German noun: provenance, point of origin, or source.
Preparing the Land.
Wheatland Spring has been a working farm, on-and-off, for a couple of hundred years. The process of turning this land back into a working farm started in early 2018 when we began managing the wild vegetation and preparing the soil for grain.
We took cores of the soil all over the fields. These soil samples were sent to our state university for lab analysis. It turned out there was enough organic matter and other good things in the soil already present that we were able to begin seeding the soil without amendments. This was welcome news.
Finding the right seed took a lot of research and in-depth conversations with experts — from leading professors at universities and researchers at seed banks to farmers in the field. Literally. Most wheat in the world isn’t grown for beer, so we had to find just the right type for our region and purpose. A couple of farmers used drill seeders to sew 18 acres. We went back and forth on till versus no-till and landed on the latter because we understand that it tends to release less CO2 into the atmosphere and the layer of weed seed built up over the years stays below the surface. Then we waited.
After checking and rechecking the drill seeder configuration for depth and rate of seeding, we couldn’t help but wonder: did the seed take? Just before the temperature dropped, we got our answer. The wheat began to take root and showed us if we got the lines straight. Yes we did! And no, we did not…
Spring has Sprung.
It was great to see the wheat heads pop up to say hello. The 18 acres were a lovely sea of green with the leafs waiving in the wind, but once the heads appeared, it became a wheat field.
Keeping an Eye on it.
The range for moisture content of wheat used for brewer’s malt is very specific. So this means patiently observing the grain, testing moisture, watching for signs of maturity, and then getting ready to harvest as quickly as possible when weather permits.
Time to Harvest.
After more than a year of investing time, treasure, and talent in: planning, sourcing, partnering with neighboring farmers, making tough decisions, hoping the rain didn’t wash us out, testing — and tasting — the grain, it was time to take the wheat out of the ground. This was equal parts exhilarating and daunting. All told, we yielded around 40,000 pounds of wheat.
Cleaning the Wheat.
The next step in the process is to clean the wheat. Direct from the field, the wheat still has chaff and other vegetation from the combine. As it happened, we ended up cleaning the first 10 tons of wheat on the hottest day in two years. But it got done.
Beauty shot of 10 tons of wheat. We express mailed a sample of the grain to a lab to test if the grain passed the high bar for malting quality. This determines if we can have the grain malted and use in our beer, or we need to sell it for livestock feed. Of all the steps in the process, waiting for the lab results created the most anxiety. The wheat passed with flying colors.
Seed Bag to Malt Bag.
After the grain passed muster for brewer’s malt, we sent tens of thousands of pounds to our Virginia maltster-partner. Not too long after we sent it out, we received the first ton of our farm-grown wheat back at the farm brewery. Fresh grain makes for fresh beer. We were two months from harvest to pouring our first Land Beer.
Just before the grains from our field are steeped in water from our natural source below the field, we crack them open in our American-made mill. This helps release all of the good stuff they’ve been carrying with them up to this point.
Brew day is the culmination of a lot of preparation. What’s implied, but not seen on brew day, is creating a recipe based on the finished beer. Editing that recipe. Setting a brewing method. Tasting the grain and other ingredients. Editing that recipe again. Modifying the brewing method and finally setting everything in place. The planning, art, and science meet in our American-made brewhouse. Now we execute, offering the ingredients the best environment possible to express their character.
It’s All About the Beer… and not About the Beer at All.
All that for a beer?
While the glass of beer is what most folks see, bringing that beer from the ground to the glass does a lot of things. That beer: expresses the character of our farm and region; keeps acreage in agricultural use; promotes awareness of small-scale agriculture; strengthens small farms; supports hard-working farmers; helps small, agricultural-based businesses; contributes to U.S. manufacturing; and offers a reason for us to gather and spend time together.
So, yeah, all that for a beer.