In the background you can hear a tractor as Bryce Rashleigh talks of planting the first barley today for next year’s beer.
Right now Victoria beer brewers are using barley harvested last fall by the Saanichton farmer. The Rashleigh family has been scattering seeds for beer barley the last few years on farmland around the region, particularly on the Saanich Peninsula.
The limiting factor of going from seed to beer all within Greater Victoria is the malting process – germinating then drying – producing enzymes that turn the grain’s starches to sugars.
“One guy locally, has done it in a small way but there’s two people who are working on malting production (equipment) to produce it,” Rashleigh says.
Local malting pioneer Mike Doehnel is that man. Doehnel started out testing different varieties of barley for our coastal climate, looking for top yield, and high disease resistance, then painstakingly malted the grains himself. The Peninsula beer farmer’s patience and dedication paid off, when an ale made with his malt hit shelves in private liquor stores in 2011.
The goal is to increase the value of the end product farmers sell, so value is added at the farm instead of after it’s left the land, Doehnel says. “That way the value is added on the farm rather than by somebody else down the line.”
Up to now Doehnel’s hand-malted barley beers have been the only all-local beer on store shelves. That could change this fall, as one brewer looks to build a malting machine that could incite a growing frenzy Island-wide.
“It will be interesting to see what can happen with it, and there’s good interest. People are into local things. that’s what I really notice.” Rashleigh says. “It’s quite exciting because farming was getting stale and it’s nice to see some more variety and options out there.”
While Rashleigh’s on a tractor planning for the fall, Doehnel’s getting ready to develop a malting machine and sharing his knowledge just south of the border.
“I still produce a little bit at my house, but not a lot,” Doehnell says in a phone call from a farm in Eugene, OR where the farmer’s looking to cut out the middle man and malt his own grains. “I don’t have time to do it as much as before.”
Philosophically both men are all about farming, crop rotation and adding value to the family farm.
“Every year we’ve tried to improve what we’ve been doing,” Rashleigh says. This year they’ve added a de-bearder because “the little whiskers” need to be knocked off before you sprout it. “The infrastructure is coming along.”
Rashleigh farms 600 to 700 acres between his own land and others. If the plan for Victoria malting comes to fruition, the need could extend to up-Island farms.
“Will they be successful? Time will tell. People are supportive in many ways of local, and why wouldn’t local beer be just as popular,” he says. “People are pretty good to share their knowledge, everyone knows it’s bigger than just their farm.”
Meanwhile, with two season beers last year, and two this year (one expected to be unveiled by its local brew company any day now), Doehnel’s is the only Island-grown and produced beer. Despite not being a big beer drinker, Rashleigh says he gets great feedback from friends. “I have some in my fridge, I keep a bottle from each batch.”