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How Willamette Valley Breweries Use Local Crops In Their Beers

By Elise McClain

We all know the Willamette Valley is known the world over for its agriculture, thanks in part to a marine climate that creates the ideal growing conditions for world-class pinot noir grapes, juicy blackberries, and more than 80,000 acres of hazelnut orchards.

In all, more than 18,000 Willamette Valley farms grow all manner of crops-from berries and vegetables to oats and Christmas trees-on 1.7 million acres of soil.

Naturally, some of the region's best-known brewers have gotten in on the fun, incorporating the Willamette Valley's rich bounty into their ales and lagers. So here's a look at how a pair of the region's breweries are honoring a centuries-old connection between Willamette Valley denizens and the region's many farms.

Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery

Christian DeBenedetti grew up on a hazelnut farm just outside Newberg and has fond memories of running around, discovering the orchard's nooks and crannies, and learning to love the region's affinity for agriculture. “I'm really lucky to be from this place,” he says.

Years later, he opened Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery on that very same farm. And those childhood memories, along with time spent working at area wineries and learning about farmhouse ales in Belgium, inspired him to showcase the best of the Willamette Valley in every beer he produces.

For DeBenedetti, that means using farm-grown stinging nettles and mustard flowers, incorporating hazelnuts grown some 100 feet from the brewery, using wild yeast drawn from the farm's rose hips and Gravenstein apple trees, harvesting raw honey for his Honeycone IPA (the brewery's best-selling beer), and so on.

And if he can't grow an ingredient on the farm, DeBenedetti doesn't have to travel far to find it. He uses Willamette Valley hops whenever possible alongside a variety of crops-including locally grown cherries, herbs, and golden raspberries. Even the brewery's water comes from an aquifer under nearby Parrett Mountain, which sits within eyesight of the barn that doubles as Wolves & People's brewhouse.

“This is an agrarian culture”, DeBenedetti says of the Willamette Valley. His family's farm dates back to the 1850s, and area farmers spent several more decades traveling dusty wagon roads to sell their crops in nearby Portland. “It's always been an agriculture crossroads, so in a way, we're keeping that tradition going,” he says.

Rogue Ales & Spirits

Whatever you order a beer, soda, seltzer, or spirit from Rogue Ales & Spirits at your favorite watering hole, chances are good at least some of your beverage's ingredients were grown in the Willamette Valley.

Are you a fan of Rogue Ales' Dead Guy Ale or Hazelnut Brown? Rogue Farms, just outside Independence, grows hops exclusively for the brewery's best-selling beers. The farm also grows marionberries for Rogue's marionberry sour ale and its marionberry soda, herbs and cucumbers for its award-winning Rogue Spruce Gin, and gourds for its annual pumpkin ale. As if that weren't enough, the farm also harvests honey for its Honey Kölsch. (Note that the farm is not open to the public.)

It's all part of a desire to showcase Oregon's unique terroir, take advantage of the Willamette Valley's fertile soil, and create an experience that connects customers with the region around them, says General Manager Ally Ward. “We try to make sure that all those beers have some farm connection,” she says. “And if they don't, then we're going to bring in a lot of innovative beers and new varieties to keep our customers engaged.”

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