Washington State’s Yakima Valley has a long history as a hop-growing region. The area accounts for roughly 75 percent of the total United States hop acreage and 80 percent of the country’s total hop crop — no small potatoes. And many hop farmers can trace their lineage in the business back several generations. Suffice it to say that growing hops is anything but a new concept here.
And yet there’s been a definitive lack of a beer scene in the area to complement the growing of hops. The lone exception has been the oft-awarded Bale Breaker Brewing Co., which opened in 2013 smack in the middle of family-owned hop farm B.T. Loftus Ranches.
On the other hand, the Yakima Valley is home to dozens of wineries, a complement to the area’s foothold as a wine grape-growing region. Could something similar crop up with breweries?
“Yakima Valley has been such a strong wine region for the longest time that not a lot of folks felt the need to dabble in craft beer,” says Kaleb Schwecke of Yakima Valley Hops, the region’s wholesale and retail hop supplier. “Now everyone is waking up to the wide range of beers and styles that are being produced in the area. Wine lovers are finding that beer is just as food-friendly and pairs well with a variety of dishes.”
Schwecke believes that, in the past, Yakima has lacked active breweries due to the densely agricultural and seasonal scene. “There’s a big transient population that follow the crops and the harvest, so there’s not a big permanent population here,” he says. “But now that there’s been other industries taking off in the valley, there’s more people coming in and settling down. And they’re looking for some really good beer.”
Good beer could be on the horizon for Yakima, with one new brewery recently opened and three more planning to open in the coming months. There’s Cowiche Creek Brewing Co., which has plans to open in September in the farming community of Cowiche. It will sit on a 44-acre hop farm, giving owners Derrick and Maria Nordberg the ability to craft estate beer with hops fresh from the trellis, similar to the set up at a winery using estate-grown grapes.
Wandering Hop Brewery is eyeing a fall opening, with plans to offer sandwiches to pair with off-beat brews like a mango-habanero lager. Berchman’s Brewing Co., which has been licensed since October 2014 with limited production, recently opened a new tasting room in downtown Yakima. In fact, Berchman’s now occupies the same building where pre-Prohibition brewery North Yakima Brewing and Malting Company was started. Still to come is Redifer Brewing Co., a nanobrewery in the works in downtown Yakima. The brewery will serve beer on site and will allow customers to bring in outside food.
Schwecke says these developments are great for the whole community, especially because the breweries rely on local ingredients, which further helps support Yakima businesses. In doing so, these new breweries may further draw well-deserved attention on the Yakima hop crop.
“People are really coming to recognize the quality of the hops coming out of Yakima,” Schwecke says. “The long growing year and growing conditions allow the best hops. There are now farms popping up in the Midwest and on the East Coast but the hops here in Yakima are big, bright, beautiful, and bitter. The hop crop is phenomenal.”