The Yakima Valley is one of the most important hop growing regions in the world, and the craft beer industry wouldn’t be what it is today without our Valley’s hop growers. Though millions of people enjoy the beer that our hops help produce, most people don’t know the first thing about hops and how they are used to create that beer. Check out our FAQ that will help you get a better understanding of how hops are grown, harvested and processed, and how they are used in the beer brewing process.

Humulus Lupulus (hops) are the flowering cones of a perennial climbing vine (called bines) that is primarily used in the beer brewing process. Hops have been used in brewing since the early days to ward off spoilage from wild bacteria, and to bring balance to the sweetness of malts. Hops also help with head retention (the foam on your beer), act as a natural filtering agent, and impart unique flavors and aromas, including (but certainly not limited to!) the bitterness in beer.

The Yakima Valley has proven to have the ideal combination of the right climate, day length, soil and access to irrigation systems for hop growing, which is why over 75% of our nation’s hops are grown here.

The female hop cone, which forms on the bine in late summer, contains various oils and alpha acids that are essential for the flavor and aroma in beer, especially the hop-forward beers such as IPA’s. Peel open a fully-formed hop cone and you can check out the sticky yellow lupulin glands inside, the active ingredient in hops that give each variety its own flavor and characteristic.

Around the Yakima Valley, the annual hop harvest generally starts towards the end of August and lasts throughout most of September. Most picking facilities run 24 hours-a-day, 7 days-a-week, for close to 30 days.

No, hops are a perennial climbing vine that remains dormant underground throughout the fall and winter. The plant begins to grow from the ground each spring as the weather warms.

Not anymore! The hop bines are first cut close to the ground by a tractor called a bottom cutter. Then a hop truck is push
ed though the row by a tractor called a top cutter, which cuts the top of the bine from the trellis. The harvested bine is transported back to the picking machine in the back of the hop truck.

Each bine is hand-loaded (upside-down) into the picking machine. Many of the local picking machines have been around since the 1950’s, and are still going strong!

After the plant material is stripped from the bine, a series of belts and sorting mechanisms separate the hop cones from the other plant material. A conveyor belt then transports the cones from the picking machine over to the kiln.

Yes. At harvest time, hops contain roughly 75% moisture. If stored with that amount of moisture throughout the year, they would spoil. Hops are dried in a hop kiln to an ideal moisture content of about 9-10%, allowing them to be stored and used in brewing throughout the year.

After the hops are dry and cool, they are compressed into 200 pound, burlap-wrapped bales. Truckloads of bales are delivered to warehouses at hop processing companies around the Yakima Valley, where they will be packed into smaller bales of raw hops, or processed into pellet and extract form. These hop processing companies act as the middle-man between the farmer and brewer. Once the hops have been processed and repackaged, they are shipped to breweries all around the world, ready to be made into delicious beers of all kinds!

It depends on the type of beer they are making, but generally, hops are boiled with a malt sugar solution (called wort), and then yeast is added to begin fermentation. The hops’ bitterness counteracts the malt’s natural sweetness, creating a nice balance of flavors. Adjusting the amount of hops versus the amount of malt will give you different types of beer. Obviously a lot more work goes into brewing your favorite beer, but that is the basics.

So the next time you’re sipping on a delicious, hop-heavy IPA, you can tell your friends you know exactly where those hops came from, and how it went from a plant to a beer! And if you really want to experience Yakima Valley hops at their freshest, makes plans to come to Yakima for the Fresh Hop Ale Festival, the first weekend in October every year. All the beers at the event have to be brewed with Yakima Valley hops that went from the bine to the beer within 24 hours. You’ve never tasted beer so fresh!

Thanks to Bale Breaker Brewing for the beautiful photos!

Thank you for saving the beer.

The Yakima Valley has made it through yet another hop harvest.  Gone are the lush green walls of hops, stretching 18 feet in the air.  In their place is a forest of bare hop poles, pieces of cut twine still dangling from the wires.  Now our Valley’s  hops take the next stage of their journey, where they’ll be preened, pressed, pounded and processed into dry hop pellets for brewing in the coming year, while a small amount of still wet, fresh-picked hops are packed off to breweries to make their one-of-a-kind Fresh Hop beers.

HARVESTINGEven though it looks the same as it always does after a successful harvest season, it doesn’t tell the real story: that this was definitely not just another hop harvest.

Growers throughout the world struggled this year.  Germany experienced their worst hop harvest in over a decade, down 27 percent from last year.  Britain was below their average.  New Zealand was short.  And here at home, the Yakima Valley went through one of the most difficult growing seasons in recent memory.  We faced three straight weeks of triple-digit temperatures.  We had a non-existent snowpack, leaving our Valley strangled by drought.  And we continue to have a stunted labor force, which extends harvest times, creating more work for less people.

But despite these challenges, our growers prevailed.  The 2015 harvest is on par to outstrip last year’s bounty by a solid five percent.  The overall yield of hops is actually down from last year, but there was more than 3,300 new acres of hops planted this year in Washington, which more than made up for the decline.

DRIED HOPS 2The resilience and tenacity of our farmers has done our Valley proud once again, and everyone from growers to brewers to beer-lovers can breathe a sigh of relief that this difficult harvest is successfully behind us.

So to our hardworking Yakima Valley hop farmers and laborers, we offer a sincere and heartfelt “Thank You” for all that you’ve done this year.  If there’s ever anyone who has deserved a beer after a long day’s work, it’s you.


Yakima Valley Beer and Craft Beverage Festivals This Fall

It’s fall and that means the harvest is in full swing in the Yakima Valley. And where there’s a harvest there’s a festival or two, including ones that celebrate our beers, ciders and distilled products along the Spirits and Hops Trail.

So here’s a brief run down of a few coming up:

AOT_YAKIMA_DIGILATERAL_504-x-504America on Tap is coming to Downtown Yakima on Saturday, September 12th from 2pm-5pm. This three hour premium event will showcase over 100 releases from some of America’s best craft breweries including a number of local breweries. Attendees will sample beers in an atmosphere filled with live music, delicious food available for purchase, and great vendors. Participants must be at least 21 years of age to attend. Standard Tickets are $35 per person in advance and $45 at the door. For more information visit America On Tap Yakimaindex

The 13th annual Fresh Hop Ale Festival returns to downtown Yakima October 3rd. It’s the largest beer festival of it’s kind and was recently rated one of the top ten beer festivals in the USA.  As organizers say “Fresh Hop Ale Festival is the original fresh hop beer festival, and is still the best.” Enjoy access to over 40 breweries and wineries, plus cider, a cigar tent, live music, collectible pint glass, special beers on Beer Bike,  and three free half pints. $35 Per Ticket,  $65 Per VIP Ticket, $850 Per VIP Table.

indexThe Prosser Beer and Whiskey Festival is October 10th in the quaint town of Prosser. The event includes live music, food, rib cook-off, a bacon blitz, specialty vendors, VIP cigar lounge and much more. Must be 21 or over; ID required. General Admission: $15 – includes entrance and logo glass. VIP: $50 – limited to 300 tickets, includes logo glass, 20 tokens towards food and drink purchases, access to cigar lounge, pre-event distillery tour at Blue Flame Spirits, and welcome bag. All Access: $75 – limited to 100 tickets, includes logo glass, 25 tokens towards food and drink purchases, access to cigar lounge, pre-event distillery tour at Blue Flame Spirits, and welcome bag. Buy Tickets Here. For information call 509-786-3177

And there’s more! To keep on top of all the fall events, check the Yakima Valley Tourism’s Fall Celebrations website.  Remember, please enjoy responsibly and have a designated driver. See you in the Valley!


Latest News Along the Spirits and Hops Trail

Bale Breaker beer cans and kegs ready for their frothy brew!

Bale Breaker Brewing production areaAs summer comes to an end, the fields and orchards are abuzz as the crops are brought in and processed. Harvest is a great time of year in the Yakima Valley along the trail.  Hops and other crops that make our ciders, spirits and wines are being picked and headed to production.

With the exceptionally warm and dry summer, many crops in the Yakima Valley are ahead of schedule. The wine grape harvest began in early August when Chardonnay grapes were picked for Treveri Cellars for their sparkling wines. Now other wine grapes are coming online and the crush is underway earlier than usual and for a longer period.

When it comes to expansion plans,  Bale Baker Brewing Company is mirroring the harvest this year: It’s coming sooner than expected. Last week the owners announced plans to add 16,200 square-feet of space to their existing 11,000 square-foot operation near Yakima. This will give them more space for larger fermentation tanks, a bigger canning line plus space for dry and cold storage. “We’re in the midst of planning out our expansion now, which kind of surprised us because we weren’t planning to fill out this facility for probably five to seven years,” co-owner Kevin Quinn told the Yakima Herald in a feature on the expansion. Congrats to the gang, all of us look forward to your continuing success.

Meanwhile, on the West end of the Yakima Valley region, Bron Yr Aur Brewing Company outside the town of Naches is barreling along to a September opening (we hope!) Follow their progress via their Facebook page. In the meantime, you can stop by and enjoy their pizzas (love the BBQ pulled pork) plus the local and regional beers and ciders they have on tap in their adjoining restaurant.

Wishing you all a wonderful Labor Day weekend. Keep the firefighters battling the wildfires in your thoughts and prayers.

Beer Trivia and Facts

Spirits and Hops Trail beer glassHere’s a compilation of fun, silly and interesting facts around beer, one of our favorite subjects along the Spirits and Hops Trail. Amaze your friends the next time you hoist a glass or two!

  • It was an accepted practice in Babylon 4,000 years ago that for a month after the wedding, the bride’s father would supply his son-in law with all the mead he could drink. Mead is a honey beer, and because their calendar was lunar based, this period was called the “honey month”, or what we know today as the “honeymoon”. Cheers to that!
  • Along that line, the word “bridal” comes from 19th century Englishmen, who took out their mates for a final “Bride Ale” the day before their wedding.
  • According to a diary entry from a passenger on the Mayflower, the pilgrims made their landing at Plymouth Rock, rather than continue to their destination in Virginia. Why? Lack of beer.
  • In English pubs, ale is ordered by pints and quarts. When patrons got unruly, the bartender would yell at them to mind their pints and quarts and settle down. It’s where we get the phrase “mind your P’s and Q’s”.
  • In 1963, Jim Whitaker became the first American to reach the summit of Mt. Everest. A can of Seattle’s own Rainier Beer made the ascent with him. And guess where the hops came from in that beer? Yep, Yakima Valley!
  • For some reason Bourbon is the official alcohol of the United States, by an act of Congress. Probably some zealous Senator from Kentucky made that happen! Wise folks have attempted to have that overturned in favor of beer instead over the years. With the exploding popularity of craft beers maybe it’s time to try again!
  • President Theodore Roosevelt took more than 500 gallons of beer with him on an African safari. Must have been thirsty work. Bully!
  • A beer barrel contains 31 gallons of beer. What we Americans refer to as a keg is actually 15.5 gallons, or a half-barrel. Either way, we sing “Roll out the barrels!”
  • Hops were used as early as 400 BC in Babylon. Historians think that the reason it was used as additive was for its antiseptic properties. You see, by adding hops brewers didn’t have to have high alcohol content to prevent spoilage. This meant less grains and therefore more profit.
  • Beer is the second most popular beverage in the world, coming in behind tea. We know which beverage is more fun to drink!
  • In Japan, beer is sold in vending machines, by street vendors and in the train stations. Time to book a trip I say!
  • If you collect beer bottles you’re a labeorphilist.
  • A beer lover or enthusiast is called a cerevisaphile. I wonder where they come up with these names?

Now don’t you feel a bit more educated?

(Source: BeerFestBoots. Check them out. They make cool custom beer boot glasses )

Check Out The Hop-portunities on the Yakima Valley!

HOPS 2Hop-por·tu·ni·ty

 Noun: Hop-portunity; plural noun: Hop-portunities

  1. A set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something involving hops. Example: “We will see increased hop-portunities to enjoy craft beer.
  2. Synonyms: Favorable time, occasion, moment, right set of circumstances, opening, window (of hop-portunity), and possibility.

Now is the time to celebrate the hop harvest in the Yakima Valley, which grows 78% of the hops sold in the USA.  Plan to attend three festivals celebrating the craft beer made from these Yakima Valley grown hops. Visit the only Hop Museum in the nation; learn about the history of growers in the valley. Take the hop-portunity to taste what the Yakima Valley brews. Visit Hop Nation Brewing Co., Yakima Craft Brewing Co., Bale Breaker Brewery, Snipes Mountain Brewery and Restaurant; All craft breweries located in the heart of hop country.

And here are some events to enjoy our local craft brews:

9/12/2015 America On Tap Craft Beer FestivalDowntown Yakima 2pm-5pm. Showcasing over 100 releases from some of America’s best craft breweries! Attendees will sample beers in an atmosphere filled with live music, delicious food available for purchase, and great vendors. Standard Ticket $35 *Ticket Prices Increase by $10 at the Door. Include: 3 Hours of Beer Sampling /Souvenir Sampling Glass/Live Music Entertainment.

10/3/2015 13th Annual Fresh Hop Ale Festival:  5 -10 p.m. Experience why this festival was voted as one of the top ten beer festivals in the nation; the original fresh hop beer festival, and still the best. Live music by Legs & Cracker Factory. Over 40 breweries, over 100 beers to try, rare treats on the beer bike cruising around the festival, because we think that sometimes beer should come to you. Cheers! We know you love fresh hop beers, but sometimes your entourage is looking for something different. Local wineries such as Tieton Cider Works, Gilbert Cellars, Kana Winery, Antolin Cellars,Treveri Cellars, Naches Heights Vineyard, Swede Hill Distillery will also be pouring at the 2015 festival.

Take advantage of these great hop-portunities to enjoy craft beverages from the heart of the hop world.

(Thanks to our sister site  YKM509 for letting us share this entry)

News Along the Yakima Valley Spirits and Hops Trail

Hope all of you are having a great summer and finding ways to beat the heat. Of course a nice brew or from the Yakima Valley may be a good idea!

It’s been a busy month or two on the local craft beverage scene. Here’s the latest:

  • Tieton Cider Works keeps improving their new facility. They have bocce’ ball along with a great outdoor area perfect for summer outings. In addition, they’ve released new ciders including a smoked pumpkin cider.
  • The craft beverage makers in greater Yakima have banded together to develop a new marketing entity called Craft Beverage Yakima. Thirteen craft beverage makers from ‘gap to gap’ are part of the organization. Check them out!
  • If you have not been to the new Hop Nation Brewing Company in downtown Yakima do stop by and hoist a pint by Master Brewer Ben Grossman.  What separates this brewery from others is their focus on Washington agricultural products, specifically Yakima Valley Hops and Columbia Valley grain, and their relationship to award winning beer.  It offers a tasting room to share with you its tasty, fresh, and uniquely hand-crafted brews.  The brewery and pub is located off of North First Street in a one hundred year old fruit packing warehouse that was last used to house hops.  The décor is an homage to the hop industry and features quarter rounds, kilns, hop poles, and hop twine integrated in everything from the lighting to the bar.  The first four beers on tap included a German style Hefeweizen, an Oat Pale Ale, an ESB, and an IPA.  With clever names like ESBeotch and EGO IPA (which stands for Everybody’s Got One) & great taste, you’ll have to try one.
  • A partner with Hop Nation Brewing is HopTown Pizza, which cooks up mighty fine provides wood fired pizzas Wednesday through Saturday at Hop Nation. They’re a mobile wood fired pizza truck that also caters events and at other locations.  They’re getting so popular that they’ve added a second truck to keep up with demand.  They use all local ingredients in their food and of course, flavor the pies with a sprinkle of hops as an ode to their family history. (Porky Pine and Hop DaddyDo are my favs).

As always, we’ll keep you posted of news and updates along the Spirits and Hops Trail. Enjoy!

Sunnyside to Host Ale Fest in June

10403594_812257152195105_4046189195267429752_nWe love festivals in the Yakima Valley and summer is prime time for festive fun.

Our friends in Sunnyside have created a new beer fest, giving you another opportunity to enjoy our locally crafted beers along the Spirits and Hops Trail.  The Sunnyside Summer Ale Fest takes place Saturday, June 27th at Centennial Square (6th and Edison) in downtown Sunnyside. Developed by the Sunnyside Daybreak Rotary Club, the event runs from 3:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.

According to the festival website, “The idea for Sunnyside Summer Ale Fest came about like most good ideas do–over a pint of great beer between friends. Okay, a few pints of great beer. Our community is known for producing some of the world’s finest hops, so we will honor our area’s hop production by celebrating the wonderful beer that it helps produce.”

Given the festival is in early summer, organizers will encourage the breweries to focus on summer ales. Local breweries tapped for the event include Bale Breaker, Snipes Mountain and Horse Heaven Hills plus Icicle Brewing of Leavenworth. Wineries slated to participate at this time include Upland Estates and Cote Bonneville. And if you get hungry, Hop Town Pizza and Ann’s Best Creole and Soul Food will be on hand.

On Friday night there will be a special brewer’s dinner paired with craft beers at Bon Vino’s Bistro  (122 N. 16th St.).

Early bird tickets (through June 20th) are $20. Admission for the brewer’s dinner is $40 each. Buy tickets and get more details at their website. Proceeds will help fund sports programs for kids in Sunnyside.

Roots and Vines Fest Comes to Downtown Yakima

Lil' SmokiesLookin’ to cook up some fun this weekend? Here’s a recipe for you: Take eight hours of non-stop bluegrass, roots and Americana music. Then add 12 Yakima area craft beverage providers and local food vendors.  Combine with fine weather and you have a the makings for toe tappin’ and dancin’ on the streets.

The first Roots and Vines Fest takes over Downtown Yakima’s Historic Front Street Saturday, May 16th, from 2:00 p.m. to 10 p.m. In that time you’ll hear some fine picking from 10 regional and national bands including Sleepy Man, The Lil’ SmokiesFruition and Hillstomp. We’re excited to see our local Yakima friends from the Spirits and Hops Trail pouring their wines, beers, ciders and distilled products. For food options include G.G. & B’s Designer Hot Dogs, Carousel French Cuisine, Rusillo’s Pizza and Tazzah Mediterranean.

And while the fest is for 21 and older, there’s a family viewing area located left of the main stage at North Town Coffee.  For details check the FAQ site and be sure to bring smiles and sun screen!

Want a taste of what you’re in for? Check this video by Hillstomp of their song “Don’t Come Down”. See ya Saturday!

Tap Into The Beer Shoppe in Downtown Yakima

beershoppe_logo_smThe next time you’re exploring downtown Yakima, stop in at the The Beer Shoppe on Yakima Avenue for a pint or to pick up some bottled varieties. Be prepared to be awed though: They offer an astonishing 550 different kinds of beer from the Pacific Northwest and around the world! But fear not, staff is on hand to make recommendations.  Their middle name is “by the bottle” where everything is priced by the bottle so you can mix & match your selection.11149574_1101502099876546_8647911437203187257_n

They also have 21 rotating draft lines and three cask beer engines featuring real ale. So it’s also a great place to taste some new brews on tap. When you get hungry,  they’ve teamed up with Essencia Bakery of Yakima to offer their delicious English Pork Pies.  The Beer Shoppe is located in a historic building with a classic bar, high vaulted ceilings and antique wood flooring.

For quick updates and news check their Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/thebeershoppe

Owners: Jeff & Jill Clemmons

Location: 302 W. Yakima Ave #107

Yakima, WA. 98902