There’s nothing quite like seeing 100 acres of barley waving in the wind to give you that proverbial lump in the throat. It reminds us why we became farmers.
We wanted to really know our ingredients. We wanted to know their origin, the soil in which we plant them, how much rain and sun they get, and to fuss over them as they grow from tiny seeds into amber waves of grain. We wanted to go back to the days when brewers and distillers were farmers, before the Industrial Age and factory brewing severed the connection between the land and the tap and the bottle.
So on a recent trip to our fields of Risk™ malting barley at Rogue Farms in Tygh Valley, Oregon we took a moment to appreciate the scene before us, and then got to work.
We think we’re less than two weeks to harvesting our 100 acres of Risk™. Here’s how we know it.
As barley ripens in the sun, it changes from green to amber. How far along it is tell us a lot about how close we are to harvest. That single green stalk you see in the photo is one of our Dare™ malting barley seeds that somehow strayed into the wrong field. Our Dare™ fields were planted this spring and won’t be ready for at least several more weeks.
See how the barley heads in this photo are bent over? That’s how we know they’re full and almost ripe. They’re so heavy with grain that the heads can’t stand up straight.
As kernels fill and ripen, they go from a milky stage, to a doughy stage and then get incredibly hard. If you can bite or chew barley, it’s not ready. But if you bite down hard and the kernels don’t budge, then you’re close to harvest. Just be sure not to bite down so hard that you chip a tooth!
When our malting barley has passed all those tests, then we start testing regularly for moisture. Ideally, malting barley should be under 12% moisture when we harvest it. If it’s too wet, it could rot in the silo. If it’s too dry, the kernels could shatter in the combine harvester. Neither situation is good for malting, roasting, smoking, mashing and distilling.
It’s been a dry summer here in Tygh Valley, perfect weather as we count down the days until we harvest our 100 acres of Risk™ malting barley. Soon the combines will be rolling through the fields; reaping, threshing and winnowing our grain. The scene will be repeated in August when it’s time to bring in our 100 acres of Dare™ malting barley.
But here in the rain shadow of Mt. Hood, we have a spare moment to remember why we became farmers, and the joy of growing beer and spirits from ground to glass.