It’s officially Fresh Hop Season in our Yakima community as summer allows for the growth of that climbing plant that helps give brews and beers such great taste. Since 1872, farmers and beer enthusiasts in our fertile region have been cultivating this plant to perfection to bring a refreshing beverage to everyone’s lips and create a signature staple to our Yakima Valley region, forever known as Hop Country.

Yakima hops
Many local hop farms will host tours of their facilities so locals and tourists alike can learn the art of growing hops. Photo courtesy: Visit Yakima

The hop is a perennial climbing plant of the hemp family. The lush Yakima Valley is famous for its wild hop, Humulus mas, which is very different from its cultivated cousin, Humulus lupulus. This wild hop not only gives beer its aroma and bitter flavor but also aids in preserving it, giving the wild hop its advantage over its cultivated cousin. Cultivation spanning several centuries has assisted in creating this high-quality brewer’s hop that is used almost exclusively in brewing. Most experts can recognize the different varieties of hops not only by shape and aroma but also by the colors of the different plant types. It’s an intricate art that leads to the creation of delicious brews.

It’s said that Charles Carpenter was one of the first to have hop farmed in the Yakima Valley in 1872. Carpenter’s father, a settler in Constable, New York, was actually the one who supplied the cuttings so that farming could begin. By 1876, Yakima had sent 80 bales of hops west, and by 1890, hop farming was already spreading in a southeasterly direction. With this movement, Yakima County had become the most important hop producer in Washington State.

Yakima hops
Many farms in our Yakima Valley region are run by 3rd or 4th-generation hop farmers. Photo courtesy: UW Special Collections

Everything was in full bloom until the period between 1920 to 1940. Prohibition, the Great Depression, and a consequent overproduction threatened the very existence of the planters in our Washington State. Despite the new hardships, farmers of the Yakima Valley could still produce hops at a lower cost than anywhere else in the world, all thanks to their open-mindedness, which allowed them to convert to seedless hops at an early stage, thus improving the quality of hop picking. This innovative way of thinking and production established the basis for the excellent reputation of “Yakima Hops.” It was such a massive success that near the end of those tumultuous times, between 1939 to 1950, the Yakima hops were being exported worldwide.

Of course, the Yakima region had one more notable advantage over all others — it is the only region in the world where a farmer can plant cuttings in the spring and expect an entire harvest in autumn. This allows hop farmers in the area to react more quickly to changes in the marketplace, ensuring their continued success. Today, the Yakima Valley contains approximately 75% of the total United States hop acreage, with many of the hop farms in the region being third or fourth-generation family operations. Typically, a hop grower will raise a combination of aroma and alpha variety hops. However, in Washington, most hops produced are alpha and super alpha varieties, such as Zeus, Nugget, and Galena, that account for more than half of the total Washington hop acreage.

Yakima hops
At harvest time, hops contain roughly 75% moisture. If stored with that amount of moisture throughout the year, they would spoil. Hops are dried in a hop kiln to an ideal moisture content of about 9-10%, allowing them to be stored and used in brewing throughout the year. Photo courtesy: Visit Yakima

The Yakima Valley area is so crucial to the contribution of Washington State’s production of hops that they are the only region where hops are grown commercially. The valley is divided into three distinct growing areas: the Moxee Valley, the Yakima Indian Reservation, and the Lower Yakima Valley. Each of these areas possesses unique growing conditions to make signature ales with various tastes. For instance, the Yakima Indian Reservation is most noted for its vast open spaces and ability to produce superior alpha levels as a result, while the Lower Yakima Valley tends to produce outstanding yields during the first year of hop plantings due to its warmer climate.

It’s easy to see why Yakima Valley is one of the world’s most important hop-growing regions. Our sophisticated, environmentally friendly irrigation techniques, combined with our ideal growing conditions, enable our region to consistently produce the finest hops in the world year after year. As a result, approximately two-thirds of the hops grown in our area are exported to countries all over the globe, which means that somewhere on the other side of the world, someone is raising their glass right now and enjoying a taste of what the beautiful Yakima Valley has to offer.

Yakima hops
It’s amazing that such tiny little hops can produce such rich-tasting brews. Photo courtesy: Visit Yakima

Of course, the real treasures are right here at home in Hop Country, USA. Nowhere else in the world can you find a hop country and craft beer experience like the one here in our Yakima community. The production of hops keeps the beer industry brewing and has made our region of the world the ultimate destination for a beercation all year long. Not only do we consistently have beer festivals and events in celebration of our hop heritage, but we also have specialized local breweries open every day of the year so that all who visit our hop country can have a taste of perfection for themselves. It’s a craft beer scene that’s always hopping, and all are invited to take a drive through our hop fields and then raise a glass at any of our local breweries and taprooms for that signature taste that only comes from Yakima Valley!

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