Tennessee Brew Works and Batey Farms Produce an All-Tennessee Beer

Nashville SCENE
CHRIS CHAMBERLAIN

NOV 15, 2018 9 AM

 

You’d think with all the whiskey that has been produced in Tennessee at distilleries like Jack Daniel’s and George Dickel since Prohibition, there would be a market for local malted barley, since that grain is almost always a component of the mash bill of whiskey recipes. Then add in the rise of Tennessee breweries, where barley is an even larger percentage of the recipe than with spirits, and it seems like a no-brainer that barley should be a big cash crop in the state.

Not so much, it turns out. Brandon Whitt, the owner of Batey Farms, an eighth-generation family-owned farm located in Murfreesboro, explains. “Barley has been something that fell off the radar because we didn’t really have a market to sell it into. Jack and George were set in their ways when it came to their barley sources, and most of the agricultural research was primarily into six-row barley for livestock feed.”

The more preferred variety of barley for brewing and distilling is two-row barley, with its lower protein levels, higher yield per pound and more refined flavors, factors that are apparently unimportant to cattle. Still, Whitt wanted to bring barley back, and the agriculture sciences department at Virginia Tech had been experimenting with strains of German two-row winter barleys like Flavia, Calypso and Videtta, which are hearty enough to survive in Tennessee’s fickle climate.

Batey Farm has now planted more than 150 acres in barley, with the specific intention of using it for beer and whiskey, although the initially limited availability means their target market will be small-batch brewers and craft distilleries. “There’s obviously room for growth,” say Whitt, pun intended. “With the state’s rich history in beverage production, it makes sense to use Tennessee agriculture products.”

The first major announcement coming out of this program is a product from Tennessee Brew Works, called State Park Blonde Ale, which TBW has brewed since 2017 as a fundraiser benefiting the Tennessee State Parks Conservancy and our system of 56 state parks. Starting with this year’s release, State Park Blonde Ale will be brewed using all Tennessee-sourced grains.

“This partnership has produced a truly unique and local Tennessee craft brew that considers the preservation and protection of our state’s natural resources from start to finish,” says Brock Hill, deputy commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation’s Bureau of Parks and Conservation. “The State Park Blonde Ale is not only made of 100% Tennessee grain, but sales directly support the care of some of Tennessee’s most beautiful and precious public lands.”

“By utilizing all-Tennessee grains, we are creating beer that is truly indigenous to our home. Using the State Park Blonde Ale to launch the effort provides an opportunity to benefit the Tennessee State Parks as well,” says Christian Spears, Tennessee Brew Works’ founder and president.

Tennessee Brew Works already contracts with Batey Farms to provide the wheat for their Southern Wit Belgian-style white ale, and now with the addition of the barley program, that popular beer will also be able to go 100% Tennessee-sourced grains. Spears says he’s proud to be part of this program. “Our ultimate goal is to entice breweries, distilleries and farms around the state to participate; creating economies of scale that benefit all of us and bring our industries closer to agricultural self-sufficiency within Tennessee. The potential of this initiative is limitless.”

Currently, Batey is targeting homebrewers and smaller breweries with barley under the Volunteer Mission malt brand, which they grow and harvest from their farm, and send to North Carolina to be malted and then packaged into 50-pound bags or 1-ton totes for industrial use. Their goal is to build their own malting facility very soon so they can malt and roast the barley to create custom flavor profiles. Since the malting process is basically soaking a seed until it begins to sprout, releasing the enzymes that help kick off fermentation when combined with yeast and sugar, Whitt is also considering building the facility to be able to handle other sprouted grains for the culinary industry. A graduate of MTSU, Whitt also serves on the advisory board of the new Fermentation Sciences program at the university and plans to establish more opportunities for students to develop skills related to malting, brewing and distilling through his industry connections.

And you thought malt was just about milk balls and Schlitz? There’s a world of malt out there, and hopefully Tennessee can be a part of the future. If you’re interested in learning more about this initiative, Spears and Whitt will be speaking about reinvigorating the state’s malted barley tradition as part of the Tennessee Local Food Summit.

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