Top 5 Beers of the Week

1. Diablo Rojo from Boneyard Beer

2. Fresh Trop Fresh Hop IPA from Bend Brewing Company

3. What Rough Beast from Breakside Brewery

4. Sweet As Pacific Ale from GoodLife Brewing

5. Capella Porter from Ecliptic Brewing

Recently, I wrote about fresh hop beers during hop harvest season, a time of the year that generates excitement among brewers and drinkers alike. But it’s easy to forget that the harvest isn’t just about fresh hops. Breweries have also been engaged in hop selection — working with hop brokers to choose the hops they will use throughout the coming year.

Brewers have a hand in choosing their hops to ensure consistency and quality in their beers from year to year, from delicately hopped lagers to hoppy, resinous IPAs.

Yakima, Washington, is ground zero for hop selection, with hundreds of brewers from all over the country descending on the region this time of year. Two weeks ago I was invited on a media trip to Yakima with several other writers, and we learned about the scale and effort behind this entire process.

For starters, 75% of the nation’s hops are grown in the Yakima Valley. In 2018, the region’s yield was over 77 million pounds. From mid-August through the end of September, hops are harvested, dried and packaged into 200-pound bales, a process for which time is of the essence to ensure the highest quality product available.

During our visit, the air was palpable with the scent of freshly picked hops, and every brewery we visited featured at least three fresh hop beers on tap. Some breweries, such as Bale Breaker Brewing Company and Cowiche Creek Brewing Company, blur the lines between brewing and hop growing.

Family-owned Bale Breaker is located in the middle of a hop field — also owned by the family. Founded in 2013, the brewery has grown into Washington’s fourth-largest craft brewery, and its hop-­forward beers reached Central Oregon this year. The family owners behind the brewery are fourth-generation hop farmers, dating back to 1932.

However, even though the family grows the hops, they still need to sell the harvest to suppliers to be processed and sold back to the brewery.

Suppliers such as Yakima Chief Hops and John I. Haas Inc. contract with growers to buy and process the hops to then sell to brewers. Yakima Chief, itself owned by 15 hop growers, handles over 100 varieties of hops. It produces pellets (the most common form of hops used by a majority of breweries), concentrated hop extract and Cryo Hops ­(derived via a proprietary cryogenic freezing process).

Sunriver Brewing Company sources its hops from Yakima Chief, among others. “We’ve been getting some really choice Simcoe from YCH for the last couple of years and this year was no exception,” said head brewer Brett Thomas via email. Thomas and the Sunriver team select hops from both Yakima and the Willamette Valley each year.

“The things that I’ve really taken note of is overall hop quality is improving as is the hop selection facilities at each broker,” he said.

Larger, established breweries such as Sunriver maintain forward hop contracts with brokers, allowing them to select from preferred varieties as well as communicate their needs to the growers.

“If anything, our size and dollars spent have driven how well we’re treated,” Thomas said. “Winning a bunch of medals certainly helps as well. Those brokers want their hops in OUR beer.”

Younger first-time breweries, such as Bevel Craft Brewing Company, may not yet have contracts in place and will select the best hops available.

“We at Bevel have started working with Hollingbery & Sons who have been absolutely amazing,” said Bevel owner and head brewer Nate Doss via email. “With that said as a small brewery we get what we can from whoever has it.”

This year was Doss’ first hop selection in Yakima.

“My experience was next to none as a brewer,” he said. “I met with many farmers who were each individually excited that our small brewery would be using their hops.”

You won’t be tasting this year’s hops yet, though both Bevel and Sunriver offer plenty of hop-forward options. Pay attention to Bevel’s “Hop Tour Series” of ales, which highlight a different single hop.

“We will be getting as many new hops as possible down the road for our Hop Tour Series,” Doss said. That means you’ll be able to taste those individual varieties of Yakima hops in those beers in the coming year.

And if you get a chance to visit Yakima and check out the hoppy beer scene, you won’t be disappointed.

— Jon Abernathy is a beer writer and blogger and launched The Brew Site (thebrewsite.com) in 2004. He can be reached at jon@thebrewsite.com .

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