Make no mistake: Nathan Cooper didn’t exactly lie to get his brewery off the ground. But Yakima’s Wandering Hop likely never happens — and never produces a popular blend of complex IPAs and fun, travel-inspired small-batch beers — without stretching the truth at least a little.
As Cooper tells it, he attended Bale Breaker Brewing Co.’s grand opening celebration in 2014 and quickly fell in love with the local craft beer scene.
“I immediately got a friendly, happy vibe,” he recalls. “The moment we walked in, we were greeted by the owners, thanking us for coming out… I’d always loved beer, but after that opening — the space, the people and the vibe of the area — that was something that latched onto me.”
He soon approached his father, Sonny, about launching a nascent brewery. “When I told him I wanted to start this, he asked, ‘Have you brewed? Can you brew?’” Cooper says. “And I slowly nodded my head, ‘yes.’”
What Cooper left out — where he stretched the truth — is that he’d homebrewed all of twice in his life to that point. Undeterred, the Coopers opened Wandering Hop in 2017. And in a region known for hops, Wandering Hop has earned acclaim for its devotion to creating its own path in a rapidly maturing industry.
One recent tap list, for instance, revealed seven IPAs among the brewery’s 11 offerings — from an easy-drinking session IPA to one IPA inspired by the popular Creamsicle snack. That tap list even included five New England-style IPAs that mostly swapped hop bitterness for juicier, fruitier flavors — a rarity when most breweries are content to brew one or two New England-style IPAs at a time.
“We sell a lot more IPAs versus the other styles,” Cooper says. “When we release a lager, it throws everyone completely off.”
But whether he’s brewing hop-forward IPAs or more electric styles, Cooper has routinely brewed beer inspired by past travels with his wife, Whitney, and the food they’ve eaten along the way. Even the brewery’s name is a nod to their passion for travel.
“We were traveling at the time we came up with the name, trying a ton of different beers, and I wanted to find a way to bring that quality back,” he says.
That’s translated into a jet-setting lineup of first-class beers that ranges from the Hawaii-inspired Coconut Lemon Bar IPA (brewed with coconut creme and lemon) to an imperial IPA made with spruce tips (plucked from spruce trees on a camping trip).
Cooper’s culinary-inspired beers, meanwhile, range from a saison brewed with lemon and ginger to a cream ale brewed with jalapeño, serrano and habanero peppers. He’s even brewed beers for Wandering Hop’s birthday with, appropriately enough, cakes, cupcakes and Funfetti.
And yet for all the experimentation, Cooper’s next goal for Wandering Hop is to dial in a list of recipes and create the kind of consistency that return guests can count on time and again. He doesn’t plan to stop experimenting with new styles and ingredients, but Cooper sees the next phase of Wandering Hop as building upon the foundation he started laying in 2017. “I don’t want to turn people away because the beer they fell in love with last week isn’t there today,” he says.
Currently a one-man operation during the COVID-19 pandemic, Cooper is keeping the brewery open with limited hours Tuesday through Saturday, offering food and beer to go. Customers can call in an order or use the newly launched online store for pickup.
“The support we’ve received from our community and other breweries has been unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” Cooper says. “The camaraderie in this industry is like no other… I’m just grateful that people are utilizing the online store and helping me keep my dream alive here.”