COVID-19 Update: Bale Breaker Brewing Company’s taproom is temporarily closed to the public. We are offering beer for pick-up at Provisions Market in Yakima – click here to order
By Marguerite Washut, BBBC Marketing & Events Coordinator
Fresh off the heels of my last post about “What’s that Smell?!” – I got to further investigate this whole hop business by going straight to the source and getting a behind-the-scenes look into what really goes on during harvest. And boy do I have some thoughts.
Let’s start with the harvesting. We arrive at field 24 and come across a process that I can only describe as watching tractors go through a car wash. Except substitute the giant octopus-like cloths with giant octopus-like hop bines. Truly. It’s incredible:
So, you have one guy directing the tractors into the row, just like you’d have a car wash employee signaling you into the car wash – but instead of signaling with an orange flag, this guy is signaling the tractors with a machete. Yes, a real machete.
Apparently, this is how they used to cut hops before the Topcutter and Bottomcutter tractors became more mechanized but still sometimes rely on the machete in case the tractors miss a spot.
The Bottomcutter comes in first to cut the bottom of the bines, then enters the hop picking truck where two workers are literally in the bed of the truck piling up the hops bines as high as their heads. At this point, I was surprised they weren’t wearing snorkels because who knows how they manage to breathe under all those hops – but I digress. Finally, the Topcutter trails behind as the caboose to finish cutting the row.
Once a row is cut, the hop trucks are off to the picking facility to be unloaded and sorted through the picking machine.
Now, once I saw this process, I immediately turned to my guide and exclaimed, “This reminds me of the movie, Monsters Inc. where the rotating bedroom doors go through the Scare Room!” Watching the bines get whipped around the bend into the processor was definitely cartoonish to say the least.
After the hops are stripped from the bines, they are dropped onto a conveyor belt and sent up to the kiln to be dried out.
Talk about “what’s that smell?!” The moment I stepped into the kiln I was taken aback by the strong aroma and stifling heat that confiscated the room. I then looked up and saw mounds and mounds of hops being sectioned off, dried, and dropped onto another conveyor belt. So, I continued to follow the green hopped road.
Next, we entered the baling room where hills of hops were lying in wait to be baled. I felt like one of the kids in the movie The Goonies when they unearthed the long-lost treasure of One-Eyed Willy. Cha-CHING!
From there, we watched workers hand-sew the hops into tightly bound bales to be whisked away on trucks to ultimately be used to make yet another deliciously cold and tasty beer. In total, the whole experience from harvesting to baling the hops took about 45 minutes to witness.The full-circle of hop harvest was like nothing I’ve ever seen but one I certainly look forward to enjoying for eleven more months until next September. ;)
Girl Meets Hops: A monthly column about an amateur's quest to find out what's behind the buzz.
Posted September 25, 2019