Cowbell Hops to Yakima, Washington!

  • October 14th, 2016
  • By Stephen Rich

It was a beautiful, sunny morning as we drove into the town of Yakima, Washington. The town is located about 230 km southeast of Seattle and is the home of Hopsteiner, one of the largest hop growing, trading, breeding, and processing firms in the world. With over 170 years of hop farming experience and 36,000 acres of hop plants in the Yakima Valley, we were very excited to talk shop with our fellow beer geeks. We felt an immediate kinship with Hopsteiner because, like Cowbell, they are a family-owned business with a passion for creating high-quality products with unique (and delicious) flavours and aromas.

We were there to learn more about Hopsteiner’s operations and handpick our hops to make sure we have the most delicious ingredients for our beers. For the 2016 season, we’re buying nine different varietals; some had been bailed and some will be harvested later this month. These varietals are:

  • Apollo
  • Bravo
  • Cascade
  • Chinook
  • Centennial
  • Calypso
  • Eureka!
  • Super Galena, and
  • Denali

The new “Super Hop” Denali is a lovely, little, tight-coned hop that has the highest available oil content on the planet. Its pineapple, and juicy fruit characteristics will be perfect for one of our upcoming brews — stay tuned!

Not Just any Hop

After harvesting, each hop varietal is dried and bundled into 200 lb bales called “lots.” A sample, or “Brewer’s Cut”, is extracted from the centre of each to make sure it’s representative of the whole lot. Our tour guide, Doug Wilson, Regional Sales Manager, brought us five Brewer’s Cuts of the Cascade varietal to get us started. The order of selection went lowest alpha and intensity to highest - just as you would try beers in increasing levels of intensity.

The Hop Rub

When we test the cuts, we’re looking for consistency — leaf versus stem versus cone and seed content, moisture, colour, and most importantly, aroma. To evaluate hops, we grab a small handful and rub them vigorously between our palms until we’ve created heat. We then burst them open, which releases the volatile aromas, and bring our hands to our face to experience all the dominant and subtle aromas. We did this again and again until we found the choicest cut and eliminated the rest.

Team Cowbell hops on the bandwagon!

We’ll be having a team “hop rub” day at Cowbell. Hopsteiner will be sending us cuts of the hop varieties we didn’t get a chance to sample, and we think it’s going to be a great chance for the team to touch, smell, and understand the subtle differences in hops. Watch for it on Facebook.

What started out as a trip to understand hop farming and meet a new partner quickly became something so much more. Not only were we ecstatic about the quality of hops, but the testing let us see (and smell!) how unique each lot is and how important our selection will be. It’s difficult to say what the highlight of our trip was, since we also got to tour the hop fields and Hopsteiner’s impressive processing facility. Everyone we met along the way was fantastically passionate about hops and farming — I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.