COVID-19 Update: Bale Breaker Brewing Company’s taproom is temporarily closed to the public, but we are running weekly 12-5pm Saturday Drive-Thrus. Visit our blog for this week’s menu.
Topcutter IPA was created alongside Field 41 Pale Ale. When we were planning to open, we knew we wanted to create a pale ale and an IPA, so we spent 2011-2012 crafting all sorts of both. On a mission to find the best hop combination we could, we took 20-gallon brew batches and divided them into four 5-gallon corny kegs to test each combination of dry hops. Dry-hopping is a technique of adding dry hops for aroma and flavor after the fermentation process is complete. Since the base of these beers was the same, but the post-fermentation process was different, we were able to identify which combination of hops hit the mark. 125 10-gallon batches were brewed the year before we opened.
HISTORY OF TOPCUTTER MACHINERY
Topcutters are a relatively new invention: before this machinery came about, the solution to cutting hops from the top of the trellis involved two men with machetes in a tractor fit with a crow’s nest. As the tractor slowly inched forward, the men would hack away at the top of the bines. Thankfully, this hazardous idea was replaced with a more modern solution. An oscillating cutter bar has replaced the manpower and machetes, making the process safer and much more efficient. The manual cutting with machetes was standard practice from the 1940’s or so until the topcutters and bottomcutters were developed in the 1970’s. Our great-grandfather, BT Loftus (Loftus Ranches), was President of the Moxee Development Corporation. The inventor of the early machines went by the name of Les Jesperson, and he worked closely with BT Loftus through the Moxee Development Corporation during the development phase of what we now know as the topcutter and bottomcutter. The machines have been simplified and have more capacity than those early renditions, but the concept is essentially the same.
Before cutting with machetes, hops were hand-harvested. The trellises were shorter than the current commanding 18 foot height, which blankets the Yakima Valley today. They were more like a basketball hoop – about 12 feet tall. During hand harvest, the vine was cut at the top from the ground with a curved scythe attached to a long pole. The vines then dropped to the ground where laborers picked the cones by hand and put them into burlap bags (along with rocks and dirt clods since they were paid by the pound).
The Topcutter machine is an essential piece of equipment for our family. Without it, our hop farm wouldn’t nearly have been able to grow to the size that it is today. To pay our respects, we named our flagship IPA after this modern marvel of an invention. We’re one of the only breweries who grow our own hops; it felt natural to us to relate our brand back to the hop farm. At the end of the day, the fact that we are so deeply tied to the hop industry is a major differentiator when it comes to flavor, freshness, and the high quality of beer we are able to craft. Plus, it’s just a cool story, and all of it is true.
Topcutter IPA has treated us very well and helped our brewery grow faster than we ever imagined. We are thankful to have landed on such a solid product from day one because it allows us to keep the lights on and innovate as we continue to grow. This beer is incredibly popular for good reason–the aroma and fresh hop flavor was a game changer back in 2013, and it remains unmatched in its category to this day. Topcutter IPA was one of the fastest-selling, independent craft 6-pack in Washington State last year! Having such a crushable beer available in convenient grocery store locations has made it a fridge staple of many beer drinkers in the Pacific Northwest! Cheers!
THE BBBC BACKSTORY
It was 2012, before kettle sours and barrel-aged beers took craft beer drinkers by the palate. Hops in craft beer were hitting the limelight, and we were (and still are) one of the few breweries who could grow our own hops. The hop farm, Loftus Ranches, lured us back to Yakima when we realized the farm-to-table movement could apply to hops and craft beer just the same. We loved beer. We loved the farm. What better product than a farm-to-glass beer? What other brewery could say that with as much honesty and transparency as we could? Eager to craft beer for the masses, we put our heads together to chase the dream.
Slowly we began to craft what soon became our classic lineup of beers. Each beer is named after important icons of the hop farm and story that helped to build our brewery to what it is now: we are the fifth largest independent craft brewery in Washington State. This month we are sharing more behind the scenes stories of our brewery and flagship beers.
Posted January 18, 2019