Bob and Wayne from Skagit Valley Malting attended the February club meeting to help judge the competition beers made with their malt. They also brought four varieties of malted barley for us to sample.
The first, Copeland, was the only sample barley that is recommended by the American Malting and Barley Association as a malting barley. The AMBA approves only 6 to 12 new barley varieties each year. Bob described this Skagit-grown Copeland as “Copeland enhanced,” a term used by a buyer from a major craft brewer.
The second sample of malt was from a variety called Alba which was bred at Oregon State University. This was was tested by the AMBA, but did not make it to their recommended list. Bob told us that the flexibility in SVM’s systems allows them to malt this variety quite successfully.
The third sample from SVM was a hull-less barley malt that they been call “Purple Egyptian.” The actual name of the variety is Obsidian and it originated in the headwaters of the Nile River. This grain is being revived by grain historian Dr. Richard Scheuerman from Seattle Pacific University. Sadly, there are very limited amounts of this malt available as seed is still being developed.
The fourth sample was barley with the experimental moniker of NZ-151. This is another barley that was tested by the AMBA and rejected which SVM have malted successfully. NZ-151 is being developed at the Washington State University Research Center by Brook Brouwer as part of his PhD thesis. Brook and Bob created a SMaSH test brew with it and found yet another different flavor profile in both the malt and the beer than in any of the other malts we sampled.
What makes Skagit Valley grains so special? According to Bob, “We are fortunate that here in the Skagit Valley we get plumper, lower protein grain than is available elsewhere due to our soil and microclimate. The USDA has rated Skagit’s soil in the top 2% most productive in the world. That soil combined with our Salish Coast microclimate west of the Cascades between Eugene, Oregon and central Vancouver Island, has produced the world record yield for both wheat and barley. These crops must be planted every few years in rotation to break disease cycles and recondition the soil. Historically local farmers have not been excited about growing it because it was typically sold for low returns in the commodity feed markets. They are now excited about having some of their necessary rotation crops selling for a premium price since we can now add value to them by producing world class malt.”
It was great to meet Bob and Wayne and to discuss brewing possibilities with them. We look forward to more interesting and unique malts from Skagit Valley Malting in the near future.