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Grains of truth

Local brewers usually know that their hops come from the Yakima Valley, sometimes down to the specific farm.

It’s a different story with malt. Most of the barley grown in Washington is lower-quality feed grade, and the malting barley that is produced gets mixed with more far-flung grains at large regional malting houses.

LINC Foods is setting out to change that. The Spokane-based cooperative, which connects area farmers with institutional buyers like schools and hospitals, is planning the first local craft malting operation. Fundraising is underway with the goal of a late fall launch.

“It’s what we’re all about – relocalizing the supply chain and helping farmers in the area,” says LINC Foods’ Joel Williamson, an avid homebrewer.

Some of the co-op’s farmers already grow malting barley and others are starting this season, Williamson says. LINC plans to produce both base and specialty malts, including wheat, oats and rye along with barley.

Several local breweries already have expressed interest. Smaller brewers are more likely customers because of the limited quantities and higher prices compared to mass-produced malt, Williamson says.

They’re also in a better position to tell the farmers’ stories in their taprooms than bigger distribution breweries, he adds. Like LINC’s produce, the malt will be linked to individual farms.

“It will all be single-source batches, pale malt from this farmer, crystal malt from that farmer,” explains Williamson, who recently completed an intensive two-week program at the Canadian Malting Barley Technical Centre in Winnipeg.

“They can make beer with malt from farmers 15 miles from here.”

LINC needs to raise $600,000 to buy the necessary equipment. A campaign is in progress through Seattle-based Community Sourced Capital, which crowdfunds interest-free loans for small businesses, with a minimum $50 share.

While the goal is only $5,000, Williamson says, it helps get the word out and shows community support. “It’s not a significant part of our funding, but for other reasons it’s real beneficial,” he says.

The rest will be split between a bank loan, which is nearing approval, and individual investors, with that outreach beginning next week.

It’s a big undertaking, Williamson says, but the timing is right – and he loves working with brewers as much as he does farmers.

 “They’re both trying something new and different,” he says. “They want to be local, they want to be creative.”