“Imagine if winemakers were told that grape varietal had no impact on the flavor of wine?"
When we first began work on our estate malting project nearly five years ago, we were told by the big guys that barley variety had no impact on malt flavor...we're sure you've heard this as well.
To a certain extent, this is true.
Nearly all North American malt...used by both macro and craft brewers…is manufactured by a handful of industrial malting facilities in the US and Canada. Bulk grain is received via railroad, where it is blended with barley from different states, varieties, and vintages to produce a homogenized and unassuming malt. In Western Canada, Copeland and AC Metcalfe accounted for 78.9% of the barley harvested in 2016.
Only two varieties...
...and there is not much more genetic diversity found in the US.
These commoditized varieties of barley were bred to meet the performance and flavor specifications of monster malthouses and breweries...which is great for them...but leave brewers and distillers with little choice when it comes to unique and full-flavored malts that are reflective of our environment.
Mecca Grade is an estate malthouse located on 1,000 irrigated acres in Madras, Oregon. Much like an estate vineyard and winery, our eighth-generation Oregon farming family grows and malts all of our own specialty grain. We grow only one variety of spring 2-row barley...Full Pint...which was bred by Oregon State University. Our estate malt made with Full Pint has an entirely unique, nutty, graham-cracker sweetness that is attributable to our farming practices, malting process, and yes, even terroir.
Madras \mAd·riss\, Oregon is perfectly suited for growing the world's finest specialty seedstock and malting grains. How do we know this? We have been farming this land for over 100 years and have an extensive knowledge of the intricacies of managing irrigated land in the Central Oregon High Desert.
Our farm is located in the rain-shadow of the Cascade Mountain range, which means we receive only 8-10” of annual rainfall (mostly in the winter). Quality malting barley requires at least 20" of rain, and all at the right times. Our dry, hot days and cool nights are the perfect climatic combination for growing specialty seed and grain. While Full Pint is already a disease-resistant variety of barley, we have little to no issues with molds, mildews, and disease pressure. Grain is harvested from our fields with an average moisture content of 8-10%.
Mecca Grade is truly a grain growers' paradise.
Water-efficiency and conservation are some of the core tenets of our operation. In 1976, we replaced most of our flood-irrigated ground with two center pivots and wheel lines. The pivots were two of the first installed in Central Oregon to irrigate crops. To supply our center pivots with water, our farm is connected by a series of pump ponds, irrigations canals, and sediment settling ponds that are designed to capture irrigation run-off and return it back to the crop. Nearly half of our farm’s irrigations needs are met by using reclaimed water.
Full Pint is a semi-dwarf variety, meaning it stands only 30” tall when fully mature. Full Pint’s short stature makes it resistant to lodging and an ideal variety to be grown underneath high-efficiency, pivot irrigation. Our arid, well-drained soils combined with the ability to precisely control irrigation water is similar to the effect irrigation management, soil, and a little stress have on high-quality wine grape growing.
"Terroir" is a French term that describes how the impact of geography, geology, and climate of a certain place (all interacting through plant genetics) expresses itself through agricultural products such as wine, coffee, hops...and as we are now proving: grain.
There is a catch however: the only way you can truly taste terroir in beer or whiskey is to eliminate any source of blending, whether that is vintage, variety, farm location, or otherwise. Our estate-grown, single-source malting grain is raised within a 2-mile radius of the malthouse, providing uniformity across fields.
Uniform, high-quality malt can only be produced from uniform, high-quality grain. As farmer/maltsters, we are able to apply our knowledge of crop production from pre-plant all the way through harvest and onward into the malting process.
We continue to work closely with OSU on our mutual barley breeding program, “The Next Pint Project.” We are the only farming family actively breeding proprietary varieties of barley, and more significantly, the only malting company selecting for varietal flavor in beer and whiskey.