In 1932, the announcement came that prohibition would soon end. So Leota Mae Loftus and her husband, BT, planted nine acres of hops on the land that BT’s Irish-immigrant grandparents had bought with savings from years spent on the Northern Pacific railroad.
Described as “a force to be reckoned with” and “a woman before her time”, it never occurred to Leota that there was a job she couldn’t do. That is to say, if an irrigation ditch needed to be dug, crops needed to be picked, or workers needed to be fed, she was the lone woman on the crew beside (or in front of) the men, getting the job done. In fact, throughout the 1940’s, she was the only woman hop drier in the Yakima Valley. At the time, the drying process was managed through touch and smell – no fancy kiln sensors and technology to monitor the process. If you didn’t dry them right, all the work of the growing and harvest was for naught, and she had drying dialed in.
She made quite the impression on everyone in her orbit, including her young grandson, Mike Smith, now father to Bale Breaker Brewery owners Meghann Quinn, Kevin Smith and Patrick Smith. Mike spent every summer working on the farm, eventually coming to work with her full time at age 19 when BT passed away suddenly. Leota’s work ethic was so legendary that if you ask him about it today, he still shakes his head in awe.
Her stamina was only matched by her lust for life. For her trips to town, she was coiffed, manicured and stylish. She kept a lush rose garden, rode horses, and even dabbled in ceramics, somehow finding the time to keep at all of that while caring for her family, workers, and the farm. Not to mention the all-night parties she attended with BT at the Elks club, sometimes arriving home just in time for church.
This tradition of hard work and play has made its way through four generations of the family, currently landing on the shoulders of Leota’s great-grandchildren who founded the brewery in 2013. They have long been enchanted by Leota’s story, and are proud to honor her history by naming their 4th year-round beer Leota Mae IPA.
“As our family starts our 86th consecutive hop harvest, this new IPA pays tribute to our family’s hop farming legacy and the woman who started it all,” said Meghann. Cheers, Leota Mae, here’s your IPA.
Posted September 20, 2017
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