You know barley, wheat and rye – but what about spelt? The hard-grained heirloom wheat is one of the oldest ingredients in the beer-brewing book; it can be traced back some 10,000 years to Mesopotamia, and historians believe that the first beer was produced using spelt. Yet as interest in ancient grains becomes popular across the food-and-beverage industry, spelt, historically associated with saisons, is finding its way into new styles. Brewers like it for its mild, nutty flavors and its ability to play nicely with other ingredients.
Side Project Brewing
Side Project Brewing is internationally revered for its saisons, so owner and head brewer Cory King began researching spelt years ago. The acclaimed Maplewood, Missouri, brewery uses spelt in most of its beers. King doesn’t employ spelt for its flavor; rather, he says the yeasts and bacteria he uses like feeding on the underdeveloped malt, enabling deeper complexities to develop through the fermentation process. “Because we age everything in oak,” King says, “all of our beers have a longer fermentation, and they need sustained food for the [yeast] to stay happy and produce the flavors that I want.” This year, Side Project will also use spelt in an IPA and a farmhouse-style lager.
Side Project Brewing, 7458 Manchester Road, Maplewood, Missouri, sideprojectbrewing.com
Boulevard Brewing Co.
In Kansas City, Boulevard Brewing Co. has played around with spelt in a few mixed-fermentation beers, including its BLVDIA Grisette, Belgian Golden Strong Ale and Sour Saison Ale (the latter two of which are used as base beers for the brewery's sour blends). Brewer Ryan McNeive says using even a small amount of spelt can add another level of complexity to lower-ABV beers like saisons and grisettes. “Spelt gives some creaminess and earthiness to round out that dryness,” McNeive says. “Compared to styles like New England IPAs and coffee stouts that have big, bold flavors, something like spelt is not super powerful, but it’s complex enough to give your beer its own spin or unique taste.”
Boulevard Brewing Co., 2534 Madison Ave., Kansas City, Missouri, boulevard.com
Perennial Artisan Ales
St. Louis’ Perennial Artisan Ales uses spelt in a range of beers, but cellar manager and brewer Chris Kinast particularly likes working with the grain in hazy IPAs. The recently released Pilot Talk, for instance, was brewed with Pilsner malt, flaked oats, Chilean-grown Vienna malt and spelt, which Kinast says balances everything out. “It gives you the mouthfeel that you can get from oats but also those really nice light, nutty flavors on the back end,” he says. “The best part for me is the balance it has between the mouthfeel and not being too overly wheat-impact on the flavor.”
Perennial Artisan Ales, 8125 Michigan Ave., Suite 101, St. Louis, Missouri, perennialbeer.com