I didn’t know what type of undertaking this was about to be. Getting on a plane with no real idea of what was about to happen on our ‘Barley Field Trip’ (or #BarleyFieldTrip, as we called it), Big T-Shirt Matt (more commonly known as Matt Cisneros) and I took off for Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Little did we know, it was a place where the beer flows like wine, where beautiful women instinctively flock like the salmon of Capistrano. Thirty minutes before we landed, the plane nuked through a field of mountains that we’d eventually land at the base of. The moment we stepped off the plane, Matt looked at me and said, “We need to come back here.”
When we arrived at the ranch that we’d call our home for the next few days, we had to play rock/paper/scissors for who got which room. One room had twin beds and a view of the parking lot. The other had a king bed, a fireplace, and a view of the Tetons. Matt threw scissors, I threw paper. I maintain that him throwing scissors shows weakness, but obviously he had the last laugh.
We began our time in Jackson Hole with a quick lunch of fresh trout and eggs. And after a quick change of clothes, we made the executive decision to walk around downtown Jackson Hole before dinner that night. Walking in and out of every shop we could, we quickly fell in love with the city that had the western charm of an old movie while still maintaining an air of being cool and current. The town itself just made you want to take up flyfishing and heli-skiing, but we were limited by our itinerary so we weren’t able to partake in either.
Going to bed early that night after a catered dinner at The Lift, we knew we were in for a monstrous Wednesday of eating and drinking with our fellow compatriots, Anheuser-Busch, and our hosts, the pioneers of the Let’s Grab A Beer movement.
Waking up and overlooking the mountains is like waking up with a beautiful girl next to you in bed – you’re excited, the view never gets old, and you want to stay there all morning drinking coffee enjoying the view. But after getting some coffee into my system, I tossed on my Patagonia Trout Hat and boarded the bus with the rest of the group.
For two hours, we drove from Jackson Hole to the small town of Ririe, Idaho where we were visiting Hamilton Triple C Farms which were owned and operated by Clark Hamilton – a real salt of the earth guy who had the answers to every question we asked about how the hell beer companies turn barley into beer. Walking through the pasture of barley, he described his day-to-day routine. He works closely with Anheuser-Busch to grow varieties of barley as a part of their SmartBarley program, which is described as “an online benchmarking tool that allows him to learn what a farmer facing similar conditions in a different part of the world is doing to get the best results from a crop. They can share best practices with one another.”
After the tour and a session where we all took way too many photos, we were served our first of two four-course meals that day. And because there was an open bar with every Anheuser-Busch variation that you could imagine, we also began taking down Stellas with every course as well.
Each course was ingrained (pun intended) with barley in some way shape or form. Whether it was the side to tri-tip steak or used as an ingredient in bread pudding, Chef Deana Brower of Diabla’s Kitchen in Idaho Falls gave us a meal that you felt guilty not finishing. You could tell that there was a personal connection between the ingredients and the area which made the entire experience all the more special.
Claire Smith of the Museum of Idaho also joined us for lunch where she gave us more ‘fun’ facts about Idaho than you could imagine anyone could ever give you. If I loved anything as much as she loved Idaho, I’d be a lot happier person in life.
From the farm, we again hopped on the bus and went to downtown Idaho Falls where we did a cooking class at Diabla’s Kitchen. Chef Deana taught us how to make risotto, and I must say, I absolutely crushed chopping the onions that I was put in charge of. Feeling sluggish, part of the group departed the restaurant for coffees while the remainder of the group dug their feet in and started boosting on beers. After all, we didn’t come all the way to Idaho to start the Let’s Grab A Coffee movement. We were there for brewdogs.
When the cooking class came to an end, we found ourselves en route to Anheuser-Busch’s Watkins Distributing where we would indulge in our second four-course meal of the day which was hosted by Rob Naylor of Anheuser-Busch’s Research Pilot Brewery. Chef Sam Niemann prepared four different courses that all included beer and/or barley in some way, shape, or form for the ultimate beer/food pairing dinner. Unbeknownst to us, just outside of the facility was a certified celebrity who you’ve seen in numerous Super Bowl commercials – a Budweiser Clydesdale. We obviously had to take advantage of that photo-op and cheese it up for the camera.
When Big T-Shirt Matt and I heard that we were doing a beer pairing dinner, we stupidly thought that the beers we’d be draining at dinner were going to be sample size. But oh no. These were full 12 to 16-ounce beers that we vowed to finish with each course. Whether it was Shock Top paired with carrot cake or the specially brewed Idaho beer paired with planked salmon and steak, our stomachs grew fuller and fuller with every sip and bite.
Dinner ended just around sunset and we embarked on a two-hour bus ride right back to our Wyoming lodge. With full bellies and a buzzed skip in our step, we fell face-first into our beds and slept harder than one could imagine. And honestly, I’m still full even a week later.
The entire purpose of our trip was to support the Let’s Grab A Beer program while learning about the connection between barley, food, beer, and anyone involved in the process of harvesting, malting, and brewing. Most people associate hops with beer (and not barley), but the fact of the matter is that without barley, there wouldn’t be any beer. Most of the beers you drink are made with the simple ingredients of barley, malt, water, yeast and hops, yet 72% of Americans don’t even know that barley is the main ingredient.
But in that same breath, barley is also becoming more and more common with chefs and food lovers alike. Whether it’s a meal cooked at home by your mother or the inclusion of barley into a trendy ‘bowl’ meal, it’s more prevalent than most realize. While it’s normally just thought of as a comfort food, it can actually be used in salads and healthier dishes as well.
Seeing and learning about the entire barley process was an eye-opening experience. When you think of Budweiser, you think of America. Normally, that would just be because the can literally says “America” on it these days. But seeing the hands that barley must go through in order to be processed and eventually turned into the beer that we all tailgate with really makes you realize that a now-foreign owned company like Budweiser is still inherently American.
Do yourself a favor and text a friend or family member, “Let’s grab a beer.” .