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Pints of the Palouse

Joel Williamson watches Tuesday’s delivery of equipment to LINC Foods’ new malting facility at the Spokane Business & Industrial Park. (Dan Jackson photo)

After steeping in the idea stage for many months, a local craft malting operation is beginning to germinate.

Malting equipment was delivered Tuesday for Palouse Pint, a project of the LINC Foods farmers’ cooperative. Production is expected to begin by the end of the month.

The idea is to provide more distinctive, flavorful malted barley and other grains that are better suited to craft brewers’ needs. Most of the malt currently on the market is geared to macrobrewers; they need higher protein levels to make up for their use of filler ingredients like rice and corn, but that can lead to less efficiency and cloudier beers for all-malt brewers.

All Palouse Pint products will be single-source malts identified with individual farmers. The first 5-ton batch will be an English-style pale malt made with Baroness barley from Joseph’s Grainery in Colfax.

That variety was used to make malt decades ago but fell out of favor because of its lower protein content, says LINC’s Joel Williamson, who will handle the malting operation. “Hopefully it’s going to give us an interesting flavor,” he says.

Test batches of beer brewed with the malt by No-Li, Orlison, Perry Street, Black Label and Young Buck are planned for a kickoff event in April, along with a whiskey from Tinbender.    

White wheat from Joseph’s Grainery is scheduled to be malted after that. Other grains like oats, rye and ancient varieties such as spelt and triticale could eventually join the mix.

One grower plans to plant two new barley varieties being developed by Washington State University so local brewers can try them out, Williamson says. “They usually don’t get that kind of feedback, beyond their grain lab,” he says.

Big Barn Brewing, located on a Green Bluff farm, has expressed interest in growing its own barley and having it malted for its beers.

While larger local brewers like No-Li and Orlison would likely only use Palouse Pint malt on a limited basis because of their scale, Williamson says, “Some of the smaller brewers are saying, let’s go as local as we can, integrate it into as many beers as possible.”

LINC’s operation doesn’t have a roaster, so it can’t kiln malts darker than lower-level crystal, but most brewers are interested in paler, more versatile varieties, he says.  

Homebrewers are another market. Williamson envisions a system where they could receive monthly boxes of mixed malts, like you would get with produce from a farm CSA.  

And someday, maybe, the movement will extend beyond barley. “Now we just have to talk more of the farmers we work with into growing hops,” LINC’s Dan Jackson says with a smile.