Taste the first Washington varietal beer

Pike Brewing releases first-time locally-malted Skagit Valley Alba beer
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I am trained as a wine writer so I tend to look at all fermented beverages through a somewhat vinous lens. Lucky for me, this week’s big Washington beer news - news that could change the future of craft beers - can be explained with a wine analogy.

Much like a grape varietal defines the soul of a wine, so does malt with beer. Yet, since Prohibition, brewers have been limited by a lack of diversity in malt choices (quite the opposite of the hops situation). Despite the whopping 11,000 varieties of barley in existence, most of the grain supply is dominated by a few low-flavor varieties processed at big malting houses in the Midwest.

Now, in a landmark move, Pike Brewing Company is changing that.

The Seattle-based brewery has been working directly with Skagit Valley farmers to grow barley varietals specifically for craft beer malt. This week, they roll out a series of beers made with 100 percent Washington State ingredients that define the state’s terroir, or soil expression. (Yes, a wine term that works well here).

This is huge. On Washington Beer Blog, Seattle magazine’s own beer expert Kendall Jones says “it could be the start of something very big.” Here’s what he told me via email yesterday:

“The idea of an all-Washington-ingredients beer is not new. Others have done it. But this is all about that small malt producer in the Skagit Valley. Typically brewers can get Washington-grown grain, but not necessarily that's been malted here. The vast majority of barley is grown in Montana and N. Dakota, then malted in foreign lands like Wisconsin.”

Pike Brewing will release the beers as a series. The first, in time for summer, is Skagit Valley Alba, a light, clean, citrusy and slightly earthy brew seasoned with Yakima Valley hops. It is now available on draft and in 22 ounce dinner bottles. Details, if you’re curious:

Skagit Valley Alba’s base malt was grown by Knutzen Farms (Skagit Valley) and includes malts from Palouse Colony Farm (Whitman County), Washington Bulb Co. and Hedlin Farms (Skagit Valley). Its Cascade, Centennial and Mosaic hops come from the Yakima Valley and its honey from Salish Lodge bees in Snohomish County. It is brewed with water from the Cedar River Watershed and uses Pike #1 yeast.

Future beers in the Pike Locale series, featuring other heritage and varietal malts, will be available as the grains become available and as Pike Brewing Company’s brewers create new recipes for them. You can get more information on Pike Brewing’s website.

Cheers! Now that's a universal term.