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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.

Purple grain

Ancient Egyptians would bake bread and soak it in water as their first step in brewing beer.

Now a modern Spokane brewer and baker are making beer and bread using a type of barley that originated in the headwaters of the Nile River thousands of years ago.

Bellwether this week launches its Purple Egyptian Barley Project. Over the next seven Thursdays, through April 6, it will release a variety of beers using the grain grown in this region by Palouse Heritage and malted by Palouse Pint in the Spokane Valley.

The beers will be accompanied by breads baked with the barley from Spokane’s Culture Breads. Customers who sample at least six of the offerings will receive a souvenir pint glass and be eligible to vote for their favorite; a full batch of the winner will be brewed for Spokane Craft Beer Week in May.

“We’re pretty excited to see the results,” says Bellwether brewer Thomas Croskrey, who’s known for his creative, historically themed endeavors (like the recent Gruitfest) . “Hopefully we’ll get a full crowd every Thursday.”

Croskrey says the malt made from Purple Egyptian barley, a hull-less grain with a purple/black bran layer, reminds him of Grape-Nuts. “I could pour milk on it and eat it for cereal,” he says.

While it doesn’t actually turn the beer purple, he adds, it imparts a more reddish color compared to typical barley base malts.

Purple Egyptian from Palouse Heritage previously was malted by Skagit Valley Malting in Burlington, Wash. and used in the initial version of Pike Brewing’s Locale Skagit Valley Alba pale ale.

Thursday marks the first time that the locally malted grain will be featured in a public release. Croskrey’s initial beer is an Egyptian-inspired recipe with dates, honey, black pepper and chamomile.

“From the reading I’ve done, they used a lot of dates in their beer, and some honey,” he says. “They didn’t use black pepper, but they had grains of paradise, which is similar.”

Other beers scheduled for release in the series, though the order hasn’t yet been determined, include:

– A hoppy pale that Croskrey says isn’t quite an IPA but gets lots of flavor and aroma from late-addition hops.

– A darker offering conditioned with cocoa nibs, roasted dandelion root and coffee.

– A strong braggot (honey beer) brewed with yerba mate tea from South America.

– A gruit (with herbs instead of hops) using lavender, basil, strawberry leaf and yarrow. “It’s one of my favorite gruits that I’ve made,” Croskrey says.

– An all-Purple Egyptian beer including a small amount of malt smoked by Palouse Heritage’s Don Scheuerman in his smokehouse, with pine resin added for extra character.

– Another using unmalted barley roasted by Palouse Pint’s Joel Williamson along with the base Purple Egyptian malt and some of his regular Crystal/Biscuit 40.   

“I wanted to get a real variety out there and see just how versatile this malt is,” Croskrey says of the lineup.

All are five-gallon batches that will start pouring as soon as Bellwether opens at 3 p.m., so they could go fast. In addition to the slices served with the beers, the Culture Breads creations will be sold as full loaves to go.

Culture Breads’ Shaun Thompson Duffy bakes his breads in a wood-fired oven using traditional, locally grown grains. “He approaches baking in the same way that I approach brewing, with a deep respect for the historical way of doing things,” Croskrey says.