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When we opened Bale Breaker in April 2013, we only had Field 41 and Topcutter available for both distribution and taproom sales…unless you counted our 3rd option we would offer visitors – a pint of 41 Cutter, a 50/50 mixture of our two beers at the time. While they were selling fast and keeping our business afloat, we knew we needed to add to our core lineup of beers. With our long history in hops and the fact that we literally sit in the center a hop field, it seemed natural to have that third beer be a big, hop-forward Imperial IPA.
Field 41 and Topcutter kept all of our fermenters full for nearly a year, but in early 2014, we started doing test batches of an Imperial IPA – not only to experiment with the recipe ourselves but also to get feedback from our fans. And since this was pre-Imagination Station days, we had to brew at least a 30-barrel batch at a time (~60 kegs), so we had no choice but sell pints over the counter too!
We had decided that this beer would fit into the lineup with the name Bottomcutter (named for the tractor that leads the topcutter through the fields during harvest), but while we were testing different recipe variations, we didn’t want to release the name just yet, so we started a new experimental line of beers called Kiln Series. Kiln Series #001 Imperial IPA was first packaged almost five years ago exactly – February 2014. As tank space allowed over the next year, we tested out a few different variations of IIPAs under the Kiln Series name, finally settling on the recipe for what is now known to our fans as Bottomcutter.
(Funny side note… Head brewer Kevin Smith knew he struck gold with the recipe when his wife tasted it for the first time and said she was certain she found the right man to marry since he was the brains behind this beautifully amazing concoction!)
Bottomcutter IIPA was first released draft-only in March 2015, and in that first year, we sold over 300 barrels of it total. Throughout 2015 and into 2016, we were brewing at full capacity, so most was sold on allocation basis only. We received great feedback from our fans on the new addition, and that year, it won a Gold medal in the annual Washington Beer Awards for Imperial/Double IPA. At the time, we still had a very limited number of beers available in the taproom, so another fan favorite became a 75/25(ish) ratio of Field 41 and Bottomcutter. (Seriously, you should try it next time you’re in the taproom.)
Before our third anniversary, we had reached full capacity at our facility and needed to expand in order to keep up with demand, so in 2016, we embarked on a 16,000 sq.ft. building expansion, allowing us room for more (and larger) fermenters, an upgraded canning line, and more. Once complete (summer 2016), we finally had the ability to brew more Bottomcutter to satisfy the ever-growing demand for this beer. After a year and half of only being able to find it on tap around the state of Washington, in September 2016, we finally released Bottomcutter cans throughout our distribution footprint. Lucky for us, the reputation of this beer was solid, and 6-packs of Bottomcutter were immediately approved for the Fall 2016 resets at all major grocery chains in Washington. That year, production of Bottomcutter reached almost 1,200 barrels, and in 2017, it grew to almost 2,300 barrels produced – which is more beer than our entire brewery sold in 2013! In 2017, Bottomcutter was also awarded a Gold medal for Imperial IPA in SIP Magazine’s Best of the Northwest competition.
While its history is fun, we can’t miss this opportunity to talk about the beer itself, since (in true Bale Breaker style) it is also a unique take on an Imperial IPA. Imperial IPAs are often heavy on malt character, which can overshadow the hop character that we work so hard to showcase, especially as a big beer like this ages. Rather than load a ton of malted barley into the mash tun to drive the alcohol content to an appropriate level for an Imperial IPA, we add dextrose to bump up the alcohol without increasing any perceived malt sweetness – a perfect base to show off the over FIVE pounds per barrel of Citra, Simcoe, Ekuanot, and Mosiac that we add from brew day through dry-hopping. Since Bottomcutter is literally packed with hops, it is sold at a higher price point than our original core beers, Field 41 and Topcutter. A downside to so many hops (yes, there actually IS a downside) is that we yield less finished beer when brewing Bottomcutter since all those dry hops soak up beer in the fermenter, and the weight limit of our scissor lift is nearly maxed out on dry hop days – the lift only holds 550 lbs, and with 260 lbs of hops and an employee or two, it can be a tight squeeze!
As for the name, similar to a topcutter, a bottomcutter is a piece of farm equipment unique to the hop industry that is only used for one month a year – during the annual hop harvest. This tractor is the first implement to hit the fields during harvest, cutting the base of the hop plant just above the ground so the vine is hanging suspended from the top wire of the field. (Get it…bottom-cutter?) The vine can’t be separated from the base of the plant for too long or it will start to dry out, so the bottom cutter is followed closely behind by a hop truck and topcutter tractor, where the rest of the vine is cut from the trellis and laid in the bed of the hop truck, ready to be transported back to the picking machine. Like Topcutter’s story, before this tractor was fabricated, hop vines were cut manually by a crew of workers with machetes who walked up and down each hop row, just ahead of the hop truck.
Luckily for all of our Bottomcutter fans out there, the future of this beer is bright! Six-packs are sold at most major grocers throughout the state of Washington, and we’re hoping that our recent expansion into Oregon means we’ll gain a strong following for the beer in that new market. Many people who visit our taproom thinking they don’t like hoppy IPAs end up with Bottomcutter as their go-to Bale Breaker beer. It’s just the right amount of fruity yet dry, boozy yet easy-drinking. Basically, yum.
Posted January 25, 2019