We are excited for the release of our latest Summer 2023 Hanabi Lager that features a rare heirloom barley called ‘Purple Egyptian’. It was originally discovered growing along the headwaters of the Nile River in the Fertile Crescent, and is named for the distinct purple-black color of its corns.

We source it from one of our close growing partners, Palouse Heritage, the only producer in the US cultivating this historical variety. They were early collaborators with well-known folks in the culinary world like Glenn Roberts at Anson Mills, Dan Barber at Blue Hill Farm, and others working to revive and become reacquainted with heritage grain varieties.

These older varieties have much that they can offer the modern world ranging from better nutrition, richer and more complex flavors, cultural connections to human food history and agriculture, and are often more compatible with environmentally sustainable farming practices.

Back to the Future with Heritage Grains

As we head steadily into the future, we believe in looking to the wisdom of the past. Doing so causes us to challenge assumptions that are taken for granted in the modern world of agriculture. There are numerous benefits to human health, society, and the environment that we think can be realized from a careful study of pre-industrial fruits, vegetables, and grains. It doesn’t hurt that beer can be a part of this study!

Grain is integral to humanity’s history with agriculture. Thousands of years ago, in the Fertile Crescent where farming all began, people learned to domesticate wild plants by saving their seeds to intentionally replant, and over time, to select the seeds from the plants that they thought were the ‘best’. This process of saving seed from the best performers is a natural way to adapt wild plants to the needs of human nutrition and food supply.

Among semi-wild cereal grains like Emmer and Einkorn, barley such as the Purple Egyptian was among the staple food crops for the folks who built the civilizations of the Middle East. It didn’t take long for people to figure out that besides eating the grains as breads and porridges, they could also be brewed into transcendent and intoxicating fermented tea that we know as beer.

Purple Egyptian Beer – as a Helles Style Lager

Now, why do we think Purple Egyptian is interesting specifically? Our partners at Palouse Heritage were initially interested in it some thirty years ago because it has an unusually high concentration of two beneficial compounds: anthocyanin, an antioxidant that gives the grain its deep purple color, and beta glucans, which are “heart-healthy” compounds. When they started baking and brewing with it, they realized it makes incredibly delicious and beautiful beers and breads. For us, that’s a great starting point.

When we secured a sample from them several years ago, we made a barley tea with it to evaluate its flavors and aromas, like we do with all new grains that we consider bringing into the Hanabi Lager program. It was so incredibly fragrant, and had a dried stone fruit aspect that was very unusual for a grain to present. We started brewing pilot batches of beer with it, and honed an approach that we think does justice to the innate character of the Purple Egyptian variety.

Our brewing approach was essentially shepherd gently, and mostly get out of the way. To us, that meant brewing a Helles Style Lager, which is among the most transparent styles of beer in the world, and offers an immediate likeability to just about anybody, beer lover or not. We felt that this would allow the flavors of the grains to come to the forefront. We chose to ferment ‘low and slow’ and offer sufficient maturation time for all the elements of the beer to come into harmony. While an elegant beer with infinite drinkability, it’s rather complex, and a little bit wild around the edges.

We feel as though the beer presents a cheerful demeanor with bright dried stone fruit aromas, nice textural roundness in the middle, that is balanced with a spicy dried peppermint note, and a long, refreshing flinty-mineral finish.

This beer is simple proof that grain variety matters. While it doesn’t taste totally foreign, this beer is like no Helles Lager that you’ve probably ever had before. In fact, we believe that this is the first lager beer ever produced from the ancient Purple Egyptian barley, as a fun piece of trivia for the day.

Our mission with Hanabi is to readdress beer’s primary ingredient, grain, by finding the rock-star varieties, growers, and terroirs, and putting them center stage. Our Hanabi grain-forward style is a direct expression of this effort, and the Purple Egyptian Helles is the star of Summer 2023. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do.