Artisan Spirit: Spring 2016

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N THE CASCADE MOUNTAIN REGION of British Columbia, Oregon, and Washington there are over 250 licensed distilleries (and far

more breweries and bakeries) looking for ways to distinguish their products by using quality, unique grains. Fortunately, the Cascadia region also has exceptional grain-growing areas. One such location is the Skagit Valley, one of only six places in the world capable of growing the low-protein, large-kernel barley that distillers love. But even though those farmers, distillers and consumers are neighbors, in a commodity-driven global economy, they rarely work together. In an effort to connect those neighbors, Washington State University started the Cascadia Grains Conference four years ago. This January over 300 farmers, seed brokers, maltsters, educators, bakers, brewers, distillers, consumers, and city and county leaders attended the conference at the South Puget Sound Community College in Olympia, Washington’s capital. Presenting partner Oregon State University and many local businesses assisted WSU in the day of presentations and networking, with the goal of promoting a more profitable, and tasty, local grain economy. “It’s a very different vibe from other conferences that we’ll go to, and that’s just because of this real vibrant regional economy and interest in local foods, beverages and products,” tells OSU barleybreeding professor Pat Hayes. “You just have this audience of people who really want to be engaged.” WWW.ARTISANSPIRITMAG.COM

Having witnessed the growing demand for other local food products like fruits and vegetables, many feel that grain production and processing could be localized, as well. The concept of creating local grain economies is constantly evolving, though, because grain takes extra steps (and extra equipment) which are often challenging and expensive to do on a small scale. Depending on the desired product— bread, beer or whiskey—the grain might need to be milled or malted, then turned into dough or beer, and distillers have the extra step of distillation. All of those steps require more equipment, time and knowledge, so when you look at the process that way, you see why locally grown carrots are a lot easier to find than local malt. But it is not impossible, a few are already doing it, and that is what the conference set out to do: connect the people playing those different roles and educate them on what the other participants’ needs,

desires and challenges are. With a common understanding of grain production, processing and end-user demands, the hope is that these neighbors will be able to find ways to work together and add more value to everyone’s work.


THROUGH MALTING, BREWING AND DISTILLING The conference offered 18 different presentations and four networking sessions. Areas of focus included farm production and market opportunities, advanced and diversified baking ingredients and practices, grain variety research and development, small business loan procurement, public policies impacting grain growers, brewers and distillers, and the growing demand for grain-based beverages. The beverage courses, presented by