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Grin and Bere it at Bellwether

In February, Bellwether embarked on its Purple Egyptian Barley Project, brewing a seven-week series of small-batch beers with the obscure grain.

Now history is repeating itself with another ancient varietal, Scots Bere, which will be showcased each Thursday through August starting this week.

The barley again is grown by Palouse Heritage (which sourced original seed stock from Scotland’s Orkney Island), and malted by Palouse Pint in the Spokane Valley. The beers again will be accompanied by loaves made with the grain by Culture Breads.

But there are a few differences. The new series runs for five weeks, not seven. And while the Purple Egyptian beers were made with a minimum 60 percent of that barley, only Scots Bere is being used in these recipes.

“There are a couple of reasons,” says Bellwether’s Thomas Croskrey, who specializes in Old World styles. “I’m really excited about ancient Celtic brewing traditions, and for posterity I wanted to be 100 percent with it. And Scots Bere is historically a beer barley, so you theoretically don’t need any other grains.”

Believed to be Britain’s oldest cultivated cereal, Scots Bere (pronounced “bare”) was raised by Viking colonists in Scotland and the Orkneys. While it was surpassed commercially by higher-yielding barleys, it’s still grown there in limited quantities and used to make beer and whisky as well as breads.

“It carries a ton of flavor,” says Croskrey, who may be the first U.S. brewer to work with it. He describes it as bready but not heavy, and producing a deep brownish-red hue.

“You look at it and have a hard time believing it’s a single-malt beer,” he says. “It’s not the pale malt that we’re used to.”

In keeping with the grain’s origins, Croskrey is doing a series of Nordic- and Celtic-inspired ales, starting this week with a pair of Scottish styles: a mild (4.6 percent alcohol by volume) and a wee heavy (7.9) with heather, elderflower and oak.           

As with the Purple Egyptian, a big batch of the most popular beer in the series will be brewed later. You can vote on that if you come to at least four of the five Thursdays; those who attend every week will get a free souvenir glass, which also is available for purchase. 

The Crate food truck will be on hand each week serving dinner from 5 to 8.

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