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Business Profile

Joseph’s Grainery

Josephs Grainery1

Early on a spring evening, Bill Myers is sitting among friends and associates at Perry Street Brewing, a stylish taproom that serves as one of the major hubs of Spokane’s exploding craft beer scene.

The place is starting to fill up, with friends meeting for a quick pint, neighborhood families gathering, and craft beer acolytes coming to try the latest from one of the Spokane’s finest. But Bill experiences the beer in his glass on a different and perhaps uniquely satisfying level: he grew the barley down on his farm in the Palouse.

The proprietor of Joseph’s Grainery in Colfax, Bill is cheerfully quick with his story. In 2009, as a lifelong farmer accustomed to big-business agriculture, he made the decision to diversify. He began experimenting with milling his own grain and selling it directly to the public, responding to new enthusiasm around eating locally raised, healthy whole grains. Success led to scaling up, with partnership from INB, and Bill derived great enjoyment from this new angle on farming.

At around the same time, local microbreweries and craft beer began to experience explosive explosive growth. Many of these producers wanted the same thing Bill’s other customers did: to know where their grains were coming from and that they were healthy, safe and, above all, delicious. That’s how one grain — baroness barley — came to occupy a special place in Bill’s business.

Traditionally, in a market dominated by a few massive macrobreweries, a lot of barley varieties were ignored because they didn’t compete at a massive scale. The name of the game was simply providing the most malt for the cheapest price, period. But in craft beer, where people pay more for superior products, flavor is king.

Diversification came first to the hops market (the floral, bitter flavor loved by people who drink IPAs), and in the last few years, barley has begun to follow the same trend. In 2014, Bill got a phone call from LINC Foods’s Joel Williamson. LINC is a cooperative of farmer-owners who teamed up to provide their higher quality agricultural products in the sort of quantity needed by institutions like universities and hospitals.

“He just asked how many tons of baroness barley I had available,” Bill remembers. “I didn’t know why he wanted it at first.”

Turns out, LINC had just begun a malting operation. Three years later, local brewers like Black Label, Bellwether, Hopped Up, and Perry Street all rely on Bill’s baroness barley.  

“Different isn’t necessarily better,” says Bill in a pragmatic tone. “But when brewers who really know their stuff come taste a sample of the baroness barley we grow, they notice a different twist on the flavor after a few seconds. Almost to a person, I can count out a few seconds until they say ‘oh… that is unique’ — the flavor keeps coming.”

If you spend time with Bill on the farm or in the pub, you can tell he enjoys his role transforming the local economy with the crops he grows on the Palouse. It’s hard work in pursuit of something noble.

And, of course, he’s helping create his own cold, refreshing reward for the end of those long days in the field.