Last Monday, we kicked-off our annual Hop & Brew School with a Welcome Reception at Bale Breaker Brewing, one of Yakima’s local breweries. With both commercial brewers and home brewers in attendance, it was an opportunity for them to relax and mingle with other brewers from all over the world, as well as our staff members. As guests put back a couple of beers and “nommed” on a few refreshments, they prepared for the long journey ahead of them, from farm to kettle.
Hop & Brew School is divided up into two sessions—commercial brewers and then new, nano and home brewers. Commercial brewers started off the week bright and early Tuesday morning for two days chock-full of presentations, field and facility tours, and hands-on workshops. Following an early morning breakfast (and a lot of coffee), we introduced Don Bryant, CEO of Yakima Chief – Hopunion, who spoke about our new hop products and services brand, YCH HOPS, and our mission, vision and values as a new company. He emphasized our distinct mission to connect family farms with the world’s finest brewers, which is ultimately the inspiration behind Hop & Brew School.
Following the introduction to YCH HOPS, guest speakers delivered a few enlightening yet entertaining presentations, such as Zach Turner on “Quality and Sustainability” at YCH, Patrick Smith from Loftus Ranches on “Quality and Sustainability” in the farms, and Casey Ruud from Old SchoolHouse Brewery on “Developing a Brewery.” After a hearty lunch, the brewers embarked on their harvest excursion.
The first day of tours took place at our production facility in Sunnyside, Washington, where attendees visited our Finished Good Warehouse (FGX), pellet plant and extract plant. They also witnessed truckloads of hop bales coming in and our talented operations crew unloading and testing each bale simultaneously like one well-oiled machine.
Day number two began with another awesome set of presentations by industry experts. Karl Vanevenhoven, Senior VP of Operations at YCH, presented on how hop extract is produced and how brewers can use it. Stan Hieronymous, hop extraordinaire, spoke about the chemical makeup of hops and why the information is essential to brewers. His presentation also underlined the fact that proprietary hops are ultimately a combination of other hops and the same characteristics can be achieved by the right mixture of multiple varieties.
Afterwards, Steve Carpenter, COO of YCH, talked about grower reinvestment and how growers are working diligently to keep up with the ever-expanding beer industry and the growing trend of making the hoppiest beers. Additionally, it included information on the ways that growers are increasing their production capacity through new and/or improved infrastructure, machines and staff.
Ann George of USA Hops then spoke on pest management, acreage expansion and the acreage shift in hop varieties. She concluded with a positive outlook on the future of hops, as acreage continues to increase and growers focus more and more on achieving higher quality hops and social responsibility.
The attendees then traveled to Perrault Farms, where they toured the other piece of the farm to kettle process—the hop fields and grower facilities. They visited experimental hop yards and walked through hop kilns and baling rooms, as well as participated in thorough sensory analysis training. As Jason Perrault stated, the hop fields are his “zen garden” and the attendees were honored to be invited into such an incredible space.
Any remaining questions were answered during a growers panel with Brad Carpenter of Carpenter Ranches, Reggie Brulotte of Brulotte Farms and Jason Perrault of Perrault Farms. The audience flooded them with their curiosity and candid questions, such as what their favorite hop is or why they enjoy being a hop grower. As Reggie stated, “It’s awesome. This is the closest I'll get to feeling like a rock star.”
We closed with dinner on the farm where our commercial brewers graduated from Hop & Brew School and we welcomed our new, nano and home brewers the night before their first day.
“I enjoyed the overall experience of getting to know the raw material itself and understanding it better. I was able to absorb the knowledge about the hops that I’m using so that I can apply it to make better beer,” said Kelsie Cole of Front Street Brewery in Wilmington, North Carolina.
We thank all of our commercial and craft brewers for taking the opportunity to experience the true essence of hop harvest with us. You all have worked diligently to expand the brewing industry the past few years, so not only do we hope that you left with invaluable knowledge, but we hope that it served as an opportunity for you to take a break and enjoy yourselves.
Stay tuned for our Hop & Brew School: Session Two blog post this week!