Hop Farms – A Love Story

Did you know that Iron Horse Brewery, located in Ellensburg, WA, is just a quick 40 minute drive from the hop capital of the nation? That’s right; just beyond Ellensburg’s Manastash Ridge is the Yakima Valley, which produces 75 percent of all the nation’s hops. Well, beer nerds, hop heads, self-proclaimed connoisseurs, I thought maybe we should take a minute to talk about hop farms—I mean, they grow our beer and they are practically just down the road. (Granted, it is a long, windy road, but I would be willing to bet that I could get from the brewery to a hop farm faster than some of your commutes!)

While I am no hop expert, what I can share with you is why I love hop farms. Number one….the pinnacle of why we all love hops and the most obvious: The Beer. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest. My first beer ever was an IPA. In college, I lived five blocks from a craft brewery and probably spent more time there than the library. (It was a great place to study—I swear!) I’ve loved beer from the first time I was allowed to drink it, legally of course. Enjoying the many styles of craft beer has undoubtedly added to my life experience—and yours, I hope! Without hop farmers’ hard work, we wouldn’t have the beer we have today. The hops cultivated by farmers are often the flavor focus of our favorite beers. Breeding programs, like the A.D.H.A, are expanding the list of hop varieties and offering new flavor and aroma profiles by creating new hops, like one my favorites: Azacca—which you can find in our new Hand Cannon IPA and kolsch-style Life Behind Bars.

Which brings me to the second reason that I love hop farms: The Smell. Unless you are from a hop producing region, it is unlikely that you have spent time walking through a hop field. Let me paint you a picture through smell-a-vision. You are walking through a field of twenty foot tall green bines, flanked on either side by trailing trellises of hop cones. You pluck one from the bine, pull it apart and release the lupulin oil into your hand by rubbing it between your palms. It smells crisp, fresh, and resiny with light fruit notes or scents of pine or mint or earth—depending on the hop. And, like you would expect, it smells like a fresh pint from the cleanest beer lines. Not like spilt beer or like the dampness of a brewery, but the purest scents of what your palate detects when you taste. It is glorious. And during harvest, when thousands of pounds of hop cones are running through the hop picking machine—it smells like you’re swimming in it. You are coated in it. And it is potent! Unless you have allergies, it is wonderful.

Last but not least, my number three reason that I love hop farms: The Farmers—of course! There is a long tradition of growing hops in Yakima Valley. For many of these farmers, growing hops is in their blood. It is part of their genetics. While hops are big business, a lot of it is rooted in small families. Grandfathers taught fathers who taught their sons. Grandmothers tilled the soil with their daughters in tow. Even today, many of these century old farms are still run by the same bloodline that started them.  I always found this refreshing; the image of generation upon generation churning the same dirt to grow fresh crops year after year, each leaving a little bit of themselves in the soil.

For three years I had the pleasure of working at Roy Farms. I’m not sure if it is because of the family ties to the land and tradition of working it, but these guys are truly the salt of the earth. They are hard-working, passionate, and fiercely loyal to their crops, the environment, and their employees. It is because of their dedication and innovation that we get to enjoy the “fruits of their labor”—beer, delicious, hoppy beer. So, if you ever get the chance to meet a hop farmer, shake his hand and say, “Thank You.” They deserve it.

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