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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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)

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!

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!

Fresh Hop Ale Festival Returns to Yakima

FHAF4Hey all you fresh brewed hop heads! The Fresh Hop Ale Festival returns next week so get your tickets.

Billed as one of the 10 Best Brew Festivals in the nation by various online magazines such as Americas Best Online, Suds Magazine and Seattle Beer news, the 12 annual Fresh Hop Ale Festival gets underway Saturday, October 4th from 5:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. in in downtown Yakima. Attendees can sample a selection of 36 different craft beers and fresh hop brewed beers, local wines and ciders. Various local restaurants will also be on hand to serve.   Live music includes Seattle bands Cumulus and Smokey Brights.

This event is big! More than over 5,000 people are expected.  General admission is $30.00 online and $35.00 day of event at the gate. Proceeds from the event support two local art institutions the Yakima Valley Museum and the Seasons Performance Hall.

Other festivities prior to this event include the 2014 Brewers Dinners, Oct. 1st – Oct. 3rd where brewers and chefs pair their talents and products to create memorable dining experiences. Participating restaurants & breweries are Bert’s Pub with Bale Breaker Brewing Company, Second Street Grill will host Fremont Brewing Company, and the Yakima Valley Hops Brew Bash, hosted by Fresh Hop with Sierra Nevada beer served, along with a few other drink choices.

For more information on the 2014 Fresh Hop Ale Festival visit http://freshhopalefestival.com/index.html

 

(Photo by Sara Lasha)

Beer Geeks TV In Town This Week

bgtv550The popular cable show Beer Geeks was in town this week filming our wonderful hop fields and the harvest. According to the producer David Page, the footage will be part of a segment on Northwest based breweries. As David told us, they’ll be telling the story of the Yakima Valley hops and it’s importance to the beer industry. We’ll keep you posted on when the segment will air.

In the meantime, here’s to enjoying Yakima Valley hops in all the craft beers you enjoy! Come enjoy the harvest by visiting the Spirits and Hops Trail.

Spirits and Hops Trail News and Updates

tieton-3As spring quickly turns to summer in the Yakima Valley there’s a lot of developments along the Spirits and Hops Trail. Here’s a sampling of the latest news:

  • Tieton Cider Works has purchased a 40,000 square foot building in Yakima with plans to make it their production facility and a tasting room. Management will make announcements regarding their plans, including the location, in June. We look forward to the new facility!
  • Along that line, the Yakima Herald Republic recently reported that Yakima Craft Brewery is planning a downtown Yakima location. We’ll share more details when they become public so stay tuned. UPDATE May 20: As reported in the Yakima Herald Republic the new location will be in the Larson Building on Yakima Avenue in downtown Yakima.
  • Congrats to the folks at Bale Breaker Brewing Company for being awarded Tourism Business of the Year by Yakima Valley Tourism. Well deserved. And if you had not heard yet, their beers are now being served at Safeco Field during Mariner games. Play ball!
  • A new festival is being created in Yakima! The Yakima Blues and Local Brews Bash will debut Saturday, June 14th in the Historic North Front Street district in Downtown Yakima.  The festival will feature local, nationally recognized, and internationally acclaimed blues artists from 2:00 pm to 9:00 pm.  A highlight of the fun will be craft beers brewed in the Central Washington region, Yakima Valley wine and food prepared by Historic North Front Street district restaurants. There will be kid events too!

Anyway, look forward to seeing you in the Yakima Valley this summer.