Bale Breaker Brewing Company, bonded in 2013 on Birchfield Road not far from Yakima, is just the latest venture in a story that goes back four generations. The Smith family (three siblings and an in-law) have quietly become the largest single grower of hops in the Yakima Valley (2,200 acres in two locations) as well as the state’s fourth-largest independent brewery. The production facility turns out some 30,000 barrels a year, right behind Georgetown (Manny’s), Fremont Brewing, and Mac ‘n Jack. (Elysian is bigger, too, but is now part of AB-Inbev, owners of Budweiser.) The “world headquarters” of the global hops trade is right here; everything is sold through a cooperative called Yakima Chief.
As it turns out, you don’t need a lot of hops to make beer: brewing those 30,000 barrels of Bale Breaker requires only two percent of the family’s hops production (Loftus Ranches), but the worldwide craft beer movement has put new life into the moribund hops market. And that market based right here. Yakima Chief sells about a dozen varieties of hops, either in leaf form or in pellets, to commercial breweries as well as home brewers.
Along the way Bale Breaker attracted the attention of Jameson Whisky, which is trying to shed its monolithic image (7.5 million cases, owned by global drinks giant Pernod Ricard) by hooking up with hyper-local breweries. The first was Revolution in Chicago; Bale Breaker is the second. To celebrate the new friendship (which is more like a serious relationship than a fling), the latest batch of Jameson was aged in barrels that had been used to brew Bale Breaker’s flagship Topcutter IPA.
To celebrate its new release, Jameson hosted a “hop field dinner” on Bale Breaker’s home turf last night. Catering by Seattle celebrity chef Matt Lewis who closed down his Fremont eatery Roux earlier this year (garlicky mussels, braised lamb, kale & corn salad). Rain was in the forecast, but held off; instead, starry skies and canopy lights that seemed to twinkle in the warm summer breeze.