anywhere from Washington’s Yakima Valley to Germany, and malt mostly comes from the Midwest and abroad.

But with the region’s vibrant beer scene, some farmers are asking why they can’t grow and provide farm-to-fresh-beer ingredients, sourced no more than a few minutes away.

“We’re starting to get people who are requesting our hops before harvest,” said Susan Wyatt, who co-owns the Tumalo Hops farm with her husband, Gary. “It’s everybody from home-brewers to commercial breweries.”

Along with other local farmers, Wyatt is starting to see the craft beer boom in another light: Instead of taking perfected home-brew recipes to the commercial scale, they are looking to be the local source for local beer ingredients.

“I chose to grow out here for a reason,” said Miles Wilhelm, owner of Smith Rock Hop Farm, which is entering its first season. “First of all, it’s not Yakima (the country’s largest hop producer). Second of all, the beer culture out here wants something like this — something local.”

Evidence of that can be found at breweries around the state. Bend’s Worthy Brewing Co. has a small hop yard in front of its brewery and the Rogue brewing company grows hops, grains and specialty ingredients for its beers and spirits at its own Rogue Farms.

Now, farmers want a piece of the action.

“It really is perfect for Central Oregon,” said Seth Klann, farmer at Mecca Grade Growers in Madras. “People out here really care about their beer and what goes into it.”

Klann is a seventh-generation farmer at Mecca Grade, which has produced specialty seedstock and grain since the early 1900s. About three years ago, he picked up home-brewing as a hobby. After numerous runs to home-brew shops for ingredients, he wondered why he couldn’t grow his own barley.

After working for two years with Pat Hayes, professor of barley breeding and products at Oregon State University, Klann malted a couple of trial batches, all the while building a malting facility on his estate to convert raw barley to malted grain for brewing.

“There’s a lot of skepticism already because barley only really exists on a large scale,” Klann said. “Nobody has really done it like this yet.”

Despite that skepticism, local growers are raising eyebrows in Central Oregon’s dense craft beer community. Paul Arney, owner of The Ale Apothecary, has been working with Klann through his process developing malting barley. The Wyatts at Tumalo Hops have received pre-harvest orders and previously distributed their hop yield to local breweries like Below Grade, Smith Rock, Oblivion and 10 Barrel. Wilhelm was able to attract investors for his quarter-acre operation in Terrebonne.

For all of the growers, the ideal end result is the same: Growing ingredients to help create a uniquely Central Oregon beer.

“It’s the last link in the craft beer chain,” Klann said. “Nobody has really explored it, the idea of terroir. In the wine world, grapes from Napa aren’t going to be like grapes from Italy. Base malt from Madras shouldn’t be like base malt from the Germany. We’ll see what happens.”

— Reporter: drinks@bendbulletin.com