Jason Perrault is the CEO and head hop breeder for Yakima Chief Ranches. As a fourth-generation farmer, Jason is deeply devoted to bringing long-term sustainability and value to the hop industry through innovative breeding and management practices that will impact his family and others for generations to come. Jason became interested in plant breeding through the mentorship of the original breeder of Yakima Chief Ranches, Chuck Zimmerman. He started his education at Washington State University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Agricultural Economics, followed by a Master of Science in Plant Breeding and Genetics. In 2014, Jason returned to Washington State University, earning an Executive MBA. In addition to being the CEO of YCR, Jason is also the CEO of Perrault Farms, Inc. Jason is married and has two children.
Joe Catron is the Supply Chain Hoperations Manager for Yakima Chief Ranches. Joe has a strong appreciation for horticulture, having worked in different agricultural and landscaping capacities in the Yakima Valley. Joe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Cultural Anthropology from Western Washington University. After graduating from college, Joe was a founding member of the band Cody Beebe & The Crooks, which traveled the country performing for several years before returning to the Yakima Valley to start a family. He interned with Yakima Chief Ranches and was hired out of that program as the Quality Assurance Manager. He recently earned a Master of Science in Agriculture with an emphasis on plant health and management at WSU. He is married with one daughter.
Crafting fresh-off-the-farm brews from the middle of a hop field, Bale Breaker Brewing Company is a family-owned brewery located in the Yakima Valley. Backed by four generations of hop farming experience, Bale Breaker started in 2013 and has grown to become the fourth largest independent craft brewery in Washington.
Hops are in the family’s DNA: the great-grandparents of sibling-owners Meghann Quinn, Kevin “Smitty” Smith, and Patrick Smith first planted hops in the Yakima Valley in 1932, the year before Prohibition ended. Now, Meghann, Smitty, Patrick, and Meghann’s husband Kevin Quinn are crafting brews that celebrate the world-class hops grown in their backyard.
With a 30-barrel brewhouse at a 27,000 square foot facility, Bale Breaker crafts seven year-round canned beers, including the widely celebrated Topcutter IPA, and a diverse offering of seasonal beers in cans and on draft. The onsite taproom hosts frequent food trucks and events, with a beautiful outdoor patio and lawn, perfect for enjoying the Yakima sunshine here in Washington state.
Crafting fresh-off-the-farm brews from the middle of a hop field, Bale Breaker Brewing Company is a family-owned brewery located in the Yakima Valley. Backed by four generations of hop farming experience, Bale Breaker started in 2013, and has grown to become the fourth largest independent craft brewery in Washington.
Hops are in the family’s DNA: the great-grandparents of sibling-owners Meghann Quinn, Kevin “Smitty” Smith, and Patrick Smith first planted hops in the Yakima Valley in 1932, the year before Prohibition ended. Now, Meghann, Smitty, Patrick and Meghann’s husband Kevin Quinn are crafting brews that celebrate the world-class hops grown in their backyard.
With a 30-barrel brewhouse at a 27,000 square foot facility, Bale Breaker crafts seven year-round canned beers, including the widely celebrated Topcutter IPA, and a diverse offering of seasonal beers in cans and on draft. The onsite taproom hosts frequent food trucks and events, with a beautiful outdoor patio and lawn, perfect for enjoying the Yakima sunshine here in Washington state.
SEASON 2, EPISODE 5: BREEDING HOPS & GROWING CROPS
TOBY TUCKER – DIRECTOR OF SALES, COUNTRY MALT GROUP
JASON PERRAULT – CEO & HEAD HOP BREEDER, YAKIMA CHIEF RANCHES
JOE CATRON – SUPPLY CHAIN HOPERATIONS MANAGER, YAKIMA CHIEF RANCHES
KEVIN QUINN – OWNER, SALES/BREWER – BALE BREAKER BREWING COMPANY
KEVIN SMITH – OWNER, BREWMASTER – BALE BREAKER BREWING COMPANY
Key Points From This Episode:
- Learn about today’s illustrious guests: Jason Perrault, Joe Catron, Kevin Smith, and Kevin Quinn.
- Jason shares how hops farming has changed over four generations.
- How Yakima’s Footprints program is strengthening the beer supply chain.
- Insights into Bale Breaker Brewery’s origin story.
- Bale Breaker’s successful experiments growing barley.
- Jason walks us through his hop breeding process.
- Exploring the impact of terroir on hops growing and beer flavor.
- Why consistency is the key to skillful brewing.
- Joe and Jason unpack their philosophy that “the best fertilizer is a farmer’s footprints in the field.”
- The connection between Yakima Ranches and Yakima Chief Hops.
- Why new hops tend to get fantastical-sounding names.
- Hear about new hop varieties that Yakima has in the pipeline.
- How contracting hops to brewers stabilizes the market.
- Our guests talk about their favorite hop combinations in beer.
Transcript - Breeding Hops & Growing Crops
EPISODE S.2, E.5
[BREEDING HOPS AND GROWING CROPS]
[00:00:00] TT: Welcome to another episode of the BrewDeck. I’m your host, Toby Tucker. I got to tell you, I’ve had some exciting guests on the podcast, but I’m super excited today, more so than usual, because I got a full house. I got a couple of our friends over at Yakima Chief Ranches. And then kind of a last-minute, hail Mary, surprise guests from Kevin Smith and Kevin Quinn over at Bale Breaker Brewery.
I got on the phone with me, Joe Catron, who is a Supply Chain Hop-erations Director, if you will, Joe? Is that the proper title for you?
[00:00:56] JC: Right now, I am the VP of our Footprints Program, which is the Yakima Chief Ranches quality assurance in a varietal purity program. Separates a lot of our brands from others in the industry.
[00:01:12] TT: Very good.
[00:01:14] JC: Good to be here.
[00:01:16] TT: Thanks for coming on. Last time I galivanted with you, I believe, was like three years ago, at this point, when we were lucky enough to be selected to go out and try to find a space for the combined YCH CMG party at CBC in Nashville correct?
[00:01:32] JC: Here We Grow event. Yeah, that was a few years ago now. You, I, and Drew, if I remember correctly.
[00:01:38] TT: That is right. Thanks for jumping on Joe. And then we also got Jason Perrault, who is the CEO and Head Hop Breeder at Yakima Chief Ranches. Hey, Jason.
[00:01:48] JP: Hey, Toby, thanks for having us on.
[00:01:52] TT: No problem. I want to formally give a thanks out for me, personally, but the rest of the Country Malt Group folks, and I’m sure on behalf of many other brewers that have made their way out to Yakima in the past for a hop selection. Just the sheer amount of hospitality that Yakima Chief Ranches and the family of growers have given us and welcomed us to their farms is always awesome. You guys got a great group of individuals out there. And I will say, Jason and Joe, that I’m one of those creepers who visits websites of the businesses before I get on the show. And looking at the education of the people on your team, I got to be the stupidest person around like, a majority of folks have master’s degrees and doctorates. I don’t even think I could qualify to, like, mop your floors up there. So, you got a bunch of intelligent and smart people.
[00:02:34] JP: Kind of been the focus of ours, the old cliché, surround yourself with people smarter than you are.
[00:02:48] TT: That’s what I try to do. And then the guys from Bale Breaker. The two Kevins. Kevin Quinn, Kevin Smith. Guys, thanks for joining us.
[00:02:49] KQ: Yeah, thank you.
[00:02:50] KS: Thanks for having us, Toby.
[00:02:51] TT: Yeah, there’s a unique kind of synergy and relationship between everybody on the phone here, and we’ll get to that. I want to first talk about, and this is a question for Jason. So, your family’s been in farming out in that area, what since, like, early 1900s? And I think you’re the fourth generation of hop farmer. How was that like, now for you, in the position you’re in compared to growing up when you were younger? The differences of the operations back then and operations now?
[00:03:23] JP: It’s pretty significant difference. Growing up out here on the farm, when I was a kid, kind of a reflection of the industry at large. When I was younger, the industry was much more focused on more of a commodity mindset, selling into large multinational markets and customers. And so, we were, in a lot of ways, the Yakima Valley, in particular, was kind of the Walmart of hops, so to speak. Everything was very generic, all about efficiency, which was fine. But the point I’m getting to is, the atmosphere around the farm was a lot different.
If you were to look at our facilities now, everyone’s pretty impressed, because everything’s pretty much brand new. I think our oldest building in terms of picking facilities now is from 2012. But what’s more shocking to me is the fact that it took from about the previous major investment or improvement we made around the farm was like 1980. So, growing up around the farm, it was much quieter. Nobody really knew what we were doing out here. You mentioned coming out and having visitors. We absolutely love that; because growing up, nobody really gave a &%^& what we did out here. Nobody really cared what we were doing out here. But now, it’s a much different atmosphere. We have different relationships with our customers, and then growing up out here on the farm, it was just kind of — we were out in our own little world out here, and we had all these old buildings, and yeah, just kind of a fun way of life.
[00:04:41] TT: Man, you got some people like in the city that really want to get out to the country. And then you got the complete opposite. Like my wife grew up on 10,000 acres in New Mexico and wanted to get away from that so fast. But you guys bust your #&% out there and really support the industry in so many ways. So, yeah, let’s take a jump over to Joe, what you mentioned, and this is something that I had kind of on the list to chat with you guys. But talk about the footprints and sustainability and stewardship that Yakima Chief Ranches has kind of integrated and really hangs his hat on.
[00:05:14] JC: Our Footprints Program is something we’re really proud about. And Jason, as he described earlier with the way things used to be in a commodity market, and growers being, kind of under the thumb, between a rock and a hard place a little bit in a lot of their operations, and creating value and building value on their farm. So, Jason referenced that there’s an almost 30, 35-year gap between reinvestment and infrastructure on his personal farm, and that’s something you’ll see all across the Yakima Valley, the Willamette Valley down in Oregon, and of course, the Treasure Valley down in Idaho. But it’s about that value creation.
So, Jason, and what he’s done in breeding new varieties, and then the way that we’ve been able to create value in those brands that not only improve our farming operations but the value in those brands, it’s making its way through every link of the supply chain all the way down — ultimately to the beer drinker. But I think the guys at Bale Breaker could really speak to that as well, growing up on Loftus Ranches up there, being hop farmers, and then value that’s created on the farm, how they’re able to translate that into their beer brands. And how that ultimately reaches the market. That’s the name of the game. And the Footprints Program is predicated on protecting and growing that value at every link of the supply chain.
[00:06:30] TT: Yeah, it’s a great segue for the guys over there at Bale Breaker. I want to thank those guys as well. I spent many hours up at y’alls place, and what a beautiful facility, and you guys are doing some fantastic things. So, Kevin or Kevin, talk to us about kind of the history with the families there and how you guys came to open Bale Breaker and kind of utilizing the resources, literally in your backyard.
[00:06:52 KS: This is Kevin Smith. My family started growing hops up here in Moxie in 1932, and we’ve been growing ever since. My dad took over the farm from his great grandparents when he was in his early 30s, and he’s been growing our farm ever since. And about eight years or so ago, myself, my sister, and her husband, Kevin Quinn, approached my dad and brother about the idea of putting a brewery on the hop farm. We were all sold on it. And once we opened, we thought it was kind of an interesting model up here in the Yakima Valley. There’s also, like, a ton of wineries and wine groups, and so it kind of fit into the wine culture, like having a brewery like set inside of a hop field.
So, it’s a really unique place to have a beer, and you know, our love for hops runs really deep, obviously. And so that’s kind of what we focus on most is just hop-forward beers and showcasing Yakima Valley hops in unique ways.
[00:07:48] TT: I might disagree there. I think you guys are doing a little bit more than just showcasing hops. Now, you guys are doing some on-site barley growing as well. Is that right? You have sown and grown kind of a state series, right?
[00:08:00] KQ: This is Kevin Quinn. Yeah, three years ago, we had talked about using some acreage that wasn’t under trellis and wasn’t being grown, in fruit, into trying to grow some barley. So, in 2019, we grew 70,000 pounds or so, Copeland barley. And you guys, our friends down at Great Western Malting in Vancouver and then was sent out to Country Malt Group after it was malted and stuff, malted 50,000 pounds for us. And then last year, on the same acreage, we were able to produce 235,000 pounds of barley, about 100,000 pounds of Copeland, about 135,000 pounds of Cranston and Great Western Malt, and the Country Malt Group was nice enough. Instead of giving us one batch on the flex system, do four batches through it. And we were able to get some Pilsner as well as some pale two-row out of the Cranston, and it ended up being a pretty cool collaboration with Great Western Malt because they actually hadn’t ever malted any Cranston malt. It’s a European strain of barley, and it has a lot of characteristics. Their maltsters end up being really intrigued with.
So, yeah, that’s been a great partnership we’ve had with Country Malt Group, and we’re going to keep doing that because people want to know where the things they’re consuming comes from. And so, if we can grow all the ingredients that go into a beer, we think it’s just a great niche to have but also just a cool story and product to get to the customers.
[00:09:30] TT: Pretty awesome. Everybody at Bale Breaker looks happy, like, every picture and bio. Everybody’s smiling, which is awesome. You got like your seller manager, Alex Dahlen. I think he’s smiling, but he’s — his beard is so giant. I can’t really tell. So, I’m sure he’s happy. He’s all good.
[00:09:48] KS: Ponytails down here, that’s for sure.
[00:09:50] KQ: Yeah. I mean, when you wake up every morning and realize that you make beer for a living, I mean, it’s like, you know, there could be worse things you can do.
[00:09:57] TT: Absolutely true. True.
[00:09:59] JP: I just thought you guys might be working so hard, you don’t have time for a haircut.
[00:10:07] TT: All right. Jason, Joe’s question for you guys. Yakima Chief Ranches is like mad scientist. I think a lot of brewers — I don’t think a lot of people realize the work that goes into the development of new hops, right? It’s not something you just kind of throw on the wall; you get like, one sniff of hop, like, “This is it. Let’s do it.” Walk us through, kind of, the sequence of how that breeding goes, and then the timeline from thought to end result to naming. I know it’s very, very lengthy if I’m not mistaken.
[00:10:41] JP: That’s kind of a thing. Whenever I present on this or talk to brewers about — it’s one of the things I really like to drive home is it’s about a 10-year process. From the time you make a cross to the time when you have something that you might want to commercially release, you have got at least a decade. It’s about starting with high numbers at the start. So, you might start with tens of thousands of genotypes, literally different potential new varieties at the very start in front of the program. And then that 10 years is really focused on vetting that down to at, each stage a little bit more manageable number. And then finally, if you get one out of that class, that’s considered a success.
So, that long timeframe acts, obviously, as one of your major challenges and hurdles, just because it is such a commitment. And beyond that even, the commercialization stage, I don’t think people realize how much effort goes into that as well. It’s almost a whole another problem — well, it is a whole another process that requires just as much devotion and commitment to release and successfully commercialize a new variety.
So, you look at something like Simcoe; Chuck Zimmerman made the crosses for that, that was some of our original crosses, way back in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s. And after a decade of vetting throughout the ‘90s, we released it in 2000. So, when Chuck and I released that, the thought process was — we got a nice higher alpha variety with low cohumulone and what we thought was a decent aroma. But we couldn’t hardly give a pound away. And so, the next several years were spent trying to figure out what we thought where a great new variety would have a home. And it really took a whole large effort from a large group of people to make it successful.
So, it wasn’t until about 2010, where we had to go to critical mass where we could say, “Yeah, this is a success.” It wasn’t until 2011; there was solely — the original three growers growing it. So, all in all, then you got 20 years from the time you released it to the time you have what you consider a successful variety. It’s an incredibly long process and incredibly involved throughout the entire time.
[00:12:40] TT: That’s crazy. How many varietals have you been responsible for — start to finish, to date?
[00:12:48] JP: Start to finish, I mean, successful release varieties, Mosaic was the first one I would say that I was start to finish involved in. Mosaic and then Ekuanot, and Sabro. The others, I was lucky to get involved on like, Citra, upon release, and then obviously Simcoe from kind of a middle of its life on.
[00:13:08] JC: We can throw in Loral and Pahto, which is one of our super alphas that’s coming out of the program. Jason, I’ll brag for him because he doesn’t ever brag for himself, but just the value that we’re talking about, developing what Jason and his team do, developing novel varieties. That’s the genesis of all that value that eventually permeates through our collective industries. And Jason spoke to, you know, not being able to give away Simcoe back in the day. Ultimately, we have two very distinct customer bases for a breeding program. That’s our growers, and that’s our brewing partners.
So, there can be, Jason was talking about, the tens of thousands of genetically unique progenies that are in our seedling crop every year, there can be absolutely exceptional hops that smell amazing in the field, but if they don’t perform in beer, there’s not going to be a home for them. And conversely, there are certain hops that may not blow your socks off aromatically or flavor-wise, but just some composition makes them perform exceptionally well in beer. So, it’s really about partnering with our farmers and fulfilling all those agronomic needs, and making sure those varieties check all the boxes on the farm. And, of course, that they perform in beer. So, satisfying those two distinct customer groups is our main focus, and that’s the main idea behind Yakima Chief Hops and the whole supply chain of Yakima Chief hops is being grower-owned and being intentional about connecting our family farms to the world’s finest brewers.
[00:14:35] TT: Yeah, I’m glad you mentioned that, Joe. I sat in on a presentation that Drew Gaskell was doing, and specifically talking about kind of that relationship and the selectiveness, if you will, in who you bring into the fold as far as Allied growers or growers, if you will, into the family of Yakima Chief Ranches. So, I know you took a lot of pride in what you guys do. When you come across a new varietal, is it something you would say, “Hey, this varietal would be awesome on Jason’s Ranch or the Smiths?” Or is there a decision made? What would go best on a particular plot of land versus another?
[00:16:13] JP: In breeding circles, we call it specific adaptability versus general adaptability. So, specific adaptability would be adaptable. It’s adaptable to a very specific site or region, or general adaptability would be a variety that’s more generally adapted to a larger area. And our goal really, in a perfect world, you have something that has really excellent general adaptability that can be grown really just about anywhere, at least anywhere where hops are traditionally grown. By saying we’re going to target a specific farm or a specific small area, it really limits the amount of success, potential success, of that variety.
So, we’re really looking for something that we can grow across, if not the Pacific Northwest, at least across the major regions within the Pacific Northwest. That’s about as specific as you know if we dial it in.
[00:15:59] TT: In the brewing world, sometimes there’s not a whole lot of understanding about terroir. And I think it is important, and you know, I’ve had the privilege of coming up and being a part of selection and actually doing a rub and smell of a Simcoe and Washington State might be completely different than Idaho, for instance. Talk a little bit about terroir and kind of what you guys see as far as characteristics and final product.
[00:16:24] JP: The thing about hops is how incredibly complicated aromatics are, for example, and also the concept of terroir. That’s a little different in hops then it is in, say, something like grapes. So, take the styles and the sulfur-bound compounds; for example, you’re talking about compounds that are in the parts per trillion and just minute levels. And so, every little thing you do from an environmental standpoint, whether you’re growing it under a certain fertility regime, or in a different area, or if you’re even harvesting at a different timing can impact the level of all these minor compounds, whether it be those files, or whether it’s the soluble oils or anything like that. It’s incredibly complex, and it’s driven so much by environment, and just the way they’re handled, that really, to say we’re going to dial it into terroir and be able to define what makes up say, an Oregon or a Moxie, or lower Valley Simcoe, we’re working on it, but it’s incredibly complex.
[00:17:23] JC: I would agree, Jason, and it’s tough. I mean, terroir is that word that we all know that is very applicable to wine. It’s tough to make that just apples to apples comparison, obviously, over to the hop industry. Ultimately, the grapes in those different regions are being — that’s the fruit that’s going right into the finished product. And you’re basically using that fruit, pitching yeast, and that’s the finished product. With brewing process, we obviously know there’s a lot more factors. But I guess I would echo that what Jason was saying is that a little bit of variability is going to be expected. It really lends itself well to our selection program. So, like Toby, you discussed coming up and participating in selection. There are brewers that come from all over the world, literally, and everyone has different preferences, even within each of those brands.
So, as long as we’re within acceptable parameters, and we’re proud to put that hop on the table for brewers to evaluate, a little variability is obviously going to be expected. The crops coming out of the soil every year, and a lot of different factors are at play.
[00:18:27] KS: From the brewer’s side over here at Bale Breaker, I mean, whether you want to call it. Some of it is terroir, some of it is environmental, but we select tops only off our two farms. And if we have 12 lots of Simcoe, all 12 smell different. And whether it’s just what’s in the soil or we have a unique, I guess advantage to see the hops that we end up selecting from the time they shoot up out of the ground here shortly to the time they’re harvested — and I know that we find characteristics like in Simcoe hops, we tend to select fields that don’t have as many leaves. So, the columns get more sunlight. Does the trellis run north to south, or does it run east to west?
There are all sorts of different environmental factors too. But I think that’s one of the things that is celebrated in wine, and so maybe some wine people will get mad from hearing this. But like, if you talk to all the brewing professors or anything of any class that we’ve ever taken is like, the real kind of skill and artistry of making beer is, we take barley, and hops that change every year, and we’re expected to make a Topcutter, that tastes like a Topcutter. From 2013 to 2021, people expect it to taste the same, even though now we’ve used products that we know have changed over time.
So, going back to talking about Joe in the selection part is what we’re really trying to do, and it’s kind of hard; we got to go and check ourselves a few times, is we’re really trying to select Simcoe that smelt like the Simcoe before and the Simcoe before and the Simcoe before. Not, “this is a super unique Simcoe that has some, like, really interesting characteristics that we’d really like to brew with.” But like, that’s our main hop in Field 41 Pale Ale, and so how is that going to affect the final product of Field 41, and then are people going to think it’s not Field 41?
So, there’s definitely terroir, and there’s definitely environmental stuff. But instead of, in the wine industry, where it’s kind of celebrated, we’re trying to minimize it, which is kind of an interesting difference between terroir and probably why it’s not as celebrated and stuff in brewing, because we’re trying to eliminate it.
[00:20:39] TT: Sure, you’re looking for that consistency. Yeah, people want to associate what they taste with something that they’re used to. Joe, I saw a quote on your website, “The best fertilizer is a farmer’s footprints in the field.” That’s pretty awesome. I’ve heard about the Green Chief program, what you guys are doing over there at Yakima Chief Ranches. And then just the constant kind of press and kind of strive for quality and traceability is so much involved there. You’re a part of that, what, 24 hours a day, right?
[00:21:05] JC: Yeah, absolutely. That quote is inspiring. That’s something that we talked about a lot with Jason that comes down from Jason and his family. He’s really adamant about that, and literally, the logo of our company. When it comes to serving those different constituents, the Footprints Program is really elevating all of our games intentionally. By design, our company is only going to prosper when the connection is strong between farmers and brewers. That’s literally our purpose statement.
And so, our Footprints Program, it fits in as far as carrying that value across the finish line, making sure that we can provide our growers with all the most updated information, best practices as far as just growing, limiting inputs, and truly making our farm smarter and not harder, and making them truly multi-generational. And the footprints in the field is that idea of; we really have to be out there. You have to be amongst the plants; you have to be involved and intentional.
[00:22:05] JP: Like Joe said, it’s something that my grandfather used to say, if you look it up, it’s an old proverb, an old Chinese proverb, I think. You got to be present. With my grandfather, for him, what that meant was you just got to be out the field. You can’t farm from a desk; you can’t farm just from your pickup, you got to be out there. You gotta be looking at your plants and understanding it. The idea is to extend that philosophy across everything we do.
So, the footprint can be literal, and it can be symbolic, obviously. We have a wide footprint that covers a large part of the global brewing industry. And so, if we can have a positive impact on that, create some positive change, that’s what it’s all about.
[00:22:40] TT: Yeah, there’s probably some listeners out there confused about Yakima Chief Ranches and Yakima Chief Hops. Most of the brewers, the kind of the end-users, are getting Yakima Chief Hops, YCH, if you will, through Country Malt Group. You want to spend a couple of minutes talking about that relationship there?
[00:22:58] JP: I think it’s somewhat intentional that there’s a little bit of confusion because we want everybody to associate the two as being part of the same supply chain. And so, they are separate entities, and they have different roles in the supply chain. But definitely, we’re all part of the same overreaching vision in terms of making that connection between growers and brewers and beer drinkers. But if you back up to the late ‘80s, Tom Carpenter, his family at Carpenter Ranches, they’ve got the longest hop growing history in the Yakima Valley as I recall. They grow up to like six generations now. But anyways, Tom had a vision to make that connection. He was looking at the way hops are traditionally sold through the broker networks and realized — “Why can’t we do this ourselves?” And so, he had the vision to actually make that connection and start selling hops directly from grower to brewer. And so, he got a hold of my father and then Mike Smith, Kevin’s father, and they formed a couple different companies, at the time, the Sunrise Hop Marketing and then Yakima Chief Ranches and Yakima Valley Hop Storage.
Yakima Chief Ranches was a farming entity, at which time we started breeding hops, as almost like a side project under Chuck’s direction. And then Yakima Valley Hop Storage was the processing piece, and Sunrise Hop Marketing was the sales piece. The processing and sales piece evolved into Yakima Chief in the late ‘90s brought more growers on, and then the Yakima Chief Ranches piece spun off as a separate company that we renamed as Select Botanical Group, where we actually sold the farm piece off and just kept the breeding piece. And so, for a number of years, we operated under the name Select Botanicals Group.
Meanwhile, Yakima Chief evolved and ended up, over the course of years developing partnerships with Hop Union, Hop Union, and Yakima Chief, eventually merged, forming what we know as Yakima Chief Hops now. Meanwhile Yakima Chief Ranches, when that change was made, we switched our name from Select Botanicals Group back to Yakima Chief Ranches to make that tight association with Yakima Chief Hops. So, it’s a bit of a tangled web we weaved, but it all makes sense to us anyways.
[00:25:01] TT: Absolutely. How do you come up with the names of some of these new varietals? Do you have one person on staff that just is like coming up with crazy @%$ names? Or how do you go about doing that?
[00:25:12] JP: It’s not just one person. It’s usually a joint effort. All of us kind of put our creative hats on and try to figure it out and come up with something new and unique. The challenge we face though is the brewing industry. Finding names that are unique and not stepping on anybody’s trademarks or anything like that becomes quite a challenge, particularly giving our branding strategy.
[00:25:31] TT: I know everybody on the call here has probably heard of some wild and somewhat crazy brewery names that we could probably rattle off. And some of them make no sense to me, like, “How are you still in business? You know, with that name, it’s just wild.” What would you say is that the wildest hop name you’ve heard?
[00:25:49] JC: Like Jason said, we’re kind of pinned in because there’s so many unique creative people in the brewing industry. I think it’s like a ponytail factor. There’s a lot more ponytails in the brewing industry than in the farming industry. I think there’s some sort of correlation there with like hair-brained ideas, but they keep coming up with funky #$% %$&^ like every single day.
Yeah, we are kind of pinned in by a lot of really creative folks and not want to trample on marks. We take our trademark seriously, and it’s important to protect your marks — and in whatever industry you’re in. So, the naming has become quite a difficult venture. And so yeah, Toby, if you’ve got any good ideas, man, hit me with a private message.
[00:26:28] JP: I always joke that we’re going to end up sounding like a pharmaceutical company here pretty soon trying to come up with unique names, just pick three syllables and shove them together and come up with something different.
[00:26:39] JC: Throw some Xs in there.
[00:26:41] TT: I’ve got a two-year-old. I can just quiz her, and she could come up with something.
[00:26:44] JP: Hey, that’s perfect.
[00:26:46] TT: Kevin Smith, have you ever gotten a pickup truck and just rolled into the family’s farm and start pulling some fresh hops to brew with?
[00:26:54] KS: Oh yeah. We do that quite often during the month of September. Last year, I guess we didn’t make as many fresh-up beers as we had in the past. In 2019, I think we made nine or something like that between some collaborations and some pilot batches that we did here. But I mean, typically, whenever we are brewing a fresh hop beer, we oftentimes just drive down right before we need them and pick them up. It only takes about five minutes to get from the brewery to the farm. And that’s if you’re actually driving the speed limit.
So, yeah, we’ll typically head down and load up a pickup truck, drive it back down, use what we need — and kind of every couple hours, just head down so we can get the most fresh stuff. Ideally, we just grab what we need, and we don’t like to let it sit around in the cold room for too long on those fresh-hop days. Because the hops can kind of sweat on themselves a little bit. It’s kind of fun. I think the guys on the farm kind of like it too, though. They see the truck pull up and they help us fill up some apple bins and we drive them straight down to the brewery and get all hands-on deck. And you know, get them into the kettle, the whirlpool, the hot back, wherever they need to go.
[00:27:57] TT: That’s pretty awesome. Jason, Joe, anything you guys can talk about in the pipeline as far as some varieties you’re working on or, like, some new stuff that may possibly be out to market soon?
[00:28:09] JP: There’s always something new and upcoming that we’re excited about. The big focus of the last couple years has been on the release of Talus, which is HBC 692. 692 is one of the more impactful hops, so one of the ones that I’m really excited about in terms of what it can do in a beer and the impact it has. And beyond that, then we got a couple others coming up like 586 is gaining a lot of traction, another one that’s really big fruit-forward but a little bit of herbal character. That one’s pretty exciting. Getting that out on a few acres. 638 is one that’s kind of like a light key lime, class centennial type.
Joe, what do you think? Am I missing any there that we should be mentioning?
[00:28:48] JC: 630 or so, the full disclosure, I’m onsite here down at Sauve & Sons Farm. Eric’s got a little one-barrel system where we’re brewing Simcoe Mosaic 630 beer right now. 630 is exciting. I know there’s a lot of traction. The Bale Breaker guys have have got to use that quite extensively. The 638, Jason, that’s one that I hadn’t thought about in a while. But I think the Bale Breaker-Odell collaboration from a couple of years ago is still one of my favorite beers. That was just awesome.
[00:29:21] KS: We haven’t brewed a 638 for a little while, but I remember making that beer with Odell, and that was one of my favorite beers we’ve made with them experiment, kind of showcase them pretty much only experimental. So, I think that was 630 and 638, and it was a delicious beer.
[00:29:34] JP: Yeah, that’s a good combo. The 638 with that nice light citrus. The way I described 630 in the rub, a little different in the beer, but in the rub, it’s very much to me cherry Luden’s, cherry candy.
[00:29:46] KS: A little different in the beer, but it’s a lovely hop. I’ve really enjoyed that one. We’ve worked it into a ton of our beers here.
[00:29:52] TT: So, Quinn and Smith, I’m going to go with Quinn and Smith. We talked about — from a Country Malt Group standpoint, when we’re talking to brewers, we’re always talking to him about the importance of contracting hops. From a brewer’s standpoint, and also some family involvement in actually growing hops and farming hops, you want to talk a little bit about what y’all feel, the importance is to brewers to look at contracting hops?
[00:30:17] KQ: It’s really important. I know, when I got into the industry, about 10 years ago or so, like, it wasn’t as popular or you know, I think that some brewers were a little bit hesitant. They don’t want to jump in and commit to something that they didn’t really know whether or not they’re going to hit. But I think that over the last few years, communication from the brewery side to the farm side to the brokers, as well, has increased. The thing that is really important for everyone involved in this process is to contract, because while on the brewing side, we know that we’re just taking our best guess and we’re trying to hit our projections that we can. It’s the only way that we can actually secure the right varieties that we need, and know that they’re there for us. But it also lets the farmers know what they need to put into the ground.
The more insight a brewery can give to the farm, the more stable kind of the entire market is. You don’t get as bigger swings in surplus and shortage. And it just kind of stabilizes the entire market, and it lets the brewer know that like, “Hey, you guaranteed this many hops of this variety and you don’t have to go searching around. You’re guaranteed a price.” All in all, if you can kind of like make the right assumptions and get as close as possible on what you need, it just kind of makes it better for everyone.
[00:31:39] TT: Yeah, and Jason, from the farm side, same thing huh?
[00:31:43] JP: Yeah. Kevin said it well. It’s absolutely critical for planning. The important thing to remember is, hops aren’t agricultural products. And we have a pretty small window in the year that we can make decisions to change. So, there’s just a few months there that we can say, “Okay, we need to make these shifts.” So, to have a contract in place is exceptionally important to us. The industry, when you look at the breakdown of our customer base now, it’s a relatively young industry, right? If you look at craft beer, where the bulk of our hops are going now, a lot of this growth that we’re seeing now happened in the last decade. But if you go back beyond that, for those of us that have been in the industry for a while, you remember the ups and downs. Those troughs and valleys and how painful those valleys can be from a grower standpoint. I mentioned not being able to make any reinvestment for a few decades, because there just wasn’t the guarantee that we could overcome that risk — just wasn’t there. So, we wouldn’t take those risks.
So, now, with contracts, with both of the production contracts, it allows us to be able to look forward, do some forward-looking projections with confidence and manage that risk, and so yeah, we’re willing to expand or we’re willing to make those investments. I don’t think the industry, the way it’s structured now can handle the troughs and valleys like it used to, because on the grower side, because of the level of investment that’s been made, and then just on the brewer side, the way that hops are being used, we could see some troughs, the prices dropped down. But if all of a sudden, those prices jump up to where some of those peaks have occurred in the past, that can be pretty damaging.
[00:33:11] KQ: I would say, seeing it from both sides of the coin that we get to see here. I know that traveling around and talking to other brewers, I think people are really worried about how correct it is. I think it’s kind of like — our business plans when we go through them. It’s not going to be 100% correct, but it’s going to be really helpful. And I would say just a couple pieces of advice that we’ve learned over, God, getting close to the decade of doing this, now, we contract for our core beers, essentially. And then we pick some hops that we’re familiar with, and we think we’d like to do one-offs and seasonals with, and we add some of those in. We contract out a rolling five years. But the fifth year, the furthest year down the road, so like, this year, when we finish our contract and stuff, it’ll be like 2026. But we’re only contracting 25% of our projected volume of 2026. Because we don’t know if Topcutter’s is over 50% of our business now. But people might decide they don’t like West Coast IPAs, and then you know, it’s 10% of our business in 2026.
Then each year, as you put a new one on, we move up each of those years 25%, so then your two closest years that you’ve contracted, so for us, 2021 and 2022, will be essentially what our best guess of 100% of contracted is. And I can tell you in the seven years that we’ve done it, we haven’t got it right a single time, but we’re close. And each year we tend to get a little better and you might make a bad guess or not. But being a little long or a little short on something, we can handle that. But not doing it at all means the growers might not have that in the ground.
One question I get a lot is about brewing. So, I get to have a lot of hop discussions, even though I’m not on the farming side. But it’s typically, we’re not 100% out of land, and Jason might know this better. But typically, when people are like, “Oh, I hear there’s a hop shortage.” Well, there’s a hop shortage because the growers didn’t have enough contracts or didn’t have enough notice, probably, to put the correct varieties in the ground, not in the whole Pacific Northwest, there was no zero acreage under trellis that we could add more hops to, right?
So, they need people to contract so they have an idea of what to get in the ground. That, I think, is the most important thing to keep from these peaks and valleys. It’s just like, we got to tell them. We can’t all of a sudden, throw a 2x increase on Citra and then be pissed at the price of Citra so high. No one is a mind reader. We got to communicate and get the contract out as far as we can so that the growers know.
[00:35:50] TT: This might be a question like choosing your favorite child, but we’ll go around the horn here. Joe, I’ll start with you. What’s your personal favorite hop combination in in a beer?
[00:36:00] JC: I’m old enough to remember the days of the 100 IBU kind of, out better each other IPA phase. And also, young enough to still enjoy some of these 7.8% 15 IBU IPAs. I’m partial to the mother-daughter tandem, Mosaic and Simcoe. Or, I guess, Simcoe and Mosaic in mother-daughter form. I just think the, the resinous, punchy, ‘piney-ness,’ combined with Simcoe, combined with obviously, everything that Mosaic has to offer still makes a really nice, drinkable, interesting, hop forward beer for me.
[00:36:36] TT: Jason?
[00:36:37] JP: I like something that’s bitter with something like Warrior, or even a Simcoe, somewhere along those lines. And then, that Simcoe and Mosaic combo is really, really good. You can’t go wrong with that. But I also like something that’s really complex. If you took something like Talus and Loral together, for example, and then rounded that out with maybe some hop or call it more of the backbone or workhorse type hops, you know, like the Cascade or something. We have several numbers of varieties that we’re kind of looking at for that same reason, that just kind of round things out a bit.
[00:37:07] TT: All right, Quinn. Kevin Quinn, what do you say?
[00:37:10] KQ: Combo wise, I would say probably Simcoe-Citra. Smitty and I, years ago when we were brewing on the little nano system at the farm, dialing in Topcutter and 41 recipes. Every once in a while, we’d have to throw in another beer because when you make, like, the same two recipes 150 times it gets kind of boring. But then again, that’s what brewing is. But we made an Imperial IPA with just Simcoe and Citra. I think it’s still one of my most favorite beers I’ve ever had. And then, if I had to pick a single hop, that is my favorite to date, and the most versatile, it would be Simcoe. I don’t think there’s a more versatile hop that bitters as well and flavors as well, turns out as well as Simcoe.
[00:37:54] KS: Amen to that.
[00:37:55] TT: I’m with you there. All right, Smitty?
[00:37:59] KS: It’s hard for me to pick between Simcoe, Citra, Mosaic. One of those hops typically in every beer that we make is the backbone hop. One of my favorite combinations for like a whirlpool — or just like a nice gentle, like, dry hop pale ale or something, is Citra and Loral. I really love those two together. It’s just like such a nice gentle combination.
I’ve been using Loral for quite some time and I really like it and I think it pairs like so beautifully with Citra. We kind of get this nice kind of citrusy, bright combo that goes on it. I used it in everything from like, Belgian Beers in the whirlpool to Imperial Hazy, and it kind of shows well.
[00:38:41] KQ: It rounds out the rough edges of the Citra, where it’s not too caddy and stuff that just rounds it out or it makes it really nice.
[00:38:48] KS: It would probably be Simcoe for the rest of my life. Citra would be close second.
[00:38:51] TT: Interesting. God, I hate doing this on Friday. It’s like I always want to cut out of work early. It just makes me so thirsty, man. I need a beer. Gosh. All right, Yakima Chief Ranches, out of the collective North American hop market, what would you say percentage wise comes off Yakima Chief Ranches farms?
[00:39:14] JP: If you combine are part of the HBC brands, and then the YCR grandfathered brands like Simcoe, Palisade, Warrior, we’re north of 25%, probably.
[00:39:28] TT: #%$@. I figured that was the case. I figured it was a very large chunk.
[00:39:33] JC: From my experience, not being a multi-generational family farmer and being one of the lucky ones that was brought into the fold. Just the growth in my nine years in the industry, and the camaraderie and the shared vision that not only the YCH Ownership Group, but all of our allied growers, and what we’ve been able to accomplish over the years has been really inspiring, been a whole lot of fun to be a part of. But ultimately, we’re not finished. We’re looking forward to keeping the momentum going and keep providing both our growers and our brewing customers with the best hops in the industry.
[00:40:09] JP: It’s important to note, Joe, that we started out with the model we’re working on right now, the idea of bringing, like, real sustainability to the industry. Longevity to the grower base. I think it’s important to note that that grower base has grown from — we had three growers in 2010, maybe 2011. And this year, I think, YCR is going to be working somewhere around 48 growers. Across the Pacific Northwest is less than 70 growers. So, it’s pretty cool to see that, to see that spread across and spreading that goal of bringing some of that economic sustainability to the wider grower base. I think we’re kind of settled into our groove, so to speak. And we’ve got our core group of growers that we feel that work really well with us, and it’s been a good thing.
[00:40:54] TT: Well, when we’re not drinking beer, fellas, what are you drinking? Smitty? Anything?
[00:40:59] KS: So, outside of beer in general?
[00:41:03] TT: Water?
[00:41:04] KS: Yeah. Coffee.
[00:41:07] TT: Milk?
[00:41:09] KS: One of my friends has a cidery. Her cidery is called Yonder Cider. Their dry cider is fantastic. And I guess outside of that, I mean, we’re trialing some CBD and some cannabis drinks, and so that’s kind of fun to make right now. It’s a little bit of a different development process than beer and playing with some different flavors. So, that’s a fun avenue to explore down as well.
[00:41:32] TT: Mr. Quinn, anything?
[00:41:33] KQ: Actually, gin, lately. I’ve kind of been really enjoying the complexity that you can get with a nice gin and also some tequila. But yeah, we do have a new taproom we’re opening in Ballard with our good friends at Yonder Cider. So, I definitely had more cider in the last few months than I’ve ever had and have a new appreciation for that.
[00:41:58] TT: Gin is a good one. I’m a fan of gin. I never thought I would be. I mean, I remember when I was little, my mom used to drink gin and tonics and I’d mistakenly grabbed that and took a chug out of it and I couldn’t stand it. But it’s pretty cool as I get older. The botanicals and differences there, it’s pretty neat. We had a podcast recently with Eddie over at Bairds Malt, Eddie Douglas, talking about scotch. But we brought on Bryce Parsons from Last Best Distilling, brewing up in Calgary, Alberta. Good dude. Good dude. But he did 52 different gins in 52 weeks, big gin guy. Yes. Good stuff. Jason, what about you?
[00:42:35] JP: Generally looking for sensory experiences, something new. I guess gin, because of the herbal characters. But definitely, I like a good bourbon and red wine.
[00:42:46] TT: Joe?
[00:42:47] JC: I know Jason loves a good Malbec. So, if any listeners want to send him a gift.
[00:42:54] TT: Package up a bunch of fresh hops and send it back out? You better be careful when you make that request.
[00:42:59] JC: We’ll reciprocate. Let’s make it happen, folks. I’ll stay on the red wine train in there as well. My wife, not only is she a stone-cold fox, but she’s a winemaker as well. Enjoy red wine as well, when I’m not drinking IPAs.
[00:43:12] TT: My wife is a wonderfully hot lady as well and such a good mother. I love her so much. Got to beat you out there, Joe. She’s listening. She shares this thing. So, I’m going to make sure I take care of her.
[00:43:24] JC: There you go, buddy.
[00:43:25] TT: Hey, Quinn, Smitty, anything else you guys working on you want to plug here? If I can get everybody to come out and visit you, I would. It’s so awesome out there. This thing called the COVID passes, I’ll give another plug. But we all got going on.
[00:43:38] KQ: I mean, we got two new beers. We had the unfortunate timing of launching our first year of Hazy IPA, last March. And then, won a GABF Silver in 2020 which was, I guess there’s never an unfortunate year to win a GABF medal but the fact that it was virtual, we didn’t even know we won it until people started texting us. But our Hazy on the grocery store shelves and then we just launched this month, our first year around Pilsner with all American hops. So, it’s an American Pilsner. We just call it Bale Breaker Pilsner. It should start hitting some grocery store shelves in six packs as well, and making that beer that can’t hide any flaws in the way that it’s come out and how consistent we can make it. I’m super proud of the brewing team on that one.
This summer we’ll be open in a taproom in Ballard, probably over in Seattle, in July. We got quite a few irons in the fire.
[00:44:33] TT: Oh, I see a picture of Joe just, there he is. I wish listeners could see it. He’s representing.
[00:44:39] JC: I told you I was brewing today.
[00:44:41] KQ: That one has Sabro in there. So, it’s got a really cool kind of like lime, pina colada —
[00:44:46] KS: Citra, Sabro, Mosaic. That’s a good combination there.
[00:44:49] TT: What’s the name of it again?
[00:44:50] KQ: Hazy L.
[00:44:52] KS: Hazy L. Yeah, it’s our year-round Hazy IPA. Your everyday Hazy IPA, 6.2%, 40 IBUs.
[00:44:59] TT: I’m about to mic drop this thing and go get me a beer. Can’t do it anymore. Can’t do it.
Fellas, I really appreciate you all jumping on. This has been awesome. I miss coming out to Yakima, but we’ll make it happen sooner or later. And for the listeners out there, I know the guys that Yakima Chief Ranches are always accessible. Obviously, their hops are available through YCH or CMG, just some quality stuff all around. Just super, super happy and I encourage everybody to reach out to either CMG or YCH, so we can talk a little bit more about hops.
Guys over at Bale Breaker, next time the listeners are out and about, take a look for their beers on the shelves and when this COVID stuff goes away, certainly make it a point to go out to see them.
So, guys, hey, appreciate it so much and man, make it a fantastic weekend.
[00:45:47] KQ: Yeah, thank you too.
[00:45:47] KS: Thank you.
[00:45:52] TT: All right, guys.
So, that’s a wrap for this episode of The BrewDeck. A great one. Stick with us as we release stuff coming up in the future episodes. Appreciate it. I’m your host, Toby Tucker.
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