Brewing great beer means going the distance to find the best ingredients out there. Brewmaster Robbie O'Cain recently travelled to the Pacific Northwest in search of the best hops in the world.
Hops, the spice of beer. One could fairly state that hops helped create the beer revolution, which has been dominating the headlines and winning consumers over for the past 20+ years. Hops provide many of the unique aromas and flavors which have helped build the craft industry. Cascade likely holds the top spot as most influential hop in the history of the craft movement and plays a significant role in the top two brands Starr Hill offers - Northern Lights IPA and Grateful Pale Ale.The ability to achieve such a wide range of characteristics and flavors stems from the amazing hops which are grown and developed right here in the USA. Specifically centered around the Pacific Northwest, the US is home to one of the strongest, most creative and fascinating hop regions in the world.One of the first things that really stood out to me during my visit was the significant change in climate as I travelled from Seattle, through the Cascade Mountains, and down into Yakima Valley. In a mere 90 miles the land transforms from a temperate rainforest into a desert.The water from the mountains is stored in reservoirs and feeds the Yakima valley agricultural business where a significant fruit industry exists as well.Yakima is a fantastic growing region for many reasons, including length of day (higher latitude leads to longer summer days), lack of significant humidity, fantastic irrigation system (fed from the reservoirs) and very few days with rain or clouds each year.Hops are grown on bines (rather than vines), which scale strings hung from trellises upwards of 20ft tall. Hops, planted in the spring, are ready to harvest in late summer and early fall. Hop harvesting is variety-dependent, with certain hops maturing at a specific time of the year.As a brewer, we're going after the female hop cone - specifically the resins and oils it contains. All of the hop fields are female plants and great care is taken to assure there is no mixing with male plants - as that can lead to seed, which is undesirable for brewers.Once the hops are harvested from the bines, the cones are sent to a separating and cleaning plant where they are separated from any other vegetative matter, such as leaves and sprigs.The hops are then placed in the Kiln for drying and storage. At Starr Hill, we use T-90 hop pellets in all of our beers due to the better processing and storage created through modern pelletizing techniques.In order to get the best hops that suit our desired flavor profiles, we head over to hop selection. Here we handpick specific lots for our contracts, as well as check out new and experimental varieties for future beers and test batches.We hope you have enjoyed our green journey through the hop yards of Yakima. We are proud to be able to bring you Starr Hill beers made with some of the finest hand selected hops in the world!Cheers,