After a few hours of travel, our team kicked off Hop Harvest Week with a visit to our friends at Cornerstone Ranches. Located in the lower Yakima Valley, the ranch is owned by Graham Gamache, the fourth generation Gamache to be tilling the soil for beer’s sake. His family were among the first to discover that the Yakima Valley was a magical place to grow hops over 100 years ago.
Graham and his team rely on an antique hop picking machine, called a Fontaine, that was first used by his grandfather in 1948. Watching it work ’round the clock, in this case to harvest Cashmere hops, is a sight to see. Check out the video to see it in action (with a cameo by the resident ranch dog, Mongo).
We ran into some friends from Oskar Blues, who will be staying with us overnight at Graham’s farmhouse turned bed and breakfast. Always fun to catch up with other brewing crews. Day one down!
Day two kicked off with a visit to Segal Ranch, which is always one of our favorite stops during Hop Harvest Week. The crew at Segal, led by John Segal, always treats us to a delicious BBQ lunch on the ranch, complete with some peppers from John’s personal garden. You better believe a hop grower knows his way around a good pepper.
After lunch it was time to get down to the business of selecting our Cascade hops, the bulk of which we get from Segal Ranch. It’s our Brewmaster’s belief that some of the best Cascade hops in the valley are grown by the Segal team.
To select our hops, we were given a few bricks of bailed and dried hops, called brewer’s cuts. Each brick has different nuances – what we’re looking for are those that have similar characteristics to the Cascade hops we currently use and love. You rub the hops between your palms and taking a big sniff to see what aroma you get from the essential oils released by the warmth of your hand. We picked over 70,000lbs of delicious Cascade hops that we can’t wait to brew with in the coming year.
The second visit of the day was to Yakima Chief, where we have many of our hops processed and pelletized. The facility is super impressive – very clean, organized and efficient. Not many people know the amount of work it takes to process and pelletize – we guessed there are around 15 people required to work each machine. Check out the photos to get a good look at the operation.
First stop on day three was to see Darren Gamache at VGF Farms. Darren is responsible for the Amarillo hop that has such a big footprint in a few of our beers, including All Day IPA and Red’s Rye IPA. Our Head Brewer, Adam Schmitt, rolled by VGF a week earlier so we got a chance to check out what he selected. We use a lot of Amarillo hops, so we had to select from quite a few yards to fulfill our needs.
Next up was a visit with Jason Perrault, head of Perrault Farm. Jason is a fourth-generation hop farmer and with the addition of his nephew, now runs a five-generation dynasty farm. Perrault Farm is one of the most inspiring stops during the week, as Jason is a master hop breeder who conceptualizes and grows some of the best experimental hops in the industry. His creativity is next to none – his hop yards are where many of the next great hop varieties can be found. Not only that, but he has a little test brewhouse on site where he can actually brew with these experimental varieties. Hops aside, we also enjoy the bright yellow former airport shuttle he uses to take visitors around the farm.
Occasionally, Jason will send us some of his experimental hops so we can do a few test brews. The most recent example was the collaboration beer we brewed with Bale Breaker Brewing Company, Bale Finder IPA, which used Jason’s experimental hop #522.
Check out the photos to see both farms and their processing facilities.
Our trip is winding down and today was our final day in beautiful the Yakima Valley. We kicked it off with a visit to our friends at CLS Farms, led by Eric Desmarais. CLS is another example of a multigenerational farm, as Eric is part of a long lineage of hop farmers that first started farming the area in the late 1800s. Many of those families, including Eric’s, were French Canadians who traveled to the area to produce potatoes, fruits, etc. Now, most focus on hops entirely, though CLS still grows apples and soft fruits so they’re able to employ people for 11 months of the year as opposed to just the hop growing season.
This is an important stop for us, as we get most of our Centennial hops from CLS. They grow over 300 acres of Centennials – some of the best we’ve come across. Once we took a look at a few brewer’s cuts and made our selections, we toured their processing facility and learned about their specialized drying approach. Most farms dry their hops at 130 degrees or higher, but the crew at CLS swear by drying their hops at a lower temperature for longer to get the highest quality.
Then we were off to the home of the Azacca hop that stars in our Azacca IPA, Roy Farms. With over 6000 acres of farmland, Roy Farms is growing a few experimental varieties that we’re excited to brew with… and that’s all we’re able to say about that! Roy Farms is unique in that that they do most of their pelletizing on site. They remove the bailing process and simply send the hops from a conditioning room right to hop pelletization. From the minute the hop is picked from the field and packaged in pellet form is about a 24 to 36-hour process. Impressive!
The final stop of the week was the state-of-the-art processing facility at Haas. As one of the largest hop providers in the world, Haas stays on the cutting edge of innovation in brewing, particularly with their CO2 extracting techniques. Extracts aren’t new, but it’s only recent that the craft community has come around to them. Much of what Haas is developing is proprietary, so a lot of the cool stuff we saw and learned we have to keep to ourselves!