What’s Brewing

Welcome back to the Brewer’s Corner! This month we’re talking hops. Founder and brewer Mark Hedrick recently made the trip to Yakima Valley for the hop harvest and here’s how things went.

Last month, for the 2nd year in a row, Alter Brewing Company was fortunate enough to make the trek to Yakima, Washington for the 2019 hop harvest. Surrounded by rolling hills, hop fields, and beautiful Mt. Rainier on the horizon, a collection of some of the brightest minds in beer spent 2 days visiting fields in search of the best hops. In 2018, our first time selecting, we were limited to just 2 varieties, but with continued relationship building with our suppliers we were able to select 6 varietals this year. We now feel that this annual trip to Washington is essential for consistency and quality, as we discovered early on that a single hop variety can exhibit very different flavor and aroma characteristics when grown in different regions. This year we selected some of our absolute favorites: Amarillo, Centennial, Chinook, Crystal, El Dorado, and Sultana. Not a bad arsenal of hops, especially when you are able to pick the very finest!

This year, the harvest began a couple weeks ahead of usual due to the plants maturing quicker from the abundance of rain. As a result, nearly 80% of the 4000 acres of hops grown by our supplier, Hopsteiner, were harvested before our visit. We walked many of the fields that grow the varieties we were shopping for, along with some small single hill and experimental lots. There are some very interesting varieties that will be introduced to brewers in the coming years that we are very excited to get our hands on them. Imagine hops that smell like fresh strawberries, gummi bears, and bubblegum…  Stay tuned.

After visiting the fields, we headed over to the processing plant where the bines and leafy material are separated from the hop cones, and then baled into 200 lb. packages.  A small percentage will stay in cone format while the rest go on to be pelletized.  Needless to say, the aromatics that are produced in these factories are nothing short of intoxicating!  It was like being in a brewer’s candy store. Check out this cool video of the hop facility in action!

In addition to being an important trip to hand-select the hops we use in our beer, this experience is also an amazing opportunity to connect with amazing brewers from across the country. Surrounded by mountains of hops (and regular mountains too), we were able to exchange ideas, talk shop, and converse about the latest trends in beer. Talk about icing on the cake.

We can’t wait until these hops are in house next year for us to brew with so we can share the results with you!

Until next time, Cheers!

Mark Hedrick
Co-Founder Alter Brewing Company