A FIELD GUIDE TO HOPS

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.

SO WHAT IS A HOP?IMG_3787
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.

WHY ARE SO MANY HOPS GROWN IN THE YAKIMA VALLEY?
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.

Hop6WHAT PART OF THE HOP IS DESIRABLE TO BREWERS?
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.

WHEN ARE HOPS HARVESTED?
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.

DO HOPS HAVE TO BE REPLANTED EACH SEASON?
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.

Hop7ARE HOP CONES HANDPICKED FROM EACH HOP BINE?
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.

SO NOW THE BINE IS IN THE BACK OF A TRUCK. THEN WHAT?
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!

WHAT HAPPENS IN THE PICKING MACHINE?
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.

A KILN, YOU MEAN LIKE AN OVEN?Hop10
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.

HOW ARE HOPS PACKAGED WHEN THEY LEAVE THE FARM?
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!

Hop11SO WHAT DOES THE BREWER DO ONCE THEY GET THE HOPS?
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!

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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!

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.

Spirits and Hops Trail Travels To Bend Oregon

20150426_124844-01We’re at the Sunriver Resort near Bend at the Travel and Words Northwest Travel Writers Conference, sharing stories of the Yakima Valley and the Spirits and Hops Trail.  We’re sharing how the Yakima Valley is ‘hop heaven’ since we supply 78% of the hops used by the breweries across the U.S. The LolliHop candies we gave out were a big hit. Likewise we shared tales of our agricultural heritage, wine country and the many festivals that celebrate our cultures. This morning we sponsored the breakfast and had the resort include locally grown food products donated by Chukar Cherries, Tree Top and fresh apples from the Valley.

With 70 writers and bloggers in attendance it’s an important event for us to share the stories of the Yakima Valley and to be a resource for the writers. Definitely our craft beverages are forefront in our message this year. Cheers to all the attendees!

Hop Nation Brewery Opens in Downtown Yakima

20150403_164732_LLS_1Had a chance to swing by Hop Nation Brewing Company’s soft opening last week during the First Friday event in downtown Yakima. Pardon the pun, but things were hopping! Owner Ben and crew were serving  a nice crowd with the brews while HopTown Wood Fire Pizza was there baking up their 9″ pies of delight.

On tap was ESBeotch, EGO ipa, Cream On-oat pale ale and Weiss, a German Hefeweizen. Had a chance to try the Weiss and it delivered a smooth, mild wheat flavor you’d expect. Pints are $4.00 but when a train rumbles buy you get 50 cents off.20150403_164928_LLS_1

Also tried a slice of the HoppDaddyDo from HopTown pizza. With Italian sausage crumbles, pepperoni, Roma tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil and their signature pinch of hops it delivered a spicy and tasty complement to the beer. Hop Town Pizza is serving their wood fired pizzas Wednesday-Saturday 4 p.m.- 8 p.m. in the old Track 29 parking lot for Hop Nation guests and walk ups (31 N. 1st Avenue. Look for the big wood fire oven and friendly staff).

Hop Nation Brewing Company hours: According to their Facebook page, hours are 3:30 to close Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 12-close Saturday and Sundays. Location: 31 N. 1st Avenue

Another gem in the downtown craft beverages along the Spirits and Hops Trail! See you there.

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News Along The Yakima Valley Spirits and Hops Trail

IMG951722As spring sprouts in the Yakima Valley new craft beverage products are also springing up along the Spirits and Hops Trail. Last week we stopped in to Bron Yr Aur Brewing Company outside Naches to check the progress of their brewery. As you can see, construction is moving at a fast pace and the Hattens told us that they’ll open in late March. Bron Yr. Aur (pronounced brawn-rah-err) means ‘Hills of Gold’ in Welsh. At the family ran Naches Mercantile next door they currently serve ten regional craft beers. They also serve home-made pizzas and their crust is amazing!

Meanwhile, Hop Nation Brewing Company is brewing up their beers and is slated to open in Downtown Yakima soon at 31 N. 1st Avenue right near the railroad tracks. In addition to a tasting room, this brewery will have hop, beer and wine analytical laboratory testing. Once Hop Nation Brewing opens, a new addition to the scene  Hop Town Wood Fired Pizza is slated to to serve their lip smackin’ pizzas 5-6 evenings a week on site. Here’s an interesting tidbit on Hop Town Pizza: In honor of her hop farming parents Lester and Emma Roy, daughter Lori and staff sprinkle a small amount of Cascade hops on every pizza. The Roys are credited with being pioneers in the growing of the Cascade hop strain.

Yakima Hop Candy 1And here’s a tasty spring treat…have you tasted the new lollihops by Yakima Hop Candy? These are the funnest things to have come along in some time! Their lollihops are infused with local hops and come in such flavors as passion fruit, blood orange, lemon and mango. Heather with Yakima Hop Candy told us that more candy delights are in the works so stay tuned for those updates. They’re candy is available at our Information Center near the Target store in Yakima or click here for other outlets.

So have a great spring, enjoy locally crafted beverages, pizza and candy and we’ll see you along the trail!

2014 Was The Largest Hop Crop in Past Five Years

HOPS 2Hoppy days are here again!

According to an article in Saturday’s Yakima Herald, in 2014 U.S. hop growers produced their largest crop in five years. Even so, they could not keep up with the international demand for craft beer.

Last year featured a 10% increase in acreage but low yields and high prices, according to statistics released last week by the Hop Growers of America.

Rising prices and crop size have been driven by the growth in craft beers, which need more hops and a range of flavors. Washington state’s Yakima Valley produces about 77 percent of the nation’s hops.

Check out the full article here. Here’s to another banner year!

News Along the Spirits and Hops Trail

Beer pictureIt’s a busy season here in ‘hop central’, also known as the Yakima Valley. Harvest is coming and the bines are full of fragrant hops ready for cutting.

The word at the brew pubs in the Valley is that it’s been a great summer with visitors coming from near and far. I was in Yakima Craft’s new tasting room downtown Saturday and the place was packed! Our local paper did a nice write up about their opening and our efforts to build beer tourism with the Spirits and Hops Trail.

And SmarterTravel.com did a shout out to the trail in a piece they wrote last month titled America’s Best Small Cities on the Rise. Pretty cool huh?

 

 

Yakima Valley Brewery Tour Coming Saint Patrick’s Day Weekend

Craft-Brewers-1With the longer days and warmer weather it feels like spring. And in March that means that the shamrocks will be blooming and the leprechauns we be out and about!

In Honor of St. Patricks Day,  Wineries Express of Yakima will tour several Yakima Valley craft breweries. On the docket are stops at Yakima Craft Brewing, Bale Breaker in Moxee, Snipes Mountain in Sunnyside and Whitstran Brewing in Prosser.

Date: March 15th. The tours start at 1:30 PM from the Yakima Visitors Center and returns by 8:30 PM.

Cost is $60 a person, limited to 11 people .

For details and to reserve your spot head over to Wineries Express.

 

$60.00
 

Product Summary

In Honor of St. Patricks ‘weekend’ we will tour some Yakima and Valley micro-breweries! We will visit Yakima Craft Brewing, Bale Breaker in Moxee, Snipes Mountain in Sunnyside, and Whitstran Brewing in Prosser. Start time at 1:30 PM from the Yakima Visitors Center. Returning at ~8:30 PM. NOTE: Assuming this goes well, we will do another series over summer to include Ellensburg’s Ironhorse, hard cider producers, and new breweries coming to Yakima!

U.S. Hop Production Up 13 Percent in 2013

This blog is a reprint of an article by Capital Press, posted with their permission.

YAKIMA, Wash. — U.S. hop production was up 13 percent from 61.2 million pounds in 2012 to 69.3 million pounds in 2013, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

The crop was valued at $249 million, up 28 percent from a revised 2012 value of $195 million, according to a Dec. 23 NASS report. The average price per pound was $3.59 up from $3.18 a year ago and $3.14 two years ago.

All of this shows the industry, centered in Washington’s Yakima Valley, is doing very well and probably will be for the next two to three years, said Pete Mahony, director of supply chain management and purchasing for John I. Haas Inc., Yakima, a leader in hop processing, research and development. Oil in the hop cone or flower is used for flavoring and stabilizing beer.

Expansion of small, craft breweries is driving the hop increase, Mahony said. Craft breweries continue to increase in number and size, he said. Craft brewers make up only 7 to 8 percent of the brewing industry but have a 15 percent annual growth. Large brewers comprise the bulk of the industry but average 1 to 2 percent annual growth, he said.

Haas opened a new multi-million dollar center for hop research and development in Yakima in June. It includes a research brewery.

Of the national production, 79.2 percent (54.9 million pounds) comes from the Yakima Valley — mostly from farms around Moxee, Prosser and Toppenish. Climate, soil and length of sunlight hours were factors in the Yakima Valley becoming the premier hop growing region in the U.S., Mahony said.

Another 12.3 percent (8.5 million pounds) is from Oregon’s Willamette Valley between Salem and Woodburn, and the remaining 8.5 percent (5.8 million pounds) is from the Caldwell, Idaho, area.

Acres harvested in 2013 were: 27,062 for Washington; 4,786 for Oregon; and 3,376 for Idaho, for a U.S. total of 35,224. Those figures were up slightly from a June 1 forecast.

Idaho is growing more rapidly in production and acreage than Washington and Oregon. That’s because Idaho has more acreage readily available for expansion while acreage is getting tighter in Washington and Oregon, Mahony said.

Washington will have to expand hop picking and drying facilities in a couple of years to keep increasing acreage, he said. Oregon growers deal with more downey mildew because of the wetter Willamette climate but some varieties grow better there, Mahony said.

Prices are stronger in Washington and Oregon at $3.68 per pound versus $2.64 per pound in Idaho. That’s because Washington and Oregon have more of the expensive aroma varieties for flavoring and Idaho has more alpha varieties for bitterness, Mahony said.

Harvested hops can be stored three to five years depending on whether it is stored in pellets, extract or further refinements of extract, he said.