Photo: CC-Claus Rebler
Celiac.com 05/04/2011 - Agriculture officials in Colorado looking to increase millet sales are turning to beer-brewers for help. At present, millet makes up just a fraction of the cereal grains sold in the U.S. Each year, America produces just $50 million worth of millet, compared to several billion dollars worth of wheat, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Millet represents an opportunity to increase revenue for rural Colorado businesses, according to Timothy Larsen, senior international marketing specialist for the state agriculture department. He adds that agriculture needs to nurture numerous niche markets in order to expand.

Colorado produces about 60 percent of all millet produced in the U.S. production, about 200,000 acres of millet. The millet can be rotated with wheat, which grows on about 2 million acres. Commonly used as birdseed, Colorado agriculture officials have been promoting millet's gluten-free qualities, and working with Colorado State University to develop recipes using millet.

Hoping to create an entirely new business sector officials are asking the Colorado Malting Co. to ship malted samples to Colorado-based brewers so they can experiment with millet-based beers. The company is currently preparing about 6,000 pounds of millet from the Fort Morgan area — 2,000 pounds each of three varieties — for commercial brewers this spring.

The company recently finished malting golden German millet, which, according to co-owner Jason Cody, yielded some impressive nutty flavors.

Pedro Gonzalez, co-founder of gluten-free beer company New Planet Beer, said he's eager to see if the brewers his company works with can find a recipe that appeals to customers the way some millet-based imports do. New Planet's existing beers primarily use sorghum, corn and brown rice, along with ingredients such as raspberry puree and molasses to add flavor.

Because people's taste-buds are geared toward malted barley, and the gluten, and the proteins that make beer thick and full-bodied, working without barley can be a challenge.

"When you choose not to have barley or wheat in your beer, then you lose those qualities, says Gonzalez."

Being able to use Colorado-grown millet will help New Planet meet its company mission of being environmentally responsible by using ingredients that don't have to be shipped far, Gonzalez said.

Among the establishments scheduled to participate in the millet-beer experiment are Eddyline Restaurant and Brewing Co., in Buena Vista, Pagosa Brewing Co. in Pagosa Springs. Eddyline head brewer Scott Kimball won't promise his customers a millet beer until he knows how it tastes. Pagosa Springs head brewer Tony Simmons says malted millet presents "an opportunity where if we have a gluten-free beer that actually tastes good, let's try it," adding that he's done some home-brewing with millet, and that he's "a big fan."

The project is being made possible in part by a $42,000 USDA grant to help Colorado's millet industry market itself, domestically and overseas.

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