All posts by beerstone

About beerstone

I used to think I knew beer. Now I know it's more of a narrative than that. I work at The Bier Stein, a rad Bottleshop & Pub in Eugene, as a beer steward. I also write about beer for Northwest Brewing News and The New School. I'm a BJCP National-rank judge, Certified Cicerone, an active fermenter, an active member of the Cascade Brewers Society, an active guitarist, and an active gardener. I'm fairly active, though I still consider myself a lazy so-and-so.

The Joy of Hop Harvest

I visited my first oast in 2011 at Hop & Brew School in Yakima, Washington during the hop harvest. With the temperature breaking 130 and the humid air made more lethargic by sleepy vapors, I saw a football field-sized, three-foot-deep bed of freshly de-bined hops and thought, What a wonderful world. The extensive piece I wrote about the action packed two-day experience was published in the newsletter of the Cascade Brewers Society and read by approximately twelve people.

Seven years later, the process is no less beguiling; nor has it changed much. This year, I toured Crosby Hop Farm’s fields and processing plant with my New School crew Ezra (founder) and Michael Perozzo (southern WA contributor). I took some video that smoky morning, and spliced together a quick tutorial on the process (I did the music too!):

Those are the basic maneuvers performed at any hop farm. What the video fails to capture is the momentum of history, the pace of information, and the contiguity that hop farmers have with the craft beer world.

Before the early 00’s, hop farmers were dealing with a just few people who represented giant brewing entities with no need for creativity. At the same time, hop breeders were at the precipice of the future, with Simcoe and Amarillo hops achieving acreage for the several hundred craft breweries (microbreweries we called ’em then, kids) that made beer with flavor and adventurousness. Yes, Cascade had been a hit long before, but that was low wave on a shallow shoreline compared to what was about to crash on the sands of our sensory glands.

The evolution of craft beer in the 21st century parallels that of social media and global information sharing. With the communities that flourished on the internet, including the beer rating sites Beer Advocate and RateBeer, beer drinkers had a “virtual pub” in which to discuss and rave about their favorites. The IPA buzzword “IBU” and now-patented hop varieties, with their “citrusy” and “dank” aromas, quickly rose in the ranks of the collectively inebriated unconscious. There was demand, craft brewers listened hard, and in turn put demand on hop growers for more aroma varieties.

Over the decades of commercial hop growth and brewers contracting in hop futures, there has always been a shifting balance of aroma and bittering hop acreage. Farmers must be brutally honest with their plants to be successful, which means tearing out rows to replace them with varieties that, ideally, will be very popular in two years. Despite the Internet, hops don’t grow any faster.

Fast forward a little bit, to around 2008. Although fresh hop beers were not entirely new, their popularity had grown quite a bit. This meant that more brewers were getting directly in touch, going to the fields, and trading information with hop growers.

Crosby Hop Farm has taken a leading edge on this front. Blake Crosby, a 5th generation hop farmer, sunk his teeth into the business several years ago. Rather than just sell hops to wholesale brokers, he guided the farm through a renaissance that would incorporate growing, processing, importing, and direct sales and marketing into an all-hops-everything juggernaut in the Willamette Valley.

I covered the early season process and a bit about Crosby in an article for the Oregon Beer Growler earlier this year. But this tour, just when the harvest was winding up to go full bore, made it clear that the relationships that hop growers like Crosby and Goschie farms have with brewers and drinkers is another seam strengthening the fabric of craft beer.

Since Crosby integrated other aspects of the hop business, it’s had to build a strong marketing team and develop language that diverges from the agronomic lingo you’d hear at a Hop Growers of America meeting. Now, the story of the farm becomes part of its terroir. Its Salmon Safe certification isn’t just for the land, it’s part of the salesperson’s toolbox. Welcome to the 21st century, hops!

Though marketing is never a measure of quality in any product, closing the gap between producer and consumer does enhance the information relay. Does a beer drinker need to know the hop grower? Obviously not, the same way we don’t need to know our chicken farmer. But it sure does help make informed decisions. And really, hops are far outside of the scope of scrutiny for the ethically-minded consumer. The Salmon Safe designation is, as far as I can tell, the best compromise between conventional and organic pest and fungus management. Every hop grower I’ve spoken with says that the time and effort to get a much lower yield using organic practices is hardly worth it on any sort of production scale. That’s to be taken with a grain of salt, as certain hops do better in different climates and can be successfully grown organically; those are not the hops people are looking for in an IPA, though. The point: if you, the consumer, prefer drinking organic beer, you have the ability to contact the producers of organic ingredients and find out who uses them.

As we roll into fresh hop season, complete with the crazy array of fresh hop festivals in the region, it’s worth appreciating the incredible amount of hard work at hop farms between August and October. A lot of the manual labor is done by temporary workers, many of whom are Latino men and women. Many farms have on-site labs. Crosby has a pelletizer as well, and a warehouse of hops to manage and rotate through. Hops go from the field to a ready-to-brew format in just a couple days, which is part of what makes the harvest so exciting; in the coming months, as breweries start brewing with their 2018 hops, we’ll start tasting the effect of this year’s weather on the first crop of Amarillo grown on Crosby soil.

A Religious Experience at Monkless

I had a religious experience (in the bathroom) at Monkless Belgian Ales this weekend. And I’m having another while typing and listening to Keith Jarrett’s Köln Concert from 1975. But that’s not what I heard in the bathroom.

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Let there be beer!

Monkless Belgian Ales is just four years into production, and only two-and-a-half years on a 10-barrel brewing system. The shiny, clean brewery has a tank capacity of 100 barrels, and it’ll push 1,000 barrels of production this year. While that’s not very large for a production brewery, it is remarkable that 100% of the beer is fermented with expressive Belgian-type yeast. This model is an extreme rarity in the U.S., and deserves attention because the brewery has been quite successful selling its canned, bottled, and draught beer in Oregon.

When Monkless first came to Eugene, while I was working at The Bier Stein, the Imperial Peppercorn Wit and Capitulation, a dry-hopped Tripel, seemed a bold first move to push into a new market. But once the pint cans of Shepplekoffegan Wit, Peppercorn, and Capitulation hit the shelves and started selling, it seemed that Monkless had discovered a sect of beer drinkers who appreciated the balance of its characterful beers. It helped that Shep’ became an easy, affordable domestic alternative to Blue Moon.

In 2017, 500ml. bottles of Friar’s Festivus, a Belgian Strong Dark ale spiced with mace and cardamom, spent a brief layover on the shelves before being scooped up. That compelled the brewery to shift its schedule and brew more while customers continued to seek it out. As far as I remember, it outsold the perennial favorite St. Bernardus Christmas Ale; at the very least it generated more fervor. This year, it won a Gold medal at the Oregon Beer Awards.

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Monkless turns water (& malt & hops) into beer!

I was treated to a flight of all eight of Monkless’ current beers at the brewery’s tasting room on a hot Saturday afternoon. Somebody had kindly set up water misters in the garage doorway. A Mexican food truck was serving tasty street food. Folks trickled in; most ordered flights. Some came back for a full glass, others got their Bend Ale Trail passports stamped and continued on.

The flight was arranged on two barrel staves, in order from lightest to heaviest, starting with Shepplekoffegan and ending with Meet Your Maker, an un-spiced Belgian Dark Strong. With the exception of the Maker and Dubbel or Nothing, all of the beers lay in the pale-to-golden realm, but the shared traits more or less ended there. The brewery keeps four yeasts for its various beers, and even blends a couple of them for one of the beers (can’t remember which).

If you’re curious about the difference between a Tripel and a Belgian Golden Strong, Monkless has you covered; the Restitution and Trinity are quite different, with the former, a Belgian Golden Strong, showcasing fruity, apple-pear-peach esters with a bit of spice, honey, alcohol, and a full body without being too sweet. The Trinity, an Abbey-style tripel is spicier and a bit drier, with some pale stone fruit and pepper/cinnamon notes, all from yeast. Capitulation, which is Trinity dry-hopped with Hallertau Blanc and Citra, pairs the vinous German hop and now-classic IPA hop to lend bright fruitiness and some extra bitterness to the Tripel, which is a lovely addition that’ll surely get a hop-head’s attention.

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A little beer church on a hot day

Being a fan of sessionable beers, the Shep’ did me right, and paired perfectly with my pork tacos and spicy salsa verde. I’ve found that witbiers made as one-offs lack the fluffy wheat body, and are often too dry feeling; Shep’ is a well-practiced wheat beer with a good dose of the traditional orange peel and coriander.

 

Samaritan’s Saison was a recipe from one of the assistant brewers, and had the distinct ganja aroma that I remember from my first bottle of Dupont Saison; that was very pleasing to recall. It’s dry, a little scratchy, but not as carbonated (on draught) as a bottle-conditioned saison so the pils-like malt sticks around for the next sip.

The bartender, cellarman (and also homebrewer and cheesemonger) Nick gave us an educated tour of the brewery, which is well set up and seems ready to receive more tanks if necessary. The brewery currently hires a mobile canner, but the cork & cage bottles (packaged with priming sugar and yeast for natural carbonation) are done by hand.

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Thou shalt wash thy hands after peeing.

After the tour, finishing the flight and chatting about cheese, I felt the familiar urge. Entering the bathroom is a step back in time, to a Renaissance-era cathedral – especially if you close your eyes. A single speaker in the corner was playing Miserere, the Gregorian hymn based on Psalm 51, at a high enough volume that all other sound disappeared. I guess I found where the monks went.

One of the hardest things about brewing Belgian-style beer is attaining a balance between yeast, malt, and hops. All beer obviously requires yeast management, but the flavors in American-style ales and lagers are mostly expected to be “neutral.” Utilizing yeast’s potential for flavor contribution is a tough game, and means really getting to know how it acts under various conditions. Monkless gets it right.

Growl to Garden Beer Fest & Road Mile

If you’re hankering for something to do this weekend, and to burn ‘n earn the calories for your next round, check out Tap & Growler / Beergarden’s Second Annual Growl to Garden Beer Fest and Road Mile on Saturday, August 18th from 12-8 PM. The concept is simple: combine Eugene’s enthusiastic running community with beer. Sounds like a real arm twister. 

The one-mile race starts at 4pm at Tap & Growler, goes down 5th Ave., and ends at Gray’s Garden Center right next to Beergarden. Race registration is $25, and includes entry to the beer festival, a commemorative glass and 4 beverage tickets. Entry to the Fest, which runs noon-8pm, is $10. There will be food provided by some of the carts that serve at Beergarden, and live music from local acts Corwin Bolt & the Wingnuts and Etouffee. The race awards ceremony will take place at 5:30 at Gray’s.

Beer, cider, and wine will be served from over 20 producers – the list is posted below. Check growltogarden.com or the Facebook page for volunteer opportunities, and more fest and race details.

Beat feet and then hang out among the flowers, shrubs and trees… doesn’t sound too bad for a Saturday afternoon.

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This could be you! Photo by Trask Bedortha, courtesy of Tap & Growler/Beergarden.
Brewery Beer
Agrarian Dryad- Spruce Tip Sour
Agrarian Pineappleweed
Ballast Point Aloha Sculpin
Ballast Point Tart Peach Kolsch
Coldfire Kite String IPA
Coldfire Tangle of Tigers IPA
Deschutes New Fresh Haze IPA
Deschutes New Grapefruit Rose Sour
Goodlife Give’m Helles
Goodlife Descender IPA
Hop Valley CryoClassico
Hop Valley Bubble Stash
Lagunitas SuperCluster IPA
Lagunitas Sumpin’ Easy
McKenzie Hopasaurus Rex Imperial IPA
McKenzie G2G Lager
Ninkasi Yours Truly Easy Drinking Ale
Ninkasi Raspberry Lime Gose
Oakshire Hazy IPA
Oakshire Sun Made Cucumber
Pelican Peached on Deck
Pelican Hazy Rock
Vagabond Victory Pils
Vagabond Attack Owl
Wild Ride Let’s Go Hazy IPA
Wild Ride Tarty to the Party Watermelon Lime Sour Ale
Yachats Ten Mile Saison
Yachats Blackberry Sour
Cider House Cider
2 Towns Pacific Pineapple
2 Towns Easy Peasy
Avid Cider Dragonfruit
Avid Cider Apricot
Portland Cider Sangria
Portland Cider Apple Pie
Wildcraft Strawberry Spruce
Wildcraft Elderflower Quince
Wine
Eugene Wine Cellar
Pinot Gris, Rose, and a Red
Kombucha
Elevate Summer Fling
Elevate Lavender Lemonade

Publichouse is Open in Springfield

publichouse_barSpringfield has a downtown beer bar! Colby Phillips and Patric Campbell, the owners of Tap & Growler and Beergarden in Eugene took over the building that was home to SPROUT Food Hub into Publichouse. It is much more than a beer bar, though. The transformation of the church building begs for irreverent jokes– Head to the altar for some holy water! Does everybody drink from a communal chalice? The power of IPA compels you!– but also provides a variety of neat spaces to drink great beer.

The showstopper is the sanctuary. Order your beer front and center at the stairs to the altar, and find a seat at booths along the walls or custom picnic-style tables down the center. Or head upstairs to the choir section and enjoy the stained glass-tinted “God’s eye” view. There are 24 beers on tap there, which run the gamut of styles. For the grand opening, Publichouse staff brewed collaboration beers with a couple Oregon breweries. There is a cooler with select bottles and cans as well.

From the sanctuary, you can access the 100 Mile Bakery. My friend Leda Hermecz was one of the original members of the NEDCO business incubator and SPROUT food hub there, and her locally-sourced food is hearty and fantastic. She makes a killer wedding cake, too…

Outside of the sanctuary, the three food businesses that have been serving for a couple years are still there. La Granada, Pig & Turnip, and Cascade BBQ provide food anywhere on the grounds (you can take beer anywhere, too).

Down the hall past the kitchen is a door that leads to a grass courtyard with–you guessed it–more beer! A dozen or so beers are on tap at the Arbor Bar under a small awning next to the stage, and there are picnic tables scattered about. This is my favorite spot at Publichouse, as it feels like a real beer garden. It’s a perfect family friendly spot as well.

On the other side of the building, the soon-to-open Whiskey Bar will open in what was Claim 52 Abbey. The cozy space will be a good winter hideout, and will have two beer taps as well: one for a lighter, beer-back sort of beer, and a tap of rare or vintage barrel-aged burly brew.

All beer orders are made at the bar(s), and if you’ve started a tab you can order from any bar; food is separate. The staff are kind folk, happy to oblige inquisitions from budding craft beer drinkers.

Publichouse offers downtown Springfield residents an opportunity to expand their beer horizons close to home, and is a great complement to Plank Town Brewing just around the corner. The vibe at Publichouse stops short of “urban” or “modern” by way of the building’s inherent flow and separate spaces. Rather, it feels homier; you can drink in the space of your choice. It bears similarities to The Bier Stein (as a beer hall) and McMenamins (for the diversity of spaces and atmospheres), but has an aesthetic that’s present at Tap & Growler and Beergarden too; maybe it’s the Marie Callendar’s furniture.  Some of the wood used to make the tables came from an old Pabst brewery (a cheeky touch), and the long center tables in the main hall were custom made by Stonewood Construction, which did the build-out.

Springfield is on the up-and-up culturally and businesswise, and is not without existing craft beer joints. McKenzie River Taphouse serves the Thurston area to the east, and Hayden Bridge Taphouse has a good taplist, killer street tacos, and a surprisingly good bottle selection, just north of Highway 126 on Mohawk Blvd. Though those are far-flung for a proper pub crawl, the beer scene in Springfield just got a huge boost with Publichouse. The 3 block strip of Main Street downtown has grown from Plank Town and the Washburne Cafe to include Bartolotti’s Pizza; Dark & Stormy, a new bar from the owners of Hayden Bridge; and the (hopefully) soon-to-open second location of Cornbread Cafe. (Sprungfelders, don’t be mad if I missed other good spots (like Noodle ‘n Thai!); just take me there sometime.)

 

A Day with Mecca Grade Estate Malt

Outstanding in the Field

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Mecca Grade barley with Mt. Hood behind

In the rolling plains of Central Oregon, north of Redmond along Highway 97, Mecca Grade Estate’s shiny silos are a speck of agricultural industry on the horizon. Mount Hood peeks over the hazy hills to the north of the thousand-acre farm, which produces seasonal grass crops including barley, wheat, and rye. Over the last half-decade, the Klann family, who have lived on this piece of land outside of Madras since 1905, has diversified the farm’s business and made Mecca Grade a buzzword in the beer and barley worlds.

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On a summer morning with the mercury teasing triple digits, 25 or so brewers and distillers and barley scientists, and one beer writer, gathered at the farm for a “Malt and Barley Field Day.” After coffee and muffins inside the farm’s reception and tasting area, the group walked across the gravel lot and into the barley field. The flaxen awns, now dry and brittle before harvest, sprayed from the seed stalks like antennae. The “amber waves,” which from afar appeared soft and fluffy, bore more resemblance to a cluster of bristle brushes up close, and made loud, crunchy swishing sounds as the crowd waded into the waist-high rows.

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Pat Hayes and Seth Klann talk barley.

Spread out between the rows in the combine tracks, Seth Klann introduced the farm and explained that the relatively short (1,000 feet), narrow rows of barley in which we stood were part of the Next Pint project, and represented some of 130 different barley varieties cross-bred with Full Pint barley that have undergone field testing at Mecca Grade. In this case, Mecca is an apt description; Seth is on a mission, looking for the Goldilocks seed: Oregon Promise.

The story behind the mission begins at Oregon State University, where the team of barley breeders developed Full Pint barley in 2015. The process of breeding barley and selecting for desirable genetic traits is still very analog; barley, with 50,000 genes, does not lend itself to the more controversial brand of genetic modification. Instead, crosses are made by hand. Barley is self-pollinating, so to make a specific cross, a person, in this case faculty research assistant Scott Fisk, must physically remove the anthers, which contain pollen, put a bag over the plant, and then “impregnate” it with pollen taken from another plant.

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One of the 2-row barley crosses

The “true breed” is created from the pollen tissue of that cross. The process to create a genetic clone, or “doubled haploid” plant, involves a petri dish, a nutrient bath, controlled environment, and the hope that “spontaneous doubling” will occur; that the pollen’s seven chromosomes will double into the 14 necessary for germination. After that, the plants are grown in a greenhouse to generate more and more seed stock until there is enough for a field trial. One barley kernel can produce around five seed stalks, each of which will have many seeds; exponential growth.

[OK, this is a good time for a break. It just got heavy. The reason I find this so fascinating (besides that it seems like magic), is that these folks, both at OSU and Mecca Grade, are on the avant garde of beer flavor development. The difference between a malty pale beer brewed with standard domestic 2-row barley malt (Copeland or Metcalf) and a beer brewed with Full Pint barley malt is drastic, and can be traced–via chemical and sensory analysis–behind the malting process to the grain itself, and where it was grown. That’s terroir. It may sound snooty when talking about malt, but hop growers and brewers who have the luxury of selecting particular rows and lots of hop varieties have been talking about terroir for years. Hops are just more glamorous. Malt, especially base malt, has been treated like a blunt tool, with specialty malts relied upon to provide complex flavors. Now back to the field.]

Each of the test plots at Mecca Grade represented a different cross, and each was visibly different. Despite the science behind this project, these field trials quickly reveal which varieties are more suitable for growth at this place. Some of the rows had been decimated by birds, their once lush seed heads scraggly and lame in the breeze. For some reason, the birds chose to eat that one; it will not advance. Another row had “lodged”– fallen over because of wind, rain, or hail. It will not advance.

Grain is grown all over the world under many different conditions. What becomes Oregon Promise will probably not be suitable for growth in the Skagit Valley, or in Montana or Alberta, Canada, where most North American malting barley is grown. Copeland and Metcalf were developed for their adaptability to climate and geology, and for their consistent yield, protein content, and various statistics that made them desirable for brewing enormous batches of beer. They were not developed for flavor contribution.

Deep in the weeds of the OSU barley breeding program, professor Pat Hayes plays with analogy, metaphor, and off-color hand signals when he talks about barley; it helps. “A barley variety is like a kid,” he said. “Some are stinkers.” Once a good “kid” is found, “malting is the education,” on its path to the pint glass. “Brewing makes it a professional.”

More than likely, Oregon Promise will not have the highest yield of all. Seth is, “looking for novel flavors over prime malting data.” Mecca Grade currently grows Full Pint barley. The transition will take some time, but will provide the farm with its own barley variety and further the development of its terroir.

Get Malty

Once it got too hot to learn anything more in the field, the group tromped back to the reception area, and through a door to where the magic malting happens. Once the barley is harvested and threshed to remove most of the chaff, it is stored in very large silos. At any given time, the goal is to have an extra year’s supply of barley on hand in case of unforeseen events like a hailstorm or late-season rain that can ruin a crop.

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From the silo, the grain is augured down a chute to a sorting machine. Bits of chaff are sifted off to a separate bin, and the barley is run over perforated plates to separate grains that are too small and won’t germinate properly. Standards are high here; Seth reluctantly admitted that Mecca Grade malt is a luxury product, so extra care must be taken to ensure that it looks and tastes good, and makes good beer.

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Following the sorting and sifting, the barley is moved into a 12-ton unimalter. The large metal box, checkered with various doors for observation and troubleshooting the various conveyor belts and stirring arms inside, has the ability to perform all of the steps in malting: steeping, germination, and drying/kilning. At the time, a batch of malt was in its second day of germination. Little rootlets poked out from each kernel, and its softened texture yielded a raw, husky corn-like flavor.

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Barley seed with rootlets.

It takes around five days to produce a batch of malt. After it is done, it goes through one more machine, which knocks off the “chits,” the protein-rich rootlets of the sprouted barley; those are unnecessary in the brewing process, and Seth hopes to find a use for them someday.

After the tour, the group was treated to a catered lunch and a selection of commercial beers brewed with Mecca Grade malt. Brouwerij West from San Pedro, CA had sent up a Belgian-style blonde ale, no doubt brewed with Pelton, a pilsner-type malt. Justin and Jocelyn Leigh, founders of the young Dwinell Country Ales in Goldendale, WA, had brought a refreshing gose that seemed to be the go-to beer after a good swelter.

Oregon Spirit Distillers and McMenamins Edgefield Distillery teams had brought some whiskey, too. There were two from Oregon Spirit Distillers, one made with Metolius and one with Vanora. The Vanora version was lush and slightly sweet, with ample legs coating the glass. Most remarkably, McMenamins had brought a near cask-strength white (no barrel) whiskey that used 20% Opal, Mecca Grade’s crystal malt. The aroma steamed out of the glass with strong notes of spun honey and s’mores, a surprise coming from a clear spirit. McMenamins currently has a rye whiskey (100% Mecca Grade rye) aging in new Oregon oak barrels. Lee Hedgmon, a distiller at McMenamins, compared Oregon oak to Japanese oak, which has high levels of vanillin, and should lend a sweet-fruity softness to the rye’s spice.

A Note on Sustainability

In the high desert, the annual rainfall of 8-10 inches is about half of what barley needs to grow well. To supplement, the Klanns irrigate with center pivot sprinklers. They closely monitor water usage, irrigating specifically to mitigate seasonal stresses, and runoff from both the irrigation and maltings is collected in settling ponds and reused. And although the farm is not organic, it uses minimal doses of chemical intervention. It switched to compostable malt bags after encouragement from The Ale Apothecary owner Paul Arney, who uses all Mecca Grade malt in his beers.

The family farm will continue now, likely through generations, with renewed vigor as a result of its expansion from grass into malting barley. Mecca Grade’s biggest advantage is the personal connection Seth and his family have made with brewers and distillers. Beer is an agricultural product; good beer begins in the field, and the ability for brewers to have access to their farmers helps close the too-common gap between producer and consumer. More knowledge of the ingredients and processes that create beer means that consumers have more resources to choose what they drink. And though Mecca Grade will never have a majority share of the malt market, there are lots of other small maltings operating around the country making similar connections to their communities. The economic and social value of these independent businesses cannot be overstated.

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