When you think of a port, the first things that probably come to mind are ships and airplanes. In reality, their vital outreach and mission cover much more. Recently the Port of Olympia has been branching out in new, delicious ways. Their dedicated Commission recently approved funding of several agriculture-based projects county-wide. These include $75,000 towards the Southwest Washington Agriculture Business and Innovation Park, $15,000 for a frozen food processing feasibility study, $19,000 for a Senior Services of South Sound commercial kitchen feasibility study, and $10,500 for a Grain Handling Facility Study and Trials.

We typically think of the Port’s work with ships and airplanes, but now they can add beer to that list. Photo courtesy: Port of Olympia

Like all their hard work, these are all with a goal of improving our local economy, strengthening regional businesses, and enhancing the ability to buy and sell locally. “This is really a testament to the Port commission’s commitment to supporting the growth of a sustainable economy,” says Rachael Jamison, the planning, public works, and environmental director.

Grain Handling Facility Study and Trials may sound fancy, but they have a very tasty result. In conjunction with Thurston County, WSU Thurston County Extension, and the Thurston Economic Development Council (EDC), new strains of barley are being developed to grow and thrive in our area. These are bred for specific starch, sugar and alcohol qualities that make them ideal for use in local brewing and distilling.

“The legacy of niche agriculture plays a significant part of our county’s economic story,” admits Jamison. “The Port wants to play a meaningful role in supporting this growing sector.” And in its second year of development, these local barley plants are now refined, harvested, malted and finally available to taste in their final beer form.

By participating in long-term studies like these, the Port can “evaluate the whole supply and manufacturing chain from farm to brewpub,” says Jamison. “It creates value across all levels of the industry. This industry can weave together many of the county’s agriculture, brewing and distilling assets in a very cool way.”

Port of Olympia barley local brewing
With local partners, the Port is helping develop new strains of barley to be used in beer and spirits. Photo credit: Stephen Bramwell, WSU

How often can you not only participate but taste such a comprehensive collaboration? This time it’s as easy as raising a glass. Beers brewed from the top four carefully selected strands are now available through Well 80, Three Magnets Brewing Company, Sandstone Distillery, and Top Rung Brewing. They’ll also be sampled—with comments carefully collected by participating WSU researchers—at the upcoming Tumwater Artesian Brewfest.

Brewfest takes place on Saturday, August 17 at the Tumwater Valley Golf Course. There will be nearly 60 breweries, wineries, cideries, and distilleries represented. The Port of Olympia is this year’s water sponsor. Stop by their booth for updates on Vision 2050 and plenty of awesome swag. Then swing by the Brew-mentation Tent where brewing meets experimentation.

Whether at the festival or your neighborhood pub, drinks using this new grain will soon be clearly labeled as such. Look for the small leafy icon on menus, bottles, growlers and cans.

“The whole goal is great collaborative work with many of our partners,” says Communications, Marketing, and Outreach Manager Jennie Foglia-Jones, “We hope when people come to Brewfest they see this in action.”

Port of Olympia barley WSU barley
This barley is now available as beer sold through local stores, pubs, and at the upcoming Tumwater Artesian Brewfest. Photo credit: Stephen Bramwell, WSU

The EDC’s Aslan Meade echoes that hope. “In Olympia, business is innovation without the pretense,” he says.

WSU’s Extension Director and Agriculture Faculty member Stephen Bramwell agrees. “The goal and gold standard is new business opportunities,” he adds

Throughout this barley process, the Port and its partners are developing more than new regional beer. They’re building relationships between universities, growers, business owners, restaurants, retailers and the community. “This will tie in rural parts of the county and urban,” says Rachel Jamison. “So they can link arms and march forward towards a shared goal. It’s a farm to belly process.”

Follow the Port of Olympia on Facebook or their community activity page for upcoming projects, opportunities, concerts, and ways to get involved. And who knows? Maybe someday the Port of Olympia Marine Terminal will send large ships full of our prize barley, beer, and spirits out into the world. But until then, we can all raise a glass in honor of their hard work. Then head over to take a tour of our working waterfront or swing by one of their amazing events. From live music to the Olympic Air Show, Olympia Harbor Days to the Thurston County Fair, there’s something for everyone.

Read more about this project:

“WSU Extension Partners with Port of Olympia, Local Brewers, and Land Trust to Create Local Beer from Local Barley”

“The Thurston Economic Development Council Facilitates Growth in Our Region, and It’s Not Just Beer”

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