Single Hill Brewing’s cofounder and “Director of Liquids,” Zach Turner, is actually an industry veteran, growing his wealth of knowledge and experience in the beer industry for more than 10 years. In his college days, Turner homebrewed nearly every style under the sun. He got his start working in the quality and production teams of Odell Brewing in 2009. His pilgrimage to the Pacific Northwest brought him to learn the ins and outs of hops at Yakima Chief, where he managed hop quality and technical solutions.
Turner met his business partner and “Positive Vibes Director,” Ty Paxton, in 2013, and the two began to plot their vision for a new, community-focused brewery in Yakima. That being said, Single Hill’s location more resembles a gathering space than a typical taproom. The indoor/outdoor location is spacious, family-friendly and graced by generous, Eastern Washington sun.
Community may be a priority, but the beer speaks for itself. Experimentation and quality are the main drivers of Turner’s nuanced classic styles, hop-forward favorites and barrel-aged delights. Through their “Experimentor” series, he pushes the envelope with experimental brews that highlight the process and ingredients in beer.
Turner recently spoke with Sip Northwest about Single Hill’s first year and what he’s currently most excited about.
1) Single Hill’s one year anniversary is this month. What has surprised you the most about opening a brewery?
Honestly, it hasn’t been nearly as difficult or surprising as anticipated, which may be a boring answer. It’s been relatively smooth, and part of that is that we have a really fantastic staff and the team is very strong. We’ve also been planning this for a very long time, so we felt comfortable going into it. The complexity and the challenge of running a business — plus the brewing and production side — I find it really fun.
2) Why did you name the brewery “Single Hill”?
At the early stages of breeding new hop varieties, the hop breeder will plant just a single cross between a male and a female hop plant. They grow that little seedling up, and — after it passes a few tests — they plant it in a field that they often call the “single hill fields.” On each one of those hills, the seedlings grow into an individual hop variety with an individual genotype. They’ll use that field to select new hop varieties, based on what their criteria is. That’s the insider name — brewers know the single hill reference pretty well. But for us it means a “sense of place.” It’s where our ingredients come from, and our home in Yakima.
3) What beer are you excited about now?
This week, it’s our Cellar Pils. We release beers almost every week here. Our experimentals are brewed on a system we call the “Experimentor” — it’s three five-barrel tanks that let us brew clean, side-by-side comparisons of some process or ingredient. In this case, we brewed with our house yeast, compared with a kolsch yeast, compared with a traditional German pilsner yeast. We do a lot of these Experimentor batches. The last couple have been based around yeast, but we often do it around hops. We can test three different batches with three different hops, or three different blends of hops. These beers all have the same base, so it gives us a chance to play with raw materials. This is very unique to our brewery — you won’t find this kind of thing anywhere else, except maybe at research facilities.
4) What is the trick to staying relevant in a very hop-heavy place like the Yakima Valley?
The irony is that it’s not a very hop-heavy place, at least compared to Seattle, Portland, Fort Collins or Denver. The beer market here is a bit behind, and there’s still a lot of people who want to drink beers that aren’t just hop bombs. We keep some hoppy beers on tap. But if you look at our menu today, about a quarter of our taps are hop-forward IPAs or pale ales. It’s pretty balanced. To stay relevant in this kind of place, we do our best to brew a lineup of beers that will offer something for most people to come in and find a beer that they will enjoy drinking. We keep a short but tight lineup of classic styles, light beers, some barrel aged brews… And given we’re in Yakima, we have a whole range of hoppy beers.