The Greenmarket Regional Grains Project
witnessed accidental greatness recently during a visit to Breuckelen Distilling
, where we sampled a fresh batch of single malt whiskey in the company of the masterminds behind its creation: grain farmer Thor Oechsner, maltsters Andrea and Christian Stanley of Valley Malt
, and head distiller and owner Brad Estabrooke.
"That single malt is certainly the most exciting thing we are doing at the moment," said Brad.
And to think that the malt, which Brad called "perfect," came from barley that was all but useless after being pounded by the 2013 rains.
Thor credits Andrea for rediscovering the lost art of "providence malting -- an old technique for sprouted barley," he said. "She is the star here. She saved my crop for Brad. She figured out how to work with it."
A budding regional grains system at work! Just a few years ago the sprouted barley would have meant a major loss for Thor. Instead, the flourishing new markets of local malt, local whiskey and local beer mean that Thor can remain financially viable, continue feeding the regional demand for grains, and thrive as one of the region's finest farmers. And thanks to people like Andrea, Christian and Brad, that means we drinkers get to taste those grains in our favorite beers and spirits.
Here's the story in Andrea's words....
Visiting Breuckelen was the highlight of our visit to Brooklyn where we were able to see our malt in action. Being in a room together with the farmer and distiller is a rare occurrence for me as I am usually just hanging out with my malt, but not always seeing where it goes.
The backstory of the barley and the malt we made for Brad was really interesting, or at least interesting if you are a malt nerd like me. 2013 was a cruel year for grains in the Northeast. We were plagued with rain in the most inopportune times, especially right when the barley was supposed to be harvested. Thor's winter barley was beautiful to look at, but under the surface something had happened when all that rain hit it after it had matured. The natural tendency of the barley seed is to sprout and reproduce. However we don't want this to happen in the field, we want it to happen in the malthouse.
We identified that Thor's barley had pre-harvest sprouting through a Falling-Numbers test and attempted to malt it with little luck. Textbooks say PHS is a deal breaker for the maltster. The first batches we tried to malt went for animal feed.
Then luck struck in November. The barley/malt/whisky Gods decided to intervene. Through the wisdom of a retired maltster, we learned of an adjusted steep schedule that would allow us to malt this PHS barley. We ran a few test batches, got things sprouting and BA-BAM we were making malt from Thor's barley. We sent a few tons to Brad at Breuckelen and he was very happy with the results. In fact the lower PH mash that this malt produced was exactly what he wanted for this single malt whisky. Given the crazy turn of events, I think this should be called Serendipity Single Malt.