Thursday, April 14, 2011

Growing Your Own: Rogue Style

Rogue's Floor Malting House

I have been trying to grow hops for over a year now, and fortunately, after last years failed rhizome and then disappointing vine, it appears to be coming back with a vengeance.  Already there is a robust beginning.  Hopefully, I'll be able to brew a beer this year with my very own hops.

But if you want to find the commercial leader in the 'grow your own' movement look no farther than Rogue.  And it makes sense, right?  Rogue, marches to the beat of a different drummer and is fiercely proud of it.  They have been involved in a wholehearted effort to produce their own ingredients and now have a hops farm and a barley farm from which they are now producing their own beers under the "Chatoe Rogue" label.

But once you have grown your own barley you need to turn it into malted barley and this is no easy feat.  The delicate process of converting the starches into sugars requires a delicate touch.  The traditional way of doing it is through a floor malting process by which you create a hot floor and rake the germinated barley until it is sufficiently dry.  At least I think so - my knowledge of the process is sketchy at best.  What I do know is that floor-malting is the old school way of malting - a lot of hand raking and thus labor intensive - and is rarely seen in the modern industrial beer world.

Which brings us back to Rogue which has just completed the construction of their very own floor malting facility on their barley farm in Oregon's Tygh Valley.

From and earlier press release on the facility:

The Malt Floor will be a Heritage-malting operation in which Rogue Farm barley will be soaked, floor-germinated, hand-raked on the malt floor, roasted in a brick hearth, and bagged in small batches. Rogue Brewmaster John Maier plans on developing 4-6 varieties of floor malt that will be used in the brewing and distilling of Rogue Ales, Porters, Stouts, Lagers, and Whiskies.

Floor malting began in the 19th century but was gradually replaced by automated equipment that helped reduce labor costs. With the establishment of the malt floor, Rogue joins a select handful of floor maltsters in Germany, England, and the Czech Republic that continue to carry on the heritage malting method.

And speaking of the beer, I have blogged in the past about how much I liked their single malt ale for the beer itself not just because they used their own home-grown ingredients.  I liked the clean simplicity of the beer: one malt and one hop variety.  I look forward to the wonderful things John and his crew at Rogue will do with the new fully home produced malts and kudos to Rogue for investing so heavily in their own hops and barley operations.  
There are a lot of ways in which Rogue is just that - the could have easily become a Deschutes/Full Sail clone, settling on a standard line up of beer and selling far and wide.  That would have been just fine and I am grateful to have Deschutes and Full Sail, but Rogue has always had a different path, one that is not just about growing revenues as quickly as possible.  To my mind they should be celebrated for all of their fun and commendable efforts to create a truly home-grown Oregon beer.


Jeff Alworth said...

It's especially cool that they're using it in the distilling, too. Some of the old distilleries in Scotland still maintain floor malteries for their famous products. It's the height of local and very cool.

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