We recently got back from a trip to America — I hadn’t left the State of Alaska for over two years! Maria and I had to go to Pullman, WA to attend my aunt’s memorial service. We decided to make the flight worthwhile by extending our trip a bit to go see some of the Olympic Peninsula and Olympic National Park. Did you know there are 63 National Parks in the US? The Olympic National Park is pretty wet in late September. The highlights for me were walking to the Sol Duc waterfall, and soaking in the hot springs there. Hot springs are nice in the rain. We also saw the biggest Sitka spruce tree in the world, and the largest red cedar tree. They are huge!
We had to drive to Pullman for the memorial, so we decided to stop in Yakima along the way, because we knew it was time for hop harvest! First thing we did was go to the hop shop, Yakima Valley Hops. Surprisingly, this year’s hops were not available there yet. I bought a little bit of last year’s harvest, which smelled pretty good. The sales attendant was very helpful and told me to come back in three weeks when the hops would all be ready for sale. We asked about stopping at a local farm, and she recommended going to CLS Farms, and maybe we could get a tour there. That evening we went to the Public House of Yakima, and sampled about 15 different fresh hop ales! Some were good, and some were quite… interesting. We learned about NDA — non-disclosure ale, which means the hop variety used in that beer is a secret! The Public House offers 5oz pours and serves up flights of different brews. Saturday was going to be the big fresh hop beer festival, but we had to be at the memorial at that time. Still, I feel I got a pretty good example at the Public House of local fresh-hop IPAs.
In the morning we planned to stop at Bale Breaker Brewing, our favorite brewery (with a small hop farm) in the Yakima Valley, to get supplied for the trip to Pullman, but they were not going to open until 3pm. Instead, Maria found directions to CLS Farms, and we followed a hop truck into their parking lot. I nervously knocked on the office door and a strapping young man came out. We told him what we were about, and asked about a tour. He said he could give us a tour right now! They were actively harvesting El Dorado hops, a critical ingredient in some special West Coast IPAs. He said a lot of it goes straight to California to Stone Brewing, for their “Drink By” series, and the El Dorado IPA. Huge plants were being loaded onto the conveyor and being stripped of flowers. The air was astringent with pungent hop aroma! It felt like breathing IPA. There are two hop stripping machines at CLS, but what was really interesting was the kilns that dry the hops. Rows of huge flat trays about 50×50 feet large, and four feet deep were filled with full cone hop flowers! After a couple of hours they pull up ropes from the bottom of the trays, and the hops from the bottom are stirred to the top — a cool, low-tech way to ensure an even drying process. Next, we went to the baling station. I wanted to buy a bale from our guide, but it was 200lbs, and I don’t know how I would have gotten it back to Alaska. I could have bought some fresh hops on the spot, but our tour guide said they start going bad after 24 hours. We got a picture with the hop pile at the baling station, and I guess that will have to be good enough. Our guide said that most of their hops go straight to CA, with Sierra Nevada, and Stone Brewing showing up with fleets of trucks and getting the stuff straight from the farm. I have to say I was a little jealous of the quality of the hops that were not available to me, a super small-time home-brewer-artist guy.
We stopped at Fred Meyer and bought a few six packs of Bale Breaker brews, and headed to Pullman. I will never forget the hop farm experience! Those guys need a brewery at the farm to give the whole hop experience, something for us hopheads to wet our lips with, and not just smell!