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.

Cheers!

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Yakima Valley Spirits, Brewery and Wineries featured in Sunset

Grab the November issue of Sunset magazine for some fun reading on the Yakima Valley, including a number of the features along the Spirits and Hops Trail like Bale Breaker Brewing Company and Glacier Basin Distillery.

The opening heading says it all:  “Why You’ll Love the Yakima Valley in Washington: Taste wine on a mountaintop, tour a Prohibition-era hop farm, and eat tacos with the locals in eastern Washington’s agricultural wonderland.”

Read the article for yourself here.

Bale Breaker Brewery Featured in Seattle Magazine

baleBreaker-5Washington state beer guru and writer Kendall Jones penned a piece about our local hop heroes at Bale Baker Brewery for Seattle Magazine. Here’s an excerpt:

“You might not know it, but each year Washington produces approximately 75 percent of the United States’ hops crop and 25 percent of the world’s, and virtually all of our state’s hops are grown in the Yakima Valley by a handful of families that have been doing it for generations. While the family farming tradition continues, some children of the hops have ventured off the farm. But they have not ventured far.

Kevin Smith and Meghann (Smith) Quinn didn’t even leave the family farm to open their brewery; the siblings built Bale Breaker Brewing, which opened in April, in Field 41, right in the middle of the family’s hop fields just a few miles east of Yakima on State Route 24 (Meghann’s husband, Kevin Quinn, is in charge of sales). Mike Smith, the patriarch of the family, tells us that his eldest son, Patrick, will take over the family’s farm someday, and he glows with pride when he talks about what his other two children have brewing.”

Want to read more? Here’s the full online story. Congratulations Bale Breaker! Happy brewing.

Touring the Spirits and Hops Trail

Last week we toured a few of the businesses on the trail, enjoying a behind-the-scenes look at their operations and getting to know the people making these fine beverages.

First stop on the tour was Tieton Cider Works. The fruit that is used in their cider comes from Craig and Sharon Campbell’s Harmony Orchards, which has been in their family since the 1920’s.  Rob McCurdy took us on a tour of the production line and explained the cider making process.  Did you Tieton Cider  Juice processingknow that cideries in Washington are licensed as wineries? Rob shared the fact that based on gallons produced, Tieton Cider Works is among the top 20 ‘wineries’ in the state.  After the tour,  cider maker Marcus Robert provided samples and talked about the craft of cider making. Tieton Cider products are available at many locations.

From there we took a quick, impromptu side trip to Tieton Farm and Creamery,  a 21-acre farm located  on a grassy hill near Tieton.  Owned and operated by farmer Ruth Babcock and cheese maker Lori Babcock, they have been producing quality artisan goat and sheep blended cheeses since 2010.  You can find their cheeses at these retail outlets.

Glacier Basin TastingHeading south through county back roads we next visited Glacier Basin Distillery located at The Cave at Gilbert Cellars near Wiley City.  Master distiller Thomas Hale provided samples of his Grappa, a grape pomace brandy of Italian origin. It has a smooth sipping, fruity finish, hand crafted from Washington State grapes. Exciting developments are in the works at The Cave as a tasting room is being built for the distillery and an on-site brewery will soon be under construction.  Thomas shared that tastings of his products are currently available during the special events at The Cave.

IMG_3760While there, Jessica Moskwa of Gilbert Cellars provided samples of their fine wines and a tour of the Cave, plus discussed future plans for their facility.  If you have not been out there for one of their events it’s a must see.  Their new grassy performance venue is IMG_3750gorgeous and the setting among orchards and lavender can’t be beat.  While the Cave is only open during special events,  you can visit their main tasting room in downtown Yakima year-round.

After soaking in some sun we loaded up the bus again. Final stop of the day was Bale Breaker Brewing Company.

Bale Breaker Tour and BusThe staff at Bale Breaker welcomed us with samples of their popular Field 41 Pale Ale and Topcutter IPA.  After a great lunch provided by nanakates of Selah, the crew was treated to a tour with Kevin Quinn, co-owner, brewer, sales, distributor and ‘jack of all hop trades’.  Having a chance to view their new facility carved out of a hop field was an experience.  Kevin knows his hops and taught us much about their growing patterns, lifecycle, harvest and production.

After seeing the hop heads on the bines (not vines) just outside the Bale Breaker beer cans and kegs ready for their frothy brew!tasting room, we headed indoors for a tour of the plant.  Kevin extolled the many values of producing beer in cans including environmental friendliness, protecting the beer from exposure to light, easier transport for outdoor activities and less packaging.  The stacks of empty beers cans ready for production were a site to see!

It was a great day touring the bounty of the Yakima Valley.  Harvest time is upon us so come visit the Spirits and Hops Trail.

Special thanks to A&A Motorcoach and our professional driver Rich for a great job navigating the back roads of Yakima County.

Getting the Love from Lonely Planet and Sunset Magazine

Lonley_planet_logoLast week Lonely Planet online posted a piece called “Exploring Washington’s Yakima Valley one beverage at a time.” We could not agree more! There are so many options now in the Valley, from ciders to wines.

Meanwhile, in the August issue of Sunset magazine the Valley was part of a road trip getaway story called “Northwest road trip: The ale and wine trail”.

sunset-cover-aug13-mOthers have written some great things about Yakima Valley adult beverages so check out this site for recent features. One of our favorites is the On the Hop Trail story penned by Yakima native Jackie Smith.

See you along the trail soon!

Take A Trip Through The Yakima Valley Hop Fields

Hop farmHop heads in Seattle or Western Washington, take note!

Schooner Exact Brewing is planning a field trip to the Yakima Valley to not only witness the harvest, but to also participate in the harvest. They’ll transport you and your friends from Seattle to the Virgil Gamache Hop Farm, the Toppenish area hop farm famous for creating the Amarillo hop.

After an exclusive tour, you’ll sit down to a gourmet picnic prepared on-site by their Chef. Attendees will also have the once in a lifetime opportunity to pick hops straight from the bine and help brew a truly FRESH hop beer. Of course, there will be plenty of beer available throughout the day to quench your thirst.

Date: September 7, 2013 – 9:00 AM- 9:00 PM

For the ticket price of $200/person, you will receive:

• a continental breakfast prior to departure

• round-trip transportation on a luxury coach, from Seattle to the Yakima Valley

• a seasonal, fresh gourmet picnic, prepared by Schooner EXACT’s Chef Warren Peterson

• an opportunity to harvest fresh hops straight from the bine

• participate in brewing a batch of Fresh Hop IPA

• an exclusive tour of Virgil Gamache Hop Farm during their busiest and most exciting time of year

• a commemorative bottle of the beer* you helped brew

Space is limited. To purchase your tickets,  visit Schooner EXACT Brewing at 3901 1st Ave. S., in Seattle or contact them at (206) 432-9734.

*to be picked up at the brewery when the batch is ready

For more information on the Yakima Valley hop industry, craft breweries, cideries and distilleries visit the Spirits and Hops Trail website.