Despite An Aleing Estate

Wind, when moving swiftly, can hit you like a punch to the face. Well, we’d love to return an uppercut to wind’s jaw right about now. It’s one of the main factors that knocked out our estate barley this season.

Yes, there won’t be any estate barley going into fall brews, namely Estate® Ale. (We know; it’s a huge bummer. We could have malted the entire lot with the tears we shed.) Harvest was lackluster. While the crop didn’t meet our strict standards for brewing, the grain will likely head to a nearby dairy that can use it as a protein-rich feed supplement.

The beautiful, and occasionally vexing, reality of beer is that it’s an agricultural product. Key ingredients, hops and barley, are at the mercy of environmental conditions. Talented farmers labor to navigate nature’s ebbs and flows, but sometimes the sun plays lopsided games of peekaboo, rain abandons or overwhelms the soil, insects treat themselves to a meal (after meal, after meal…)—the litany of crappy “could-bes” is long.

The main culprits for us were wind and water.

This spring we had more than 10 days when wind was above 11 mph, as well as one day when it reached 21 mph and another when it hit 32 mph. (To make matters worse, these high-wind days were concentrated over the course of about one month while the grain was maturing.) Lau Ackerman, our agriculture supervisor—the one mourning in the video above—said this continuous assault “literally ripped the heads off of stalks,” leaving pounds and pounds of grain on the ground. In 2012, our estate barley faced just four days of 10- to 12-mph wind.

Rain got us, too. From October to January this growing season, more than 10 inches fell, which is a big jump over the three inches in the same time period the prior year. While we were grateful for the rain our community needs, we lost several acres to flooding right off the bat. And after that? Nothing. Our barley received hardly any natural moisture.

These stressors changed the normal course of barley maturation. What we did harvest had a higher than normal protein content—nearly double our target—which sacrifices sugar content and brewing efficiency. Malting the barley and putting it in our kettles would have invited challenges not worth battling.

We could dwell on the misfortune, but we recently shared that our estate hops are thriving and curling skyward. Weather be damned: a quasi-estate, organic beer we’ll still make! But we’ll dress this one up in black to honor our fallen grain—or is it an alter ego? Along with organic two-row pale malt from our friends at Great Western Malting, we’re using organic chocolate malt for both roastiness and remembrance.

DevESTATEion Ale is slated for release this September, the same time Estate Ale would have hit shelves. Until wind puts down its dukes, we’ll enjoy the DevESTATEion.

August 5, 2013 - 8:13am