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Local Grains Turned Into Craft Whiskey

In 2017, Doug Mosel was harvesting rows of rye he planted just south of Ukiah. Nearly five years later, that locally grown grain is now in a bottle of locally produced whiskey.

“He’d been bugging me to do it for years,” said Crispin Cain with a smile when asked why he began making whiskey with the local rye, which was grown by Mosel as part of a local farming endeavor he launched in 2009 called the Mendocino Grain Project.

Cain, master distiller and co-owner of Mendocino Spirits in Redwood Valley, said the first step in turning the rye into whiskey is sprouting and toasting it along with two other grains before they all begin the fermenting process together. The grain mix in the newly bottled Low Gap straight bourbon whiskey, Cain said, was 15-percent rye, 20-percent barley and 65-percent corn.

After successfully turning Mosel’s rye into whiskey, Cain bought some of his Sonora wheat for a new batch of bourbon. Though it is not yet ready to be bottled, Cain did pull some of that bourbon out of its barrel for Mosel to try during a special tasting hosted at the distillery recently.

“Wow, oh my goodness,” Mosel said after a taste. “That’s remarkable.”

Doug Mosel, who founded the Mendocino Grain Project, smiles after tasting bourbon whiskey made with his locally grown rye.

“This was fermented and distilled on April 4, 2019, and we put it in the barrel a few days later,” Cain said of the whiskey featuring Sonora wheat grown by Mosel. “We also matched it up with some really fine wood. These are the best American barrels I could buy. The wood was split and cured for three years before they made barrels out of it, which makes a huge difference.”

Another key choice Cain makes is to distill his whiskey in an antique cognac pot still, which he said offers him a “really fine extraction of flavor. More than just getting alcohol out of it, we’re getting flavor, so that’s really important.”

And while the long, careful process of double distilling the whiskey is something Cain will never change, he said malting the local grains himself “is a lot of work,” and he would welcome getting the grains already prepared for fermenting.

“So I was glad to learn of a local malting house,” said Tamar Kaye, co-owner of Mendocino Spirits, explaining that she recently learned of the Knocti Malt House in Lake County from Rachel Britten, who now owns the Mendocino Grain Project.

Britten, who officially took over the grain growing and processing business from Mosel in February of 2020, said the owners of the nearby malt house have bought grain from her, which they then malt in small batches.

If you’d like to try some of the project’s grains before they become whiskey, Britten said she is offering “grain and bean boxes” for sale, both as a CSA subscription or a one-time purchase. For more information visit: www.mendocinograin.com, or contact Britten at 707-841-1256, or via email: rachel@mendocinograin.com

And of course if you want try the local grain as craft whiskey, visit MendocinoSpirits.com.

(Courtesy, the Ukiah Daily Journal)

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