By Marguerite Washut, BBBC Marketing & Events Coordinator
Last year I experienced my first harvest behind-the-scenes as a newly minted craft beer snob. I shared my wide-eyed excitement through silly anecdotes and made promises of a bountiful crop and international ragers in the valley come September 2020 (ah, the naivety of a newbie). Then, COVID-19 hit and all of our hopes and dreams for 2020 have basically been cancelled.
Yep, that includes our beloved annual Fresh Hop Ale Festival and all the kickoff parties and soirees leading up to it. It’s a bummer, I know. We were all looking forward to it and let me tell you, Yakima sure was ready to show herself off to all of you beer-lovin’ folk, too.
Although we won’t get to roll out the red carpet for our extended family from all corners of the world, we are still growin’ them hops and thus, the show that is harvest will still go on. How, you may ask? Well, fear not – your #GirlMeetsHops is here! I sat down with Bale Breaker Co-Owner and Sales Manager Kevin Quinn to get the inside scoop.
GMH: Harvest is the busiest and perhaps most exciting time of year in the Yakima Valley – especially for the beer industry. With COVID-19 restrictions and regulations putting a damper on this year’s main attraction, will Bale Breaker continue to offer fresh hop IPAs this season?
KQ: Most definitely. Wet/fresh hop season is the most fun time to brew for us, so there’s no way we’re going to take that away from the team or from our fans. Wet hop IPAs, including ours, are typically debuted via draft, however, last year we canned our Citra Slicker Wet Hop IPA for the first time and received rave reviews. Therefore, we made the quick decision to invest in a can labeler to give us the ability to release small, experimental batches under our “Imagination Station” series with a much faster turnaround.
GMH: Amazing! So how many wet hop beers will Bale Breaker be debuting during this year’s harvest?
KQ: We actually have quite a few planned in the lineup. First and foremost, we will still be brewing our fan-favorite Piled High Imperial Fresh Hop Ale (draft-only) for growlers to-go. This season’s Citra Slicker will of course be released again in cans along with our first estate wet hop beer: Sown and Grown No. 4, using our homegrown barley along with our freshest homegrown hops. In addition, we’re collaborating with New Seasons Market in Portland with the exclusive release of another canned wet hop beer (stay tuned for more details there). The only caveat being each release will be in smaller batch sizes than originally planned due to the reduction in crop production and on-premise limitations.
GMH: What do you mean by a ‘reduction in crop production?’ Has that been another result of the pandemic?
KQ: Yes and no. Spring 2020 was a wild time in the valley for many different reasons. The obvious being the pandemic, of course, but the weather also hit us pretty hard. The year got off to a dry start followed by an unusual cold and wet summer, so hop growth was already falling behind compared to previous years. Couple that with measures taken in response to the anticipated slowdown in beer production due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re not expecting a big crop this year.
GMH: Wow. Mother Nature really struck us hard this year, didn’t she? So, what does that mean for hop selection? Considering we are the number one hop producer in the world, will it be slim pickings for the industry?
KQ: There are still a couple of weeks to go before harvest starts, but at this point I expect the crop to come in below our long-term averages. It’s definitely going to have a different feel this year, that’s for sure. Instead of traveling to us – we’ll be overnighting hop samples to brewers and hosting virtual selections. That said, I anticipate most breweries will have to reduce their batch sizes in response and thus, fewer beer offerings will be available in the market.
You heard it here first, folks! Time to stop hoarding the TP and start stocking up on your favorite beer the next time you go on your essential trip to the grocery store. And don’t forget – we offer our freshest batches/releases straight from the source during our curbside hours every Thursday-Friday from 3-6pm and drive-thrus every Saturday from 12-5pm. 1801 Birchfield Rd.
In the meantime, stay safe out there and don’t forget to mask up to open up!
Girl Meets Hops: A monthly column highlighting what really goes on behind the buzz at Bale Breaker
Posted August 07, 2020