Early fall in Yakima is always a magical time. Driving into the valley from Toppenish if coming from Portland, or from Ellensburg from Seattle is a pilgrimage for any brewer or hop head. The sight of acres and acres of hop trellises as you drive down the highway inspires or at least creates a Pavlovian response for the nearest IPA! Once you arrive in Yakima & check into your hotel or Airbnb, it’s time to explore. Walking around Yakima at this time of year, it’s easy to run into fellow brewers from across the country as they converge to select their hops and learn about the new innovations that are happening in the hop world.

 This year, Country Malt invited 13 brewers from across the country to help assess the hops available to us from Yakima Chief. This team included 14 members from the Country Malt team, as well as representatives from Green Room Brewing, East Brother Beer Co., Joyride Brewing, Last Bees Brewing, Brash Brewing, The Beer, ’d Brewing Co., North Jetty Brewing, Ocelot Brewing, Mikerphone Brewing, Masthead Brewing, Barrel Theory, and Wild River Brewing Co. The group split up into 4 teams and sampled 2-4 lots of 10 different varietals; Amarillo, Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, Citra, Ekuanot, Loral, Mosaic, Palisade, and Simcoe. Through the sampling, each team evaluated the hops based on its representation to the expectation of that varietal.

Mosaic and Simcoe were rated very highly across all lots sampled with little variability between lots. Citra and Loral were also rated highly, but with a little more variability between teams. All other varietals had distinct differences between lots that led to clear favorites across the different teams. Those particular lots will be used as a template for blending different lots to match the characteristics of the preferred lot.

With the evaluations concluded, the team went out to visit Perrault Farms, where we saw the final harvests and the separation of the cones from the vines. While we were there, an experimental super high alpha hop, with an undisclosed number (quite possibly HBC-682) was being harvested, but the aroma was quite impressive!

With all of the official duties completed, it was time to explore the Yakima nightlife, which consists of a few options, but a majority of Yakima veterans will know where the story ends. For the hungry foodie types, the 3-year-old Cowiche Canyon Kitchen and Icehouse Bar are a great option with an executive team with experience running restaurants in NYC and LA. For the adventurous and nostalgic looking for cocktails, there is the Lotus Room in the back of the Golden Wheel, which has been serving Yakima for about 80 years. If you survive and remember, be sure to grab your “I got Lotusized” t-shirt or hoodie on your way out.

At the end of the day the unofficial meet up place for brewers in Yakima is the Yakima Sports Center. This bar on the main strip and is exactly what you’d expect in Yakima – retro, slightly dated, and very welcoming to all, sort of the Vegas of Yakima – what happens in the Sports Center stays in the Sports Center. We cannot say who has been seen belting out tunes during karaoke night, nor can we attest to the best brewery shuffleboard team. Unexpectedly, it has a well-curated draft beer list that is heavy in support of the hop-forward beers, that provide the lifeblood of the valley. It also has options for those who might be suffering from some pallet fatigue after enjoying a day (or three) of imperial IPA’s. The comradery between brewers, hop farmers, brokers and locals is a great end to a day that makes us all appreciate the decisions that lead us to this industry.

 Next time you’re in central Washington make sure you visit the “Palm Springs of Washington