The first time Zach Turner visited the Yakima Valley, he drove down Lateral A. The road, known by brewers around the globe, leads beer lovers into the country’s densest land of hops.

Turner came to Yakima to work for hop supplier Yakima Chief Hops (YCH), bringing his brewing experience with him, having homebrewed and worked at Odell Brewing in Colorado prior. Once in Yakima, he met Ty Paxton and, for five years, the two worked on launching the now-explosive Single Hill Brewing, which borrows its title from the single-hill, experimental hop fields found on Lateral A.

In a collaboration announced last week, Single Hill Brewing has teamed up with Seattle’s Zeeks Pizza and Sip Magazine to release the Lateral A India pale ale — a beer built around experimental hops grown on that eponymous road.

THE ROAD TO HOPS

“For us, Lateral A is the genesis for a lot of what we do at Single Hill Brewing,” Turner says. “It captures much of our spirit.”

That spirit is what drew Tommy Brooks, R&D director for Zeeks, to Single Hill in the first place. When traveling back from Eastern Washington, the beer enthusiast stopped by the young brewery to try it out after first seeing the name on a Google search. “Immediately after tasting the beers, I thought, ‘these are in a different class.’” Brooks recalls. “It’s hard to make beer that really stands out and Single Hill does that. The beers combined with the people was something special, something Zeeks would want to work with down the road.”

As one of the first restaurants to put Single Hill beers on tap, Brooks reached out to Paxton and Turner about collaborating on a beer exclusively to Zeeks’ menu. For the independent pizza group, now with 17 stores across the greater Seattle area, Brooks says Zeeks is logistically able to pull off collaborations with smaller, craft breweries thanks to the group’s capacity to buy an entire batch of beer to support the production.

“We rotate our menus quarterly and can pour beer at a lot of our restaurants at once, so we can keep it fresh,” Brooks says. “It’s all about and through direct relationships with breweries. Zeeks takes pride in being among the first to discover talented new brewers in the Northwest.”

The first spin around the block with Single Hill resulted in a winter IPA, and Brooks couldn’t wait to go back for more which, somewhat serendipitously, is about when Sip Magazine publisher/CEO Kristin Ackerman Bacon reached out.

“I like to joke that my husband and I are honorary investors in Zeeks with how much pizza we order from them,” Ackerman Bacon says. “Sip has been talking about connecting with the right producers to make a collaboration beer. When we found out Zeeks was doing just that with up-and-coming brewers, specifically Single Hill, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.”

After a few “practice pints,” Ackerman Bacon and Brooks settled on building out an IPA for the 2020 summer menu. With Single Hill’s commitment and connection to unique, local ingredients, the two felt they were in good hands to let Turner and his team take it from there.

FARM FRESH

“Single Hill has a direct line to the local farming community, not to mention Yakima Chief Hops and John I. Haas are in their backyard,” Ackerman Bacon says of the two grower-owned, hop-breeding and-researching titans. “They were passionate about showcasing experimental hops, which speaks to what is happening in beer right now. Telling this distinctive story is the type of opportunity we jump at.”

For Lateral A IPA, the story is centered on those novel, local ingredients. Turner sourced Idaho-grown pilsner and dark Munich malts from Great Western Malting (based in Vancouver, Washington) and Spokane’s LINC Malt provides the light Munich malts. The hops are experimental cross-breeds HBC 692 from YCH and HBC 586 from John I. Haas — both of which house their breeding programs near Lateral A — two new varieties that are yet to be commercially released.

“We’ve been playing with these two hops for about a year now and when this project came up, it seemed like the ideal outfit for it,” Turner says. “Together in the beer, they’ve got this citrusy, pithy acidity and then a big, tropical flavor. It has a really huge aroma that carries out of the glass, it’s very robust and resilient. It is not subtle!”

Turner’s roots in the hop-breeding industry run deep — tying him into the often-confusing hop-breeding, -growing and-supplying web of companies in the Yakima Valley. YCH’s breeding house is Yakima Chief Ranches (YCR) which is primarily on Perrault Farms in Toppenish, a family operation that is also one of the founding members of YCH and YCR. Hop Breeding Co. — the name behind the experimental hop acronym of HBC — is the joint hop breeding effort of YCH and Haas. Perrault Farms and YCR are both overseen by fifth generation hop farmer Jason Perrault, who is also a breeder and managing member of HBC.

YCR has 40 acres planted with research hops, with a multi-stage program from research seedling to commercial release, Perrault explains. At the start of the breeding program, YCR works with thousands of genotypes and, over a seven to 10-year process, the researchers narrow down those cross-breeds to an “elite line” of hops — often less than 10 crosses. For HBC 692, which Perrault Farms bred and farmed the majority of the production, Perrault found this cross to stand out from the pack.

“It was unique, having strong citrus in the form of grapefruit, along with cedar wood and herbal character,” he says. “We started brewing with it internally and getting samples out to brewers and found that aromatic to carry through to the beer and translate really well, which doesn’t always happen.”

Michael Ferguson, director of hops breeding at Haas, felt the same way about their 586 hop variety. “Probably 90 percent of the time when it smells that good, it doesn’t brew that well,” he details. “But we brewed 586 in Haas’ commercial research brewery and it just was one of those that threw your head back. When you drink an IPA with a new hop, and it throws you back, it’s probably a winner.”

COMMUNITY FOCUS

Lateral A IPA gets one step closer with its local ingredients from regional farms by donating a portion of the proceeds to La Casa Hogar. The Yakima Valley-based nonprofit connects, educates and empowers Latina families, many of whom work on these local farms. The organization celebrates 25 years in the valley this year, offering programs from English to driving, nutrition, citizenship, legal services and, during the COVID-19 pandemic, cash in hand to pay for medical needs of those impacted by the virus and do not have insurance.

“Since the year 2014 when we started, we have had 1,200 citizens come out of the citizenship program,” says Enriqueta Flores, development and events manager at La Casa Hogar. “The program is thriving… Dreams and goals of becoming citizens are coming true. One of the strengths of La Casa is building community, it’s a great privilege to be that for a lot of the families here.”

By focusing on ingredients of the region, Turner believes the whole collaboration team, and even the benefactor, are able to showcase a common passion.

“This beer emphasizes Zeeks’ interest in working with local brewers and farmers,” he adds. “Working with Sip because their goals are to be the premier local beverage publication — this is a beer that highlights what is unique and special about the Northwest.”

With Washington State loosening up on alcohol regulations during the current health and economic climate, Zeeks is able to sell Lateral A direct from the tap in crowlers and growlers from all locations. The beer is also available in 16-ounce 4-packs and will be expanding distribution outside of Zeeks to small bottle shops around the greater Seattle and Yakima areas within the next few weeks.

Possibly a silver lining in the Seattle-area COVID crisis: farm-fresh beer from the tap, helping others and delivered straight to your door.