With new barley variety, Cornell leads way for brewers
Cornell researchers have just released a new variety of New York-adapted spring barley, to meet needs created by a 2012 Farm Brewery Bill that expects New York’s craft brewers to steadily increase the amount of state-sourced ingredients used in their beer.
(recorded at the Northeast Grainshed Symposium Jan 2020)
Thor Oechsner from Oechsner Farms sharing his Grainshed Moment (seated with Stefan Senders of Wide Awake Bakery).
Thor Oeschner of Oechsner Farms is a certified organic grain farm in Newfield, New York. We farm 1200 acres of corn, winter, and spring wheat, buckwheat, rye, soybeans, clover, hay and cover crops throughout Tompkins County in the Finger Lakes. We process, clean, and ship food-grade grains ready for small flour mills, bakeries, malthouses, distilleries and breweries to use. Soil health is also one of our top priorities.
Erin Bell, Head Spirits Distiller / Production Manager of Silo Distillery and Northeast Grainshed member shares how they are going the extra mile to use their facility for the production of hand sanitizer. Support them by clicking here!
“About two weeks ago we started making our own hand sanitizer in-house to put guests in our tasting room at ease. When some local area restaurants found out, they approached us about sourcing some. So we made more.
Then at the beginning of last week, it felt like the whole world shut down.
All of our restaurant and bar customers shuttered their doors and we thought we were done for good, too. We rely so much on our own retail and bar programs for revenue, as well as on-premise distribution, that we weren’t sure what would happen next. All of our staff except me chose to go on unemployment (there are ten of us total). I stayed on to keep producing some more sanitizer to donate for what I thought was our last week of business and to button up some stuff around the facility. We released a statement on Monday saying folks in our local area could come to pick up sanitizer free of charge with their own bottles. We thought it would help ease the anxiety that most are feeling right now.
Then Wednesday The FDA and TTB announced that we could legally produce sanitizer (we were toeing a line legally, but we kind of didn’t care, we wanted to help). And our first day of free pickups went well, with 40 visitors. Then the news got wind of everything.
We have provided 100 gallons of sanitizer to individuals, companies, health facilities, nursing homes, UPS, first responders, Police, and volunteer organizations in the last 4 days.
I will be making another large batch today to provide more, but the demand has been overwhelming, to say the least.
Our distillery is in a unique position since we are a vodka producer. Vodka is ethanol, the main ingredient in hand sanitizer (or isopropyl alcohol is used in place of it) and we are able to produce high volumes at 95% and up in just a few hours.
We make it from Vermont grown corn.
The other two ingredients are hydrogen peroxide and glycerin. We were a bit ahead of the curve and bought about 16 gallons of glycerin before things started getting crazy, and were able to source the Hydrogen peroxide locally. We are adhering to the WHO’s recipe, which combines those three ingredients and sterile water (which we also produce here). We add nothing else, as dictated by the FDA.
We have so far been doing this at our own cost. We just put out a GoFundMe (click on GoFundMe) campaign to raise $5000 more for supplies and to be able to start paying some of our staff who were furloughed when we initially had to shut our doors. It also helps us buy more grain from our farmers to make the ethanol. And containers to get the bulk amounts out to larger groups and facilities. Bottles are hard to come by these days (which is mind blowing).
Any excess will be donated to the NOFA Farmer Relief Fund…
At this point, we feel we might be doing this for a few weeks at least. The more we get, the more we will make. We are also looking into local area partners who may be able to help us distribute the hand solution to individuals through their storefronts. This will be a packaged version and will be sold retail through our partners to cover the costs of packaging and to raise funds for other local area groups.”
Clover Food Lab Founder & Northeast Grainshed Member invites you into his kitchen!
With the advent of this crisis, restaurants moving to takeout/delivery only, or temporarily closing their doors, most of us have probably stocked up on groceries and will be staying home and hunkering down.
That means there’s going to be a lot more home-cooking happening.
Join Ayr Muir, Founder, and CEO of Clover Food Lab, in his home kitchen where he will be sharing advice on cooking at home, as well as special tips and recipes! Each “episode” will be centered around common pantry staples -like flour, salt, beans, water, veggies. And we’ll be highlighting our favorite regional purveyors too if you need to do some online grocery shopping.
Ayr will be sharing a livestream video at 3pm – Monday through Friday, starting Monday, March 23rd. Ayr will be cooking in real-time (no “TV magic”) so that you can follow along in your own kitchen.
Ayr will be joined by Richard Bourdon from Berkshire Mountain Bakery on the 1st episode as a special guest. He will also direct viewers to Maine Grains’ online store as a recommended resource for local flour and other supplies.
Northeast Grainshed Member, One Mighty Mill has been stepping it up a notch in response to the current events. In addition to providing discounts for health-care workers and first-responders they are also offering their delicious and nutritious bagels on-line, and giving away free bagels – safely wrapped in individual packs – for folks passing by their Lynn storefront. Read their story….below.
“Like all of you, we don’t know what the bleep to do from one minute to the next. We are constantly examining and agonizing over each decision we make as a company to balance our mission – getting fresh stone-milled wheat into as many bellies and kitchens as possible – with the dire imperative to minimize physical contact with the community that we care so deeply about. Really really weird. But everything is weird right now. That is the backdrop to our decision to temporarily close our Lynn cafe to the public starting tomorrow Friday, March 20. It sucks. The thing we most enjoy about our day – welcoming folks into our Lynn mill – doesn’t feel like the right thing for the public nor for our employees; at least for the next week or two. We are going to continue production for our grocery stores partners and for you if you’d like to order our retail packaged products online at our website. 𝐏𝐒: Those folks that do come by the mill over the next while by happenstance will find little bags of individual plain bagels at our front door – no charge. We don’t want anyone without right now.
The timing of this is awkward since we know that bagels are trivial compared to what we’re dealing with.
But, over the last few days, we’ve received a spike in online orders for pretzels and flour. Since we know that folks are holed up in their homes and still need to eat healthy, we’ve decided to also make our fresh-milled bagels available online at our website too. (Since they’ll arrive in 2 days, our bagels will hold up to 5 days at room temp once they get to you or you can park them in the freezer for up to 6 months.)
Hit the link below and you can get our bagels delivered right from our mill to your door. (Also, please let us know if you’re a first responder working in hospitals or health centers and you’ll get a discount on all of our fresh-milled food. Just DM us and Mateo will send you a code.)
Again, we post this feeling like it’s inappropriate to share anything other than words of support and encouragement right now. So, we send love, healing, and encouragement to take care of yourself and each other. Together, we are mighty and as a community, we’ll make it through this difficult time.”
If you watched the Super Bowl maybe you caught the Michelob beer commercial that begins with a shot of a lone farmer standing in a field. His grain silos are looming in the distance. Then the voiceover tells beer drinkers how their dollars can help conventional American farmers become organic ones.
“If every football fan picks up a six pack it’ll change farmland forever,” we’re told. Anheuser-Busch — the largest brewing company in the U.S. — promises to convert six square feet of grain acreage to organic for every half-dozen bottles sold.
Turns out a regional group has been coming up with its own ways to connect beer back to farms — just on a much smaller scale. More than 200 craft brewers, farmers, distillers, malsters and bakers came together last week in part to figure out ways to show consumers how and why the beer and bread they buy can make a difference. And they welcomed the Michelob commercial’s timing.
“I never felt so validated in all my life,” Barry Labendz of Kent Falls Brewing Company in Connecticut said after seeing the ad online before it played live. He decided to screen it on January 30 at an inaugural symposium for the new “small grains” group in formation called the “Northeast Grainshed.”
Andrea Stanley, founder of Valley Malt in Hadley, Mass, dreamed up the Northeast Grainshed about a year ago. She said it’s a solution for actualizing conversations people have been having in small pockets across the industry.
“We’re trying to move the needle forward in continuing to support local farmers to grow grains in the Northeast,” Stanley told me, “And what we’ve realized over the years in doing this work – where we’re establishing mills and malt houses and breweries and bakeries – that the real bottleneck at this point is consumer awareness.”
A full day of panels and discussions on everything from marketing to sustainability unfolded in Canton at the Trillium Brewing Company’s newly acquired 140,000 square foot facility slated to open in 2021. Addressing the disconnect between what people eat or drink and where ingredients originate was a dominant theme.
During his presentation, Labendz described a concept that echoes Michelob’s “6 For 6-Pack” campaign. He grows about 800-acres of grain at his farmhouse brewery and figured out that a single can of his 6% IPA uses four square feet of barley field. Labendz shares this tangible conclusion with his customers. “Consumers and drinkers aren’t used to sitting at home and talking about the Grainshed — but they sure as hell open a lot of cans of beer,” Labendz said.
As for the group’s name, Stanley compared the Grainshed to a watershed, “with a lot of tributaries flowing toward a larger body. Over the past decade people have expanded those tributaries,” she continued, adding it’s time to harness the rising industry’s momentum in an intentional, coordinated way.
Author, baker and self-described “Flour Ambassador” Amy Halloran concurred. “We’re here to have the business community conversation about fostering further change,” she told the group, “We need to prime the public’s imagination to understand the grain supply chain,” by drawing connections, “from the glass back to the ground and from the loaf back to the field.”
Halloran wrote, “The New Bread Basket,” which traces the local grain revival back to when the Pilgrims arrived with their own wheat and rye. She believes the modern grain community needs to tell stories about what’s happening now, but also about what’s been lost.
Back in the early 1900s small-scale mills could be found in every community. Then industrialization took commerce west and the farmers followed. Now infrastructure is returning to the northeast, with mills, malt houses, farms and retailers like Elmendorf Baking Supplies & Café in Cambridge sprouting up throughout the region.
But the flour and malt used by most craft brewers and bakers comes from industrial Midwest farms and are processed at massive flour mills and malting operations. Halloran wants everyone involved in the small grain ecosystem – including restaurateurs, chefs, and researchers – to unite and talk about moving forward.
Ingredients are important to craft beer drinkers, according to national Brewers Association chief economist Bart Watson. He suggested the Grainshed could take cues from hops, which American beer drinkers have fallen in love with over the past decade. “Beer consumers know the name of hops which they barely knew even existed 5-10 years ago,” Watson explained, adding the same could be done with different varieties of grain.
Allagash Brewing Company in Portland, Maine has embraced the “seed to glass’ ethos. Founder Jason Perkins said its “16 Counties” been is made with 100% local grain, and he told the group about Allagash’s goal to use 1 million pounds of local grain by 2021. Brewing with small production grain costs more, but Perkins said beer fans don’t seem to mind paying an extra 20 cents for a 16-ounce taproom pour.
A few bakers shared their experiences with the group, including Tony Rosenfeld of One Mighty Mill in Lynn. He grinds grains grown in Linneus, Maine on-site and said when he and his business partner started making bagels with local wheat they needed a concise message that would inspire consumers. Now the phrase “Made with wheat you can eat” is on the packaging for One Mighty Mill bagels, pretzels and flour that’s sold at Whole Foods, along with words on the part it’s playing in a “small but mighty resistance against the homogenization and industrialization of food.”
Raising barley, wheat and other grains in the Northeast is also challenging. Researchers from the UVM, UMaine and Cornell have been trying to determine which “small grains” grow best in the region. Ellen Mallory of UMaine addressed the issue of scaling up.
“To make this work, we need enough growers, and enough production,” she said, “I’m really excited by this regional effort where we can create critical mass to move the needle.”
More than one person talked about the idea of grain production helping farmers find new sources of income, especially struggling dairy farmers.
Thor Oechsner of Oechsner Farms in Newfield, NY has been growing grains for beer, bread and spirits for more than 15 years and marveled at the symposium’s turnout. “I guess local grains have arrived,” he told me, “Granted, this is this incredibly small subset of the population – but a lot of people are touched by it. Now we’re really drilling down and focusing on how we get the word out that this is local and it’s supporting land.”
With more than 150 breweries in Massachusetts alone there’s a lot of potential for raising awareness about local grains in the beer community itself. Wormtown Brewery founder Ben Roesch challenged his peers to visit farms and pledge to use a certain percent of in their beers. In 2010 he made “Masswhole,” his company’s first beer with all local ingredients. Now all Wormtown beers have, “A piece of Mass in every glass,” Roesch said.
To highlight the Grainshed seven breweries collaborated to make a light, citrusy Grisette made with Northeast grains from a few different maltsters. It’s being poured at Clover Food Labs (which uses 30% local wheat in their pita bread) and Row 34 in Boston and at The Dirty Truth in Northhampton.
When asked about Michelob’s Superbowl ad Grainshed founding member Andrea Stanley mused, “The fact that an organization that has a multi-million-dollar budget for advertising came up with the same idea that we did in our little grassroots organization solidifies for us that we know what we need to do.” Just on a smaller, tastier level.
Andrea SheaSenior Arts Reporter
Andrea Shea is WBUR’s arts reporter.
The Northeast Grainshed is fiscally sponsored by the Tiny Seed Project, Inc. 501(c)3.