Brewmaster’s Log – Hop Harvest Week 2016

Every year our Brewmaster, Jeremy, and a few other folks from the brewery head to Yakima Valley, Washington, to meet with hop farmers, check out this year’s harvest and select the hops we’ll be brewing with in the coming year. To bring you an inside look at the hop harvest process, Jeremy logged a recap each day, shared alongside photos snapped throughout the trip. If you’re someone who appreciates the “craft” in craft brewing, this behind-the-scenes look will be right up your alley.

Jeremy’s Day One Recap: 

Hi folks! Today I’m blogging for the first time ever. Last week I did my first Snapchat (follow us! We’re foundersbrewing). Maybe next week I’ll buy a Ferrari. Just kidding, I swear this isn’t a mid-life crisis. Just want to bring you guys along for the action!

But this isn’t just some random rambling blog – I have cool and important stuff I want to tell you about.  This week I’m traveling around one of my favorite places and doing one of my favorite things with some of my favorite people.  Yep, you guessed it – I’m in the Yakima Valley visiting our hop growers during the hop harvest!

OK, you probably didn’t guess that, but it’s totally true.  This is my fifth trip out here to Yakima – wait, where?  The Yakima Valley is in the state of Washington and it’s where around 75% of American hops are grown.  Founders uses a considerable amount of hops these days and we’ve established some really cool relationships with the people responsible for growing and processing these hops for us.  So every year during the harvest, we come out here to catch up with our growers, see what they’ve grown for us, and see what kind of new innovations or hop varieties they’ve been working on.

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And every year, we like to bring some new people from the brewery out here to soak in the experience.  This year, I brought Dave Powell, our Lead Brewer, and Steven Cummings, our Multimedia Specialist.  Dave handles most of our brewhouse raw materials management, so it’s a great opportunity for him to make some personal connections with the people he’s buying our hops from.  Plus, he’ll be super valuable in helping me to select which specific lots of hops we’d like to fulfill our contracts with.  Steven brought an arsenal of cameras and recording equipment, so he’ll be doing some awesome documentation this week (keep scrolling to see his sweet shots takes this week).  Plus, they’re both cool dudes that are fun to hang out with.

Our first stop this year was to see Graham Gamache at Cornerstone Ranches.  We’ve just recently started doing business with Graham, so this was my first visit to his place.  Like many farmers here, Graham’s family has been growing hops for several generations.  He also grows apples and grapes and was one of the first GlobalGAP certified farms in the US.

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Graham also has a Ranch House that was once home to his family but now gets rented out as a bed and breakfast and he let us shack up here for the night.  After a busy day of running the farm, Graham was kind enough to drive us around to check out some of his hop fields.  We stopped to smell a few varieties, like Mosaic, Chinook and El Dorado, and saw the remains of yards that had recently been picked, like Simcoe, Citra and a Crystal yard that was grown especially for us!  We’ll be using those Crystal hops in our All Day IPA for the next calendar year.

Back at the facility, we got to witness Mosaic hops running through the picker and drying in the kilns.  They’ve been picking hops for 23 straight days now, and the operation runs around the clock until all the hops are picked.  With apples also being harvested now it’s a busy time, so I’m amazed that Graham had any time to spend with us at all.  Really glad that he did, and he also seemed to appreciate an opportunity to relax for a few, have some beers and talk about our amazingly cool industry.

That about sums up day one! A few photos from the day below:

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Jeremy’s Day Two Recap: 

Day two of our hop harvest week was packed full of fun and learning, as to be expected. We smelled many a hop, reconnected with old friends, made some new ones, toured some amazing facilities and of course had a few fantastic beers.

We checked out of the bed and breakfast at Cornerstone Ranches after a great breakfast this morning and headed out for Segal Ranch to see some long-time hop industry friends, John Segal and Martin Ramos (AKA the Hop Whisperer). We’ve been doing business with John since 2010, and it’s one of my favorite stops here in Yakima every year.

As an extra bonus, we were joined by some super special guests today! Dave Engbers, our Co-Founder, has been driving across the country in a Suburban with his fearless wife and four young children. They met us at Segal Ranch this morning to check out the facilities and enjoy an excellent lunch in the grassy yard surrounded by hop fields. 

While Dave’s kids ran around and burned off some energy and John entertained his guests with some classic stories, Martin grilled up some delicious meats and his mother made fresh tortillas from scratch. It was an epic lunch for sure, complete with plenty of All Day IPA and some fried crickets too (as seen on Snapchat). 

After lunch, I got down to business of selecting which yards of Segal Ranch Cascade hops I would like to brew with in this coming year. The Segal Ranch team, who I believe grow the best Cascade hops in the Valley, prepared five bricks of bailed and dried hops called brewer’s cuts. Each brick has different nuances – what we’re looking for are those that have similar characteristics to the Cascade hops we currently use and love. 

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You can see video of us checking out each of these brewer’s cuts here (warning: the video expires after a few days). It involves a lot of rubbing the hops between your palms and taking a big sniff to see what aroma you get from the essential oils released by the warmth of your hand. We picked up hints of lemon, mandarin orange, tropical fruits and more. Even the kids got in on the action:

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After wrapping up our hop selection, we headed for one of our main supplier’s production facilities – Yakima Chief Hop Union. This trip was to check out their state of the art pelletizing and extraction plants, and we got a thorough tour from some of their main guys.

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Our last official stop of the day was at Loftus Ranch, where Patrick Smith spent some serious time showing us around his beautiful hop farm and sharing with us much knowledge of the industry. We then went next door to the Bale Breaker Brewery, where Patrick’s brother and sister run the best brewery around. 

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We still needed dinner, so I took every one to the Sportscenter, which is the local hangout for all industry people this time of year. They serve good food and have a nice beer selection, plus we got to catch up with all of the other brewers in town for the harvest as well.  It was a great finish to a productive and fun day. Tomorrow we’re back at it! 

A few more photos from the day:

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Jeremy’s Day Three Recap: 

Hey, Cadre! It was a long day and, as I type this, we’re heading into a long night of catching up with some industry friends. I’ve asked our Lead Brewer, Dave Powell, to step in and give you the lowdown on our day. Here it is:

Another beautiful day in Yakima Valley! We started out the day in Moxee with our good friends over at CLS farms. This was an important visit because we were selecting a large portion of our Centennial hops, which find their way into both Centennial IPA and our new seasonal, PC Pils. We were handed two brewer’s cuts and proceeded with the hop rub. Each cut had a some very distinct characteristics that all of us really enjoyed, so we decided this would be a perfect opportunity to blend each lot to create the best of both. Solid fruity and floral balance.

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Following our brewer’s cut hop rub was a brief tour of the CLS processing facility. It was very similar to most of the facilities we have seen, however they were the first farm we visited that has implemented the Wolf drying process. This is a German drying process that uses lots of automation and control during the process to create a more uniform dryness to the hop cones before bailing. CLS is one of two farms in the valley that uses this method to dry their hops and they’re very excited to dial it in in the coming years.

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Just a few miles down the road from CLS is Roy Farms, producers of the Azacca hops we showcase in Azacca IPA. They’re the only farm in the valley currently growing this varietal. I have to mention that Roy Farms is one of the largest hop producers in the country, with over 3,400 acres of hops! This is in addition to all of the apples, cherries, blueberries, and everything else that is produced there. Roy Farms is also unique in that that they do most of their pelletizing on site. They remove the bailing process and simply send the hops from a conditioning room right to hop pelletization. From the minute the hop is picked from the field and packaged in pellet form is about a 24 to 36-hour process. Impressive! Our Azacca hops are Roy Fresh!

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The final stop of the day was Hopsteiner. This was a bit of a hike from Roy Farms, but it was totally worth the drive. We wanted to see Hopsteiner’s new facility that basically opened at the beginning of this year’s harvest. Their facility was probably one of the more impressive I’ve seen yet. As a German based hop company, they use German equipment and process exclusively. Something unique to Hopsteiner is that they use a Combine in the field that actually begins the picking process. As opposed to just cutting the hop bine from the trellis and bringing it to the processing facility to begin picking and separation, they being picking in the field in an effort to decrease their carbon footprint. They are also growing some pretty cool experimental varieties that are smelling really good right now.

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After another long day of visiting farms and processing facilities it was time to wrap it up and relax. We joined some of our industry friends for a nice dinner and talked harvest. Of course we had to have a few more at the Sportcenter before we called it a night. Another busy day in the books and looking forward to more tomorrow. Check out a few more photos from today:

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Jeremy’s Day Four Recap: 

It’s been a fantastic adventure, but I’m afraid our time in Yakima is coming to a close. I can honestly say that this trip never fails to impress, though! The quality of the hops this year has been as good as ever, and I’ve seen a lot of farms investing in new equipment and expanding their operations. I’ve run into brewer friends from all over the country and made a few new friends, too. It’s been an amazing opportunity to hang out with our hop growers, talk about the state of the industry and the issues and challenges that face us both, and just generally get inspired by their sheer awesomeness.

First up this morning was a visit to Darren Gamache at VGF Farms. Darren is responsible for the Amarillo hop that has such a big footprint in various Founders beers, including All Day IPA and Red’s Rye IPA. New at VGF Farms this year is a brand new picking facility – a huge project that was completed just in time for this year’s harvest. This year’s Amarillo crop seemed very consistent from yard to yard, which is excellent since it took many, many yards to fill up our enormous contract amount (we use a lot of Amarillo hops). 

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A trip to Perrault Farms is always one of my favorite parts of the week. Not only do they have one of the nicest picking facilities in the valley, but Jason Perrault is also a master hop breeder. His experimental hop yards are where many of the next great hop varieties can be found. Not only that, but he has a little test brewhouse on site where he can actually brew with these experimental varieties. It’s truly an amazing experience to walk his hop yards and rub and smell new varieties that he’s excited about, and then go and actually drink beer brewed with these hops. He’s got some really cool and unique hops that he’s working on and I can’t wait until I can get my hands on some!3g4a0301

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Our last stop today was at the Carpenter Ranch, where we were welcomed by Brad Carpenter himself. We all hopped in Brad’s big red Ford truck (everyone there drives big red Ford trucks) and he took us out into the hop yard to see his crews at work in the fields. The Carpenters have developed a unique method that actually picks and collects the hops right in the field, while leaving the bines behind. We stopped to pick up Cleo, his pug, and drove on to check out a few experimental yards that they’re growing for the Hop Breeding Company. 

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Tomorrow is our last day here, and we’ll begin the day with a huge Simcoe selection at Yakima Chief Hopunion, followed by a tour of Hollingbery and Son’s brand new pelletizing facility, and the rest of the afternoon at the Haas Innovation Center. I can’t stress enough how important it is to cultivate these relationships with the people responsible for what goes into our beers, and how thankful I am that they are all so willing to take time out of their busiest days of the year to hang out with us brewers! Cheers to hop growers everywhere!

A few more photos from today:

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