Welcome to Yakima, Washington: America’s hop destination. Home to roughly 75 percent of the nation’s hop crop, the verdant spectacles of the Yakima Valley’s hop bines tower high in the air, standing nearly 15 feet canopying the rich soil and providing shade from the 200 days of annual sunshine the region receives.
In 2015 and 2016, the valley produced more hops than any other agricultural region in the world. Each August and September, brewers from across the globe make the pilgrimage to this hop mecca, to sample new innovative varieties, conspire with industry cohorts and drink beer from the source. For the first time, the Yakima Valley has a burgeoning brewing scene of its own, utilizing the hops that are grown in its backyard to showcase the ultimate in sense of place.
For beer lovers, the fall harvest is the best time to visit the Yakima Valley. As your designated driver delivers you from one craft brewery to the next using this weekend guide, you’ll pass the soaring bines, lush with matured hop cones and flowers, awaiting their harvest and inclusion in your next favorite beer.
FRIDAY: THE DOWNTOWN CIRCUIT
Cruise into town knowing a cold beer awaits you, ditch the car at your lodging accommodations and head out on foot to enjoy the hustle and bustle of downtown Yakima. Start at Single Hill Brewing, a sparkling new brewery just a block off the main drag. Taste through the line-up on the patio and grab a crowler to-go of the special release Cerveza or Eastsider IPA. Hop (pun intended) over a few blocks to Redifer Brewing Co. for a range of unnamed beers, brewed in such small batches on the two-barrel system that are different each time but always devoted to classic styles like IPA, ESB and stout.
Down the street and around the corner, Berchman’s Brewing brews with artesian well water, crafting unfiltered and naturally carbonated beers that regularly rotate in the historic taproom. Once home to the first brewpub in the United States since Prohibition, Yakima Brewing and Malting Co., beer staples to try are Mr. Ruff German-style hefeweizen, Dark Pony dark chocolate espresso stout and the Little Scot Scottish ale. Round out the evening with a stop into Hop Nation Brewing, which focuses on the use of Yakima Valley hops and Columbia Valley grain in its beers such as the Cream On oat-infused cream ale and the EGO (Everyone’s Got One) IPA.
SATURDAY: THE FOOTHILLS BREWERIES
On the edge of downtown Yakima, dropping into Valley Brewing Co. is an easy launchpad for your second day of Yakima beer tasting. Another new and young edition to the Yakima beer map, Valley opened its micro-brewing facility and tasting room in December 2017 to showcase its fresh brews like the light and bright Blonde Bite and the Citra Ass Down grapefruit citrus IPA. Continue down River Road to Yakima Craft Brewing Co. where the now 10-year-old brewery produces a number of time-honored fan favorites, like the 1982 red ale and Wizard IPA. Keep your eye on the start-of-the-art beer dispensing system called “Bottoms Up,” which fills pints from the bottom for a more efficient pour.
Hit the highway and head towards the foothills of the Cascades to Cowiche Creek Brewery. Here, you’ll find a smattering of hoppy selections like the Tickle Me Eldo pale ale to the Livengood IPA at this family-run and-operated brewery on a 44-acre parcel in the town of Cowiche. Next, visit another family-owned brewpub and pizza haven in nearby Naches at Bron Yr Aur. Try the light, copper-colored Scottish ale or a refreshing Vienna lager with a slice of pie touting house-made, beer-made crust with a view of the Naches River.
SUNDAY: THE CLOSER
Before swearing off beer until at least the next weekend, make the trip to Bale Breaker Brewing Co. to drink hoppy ales surrounded by one of the valley’s multigenerational hop farms. A variety of the “everyday” beers are available but talk your way into sampling a few of the small-batch, taproom-only selections, or order a pint of Leota Mae IPA — named for the great-grandmother of the family who ran the farm back in 1932 — and a torta on fresh baked bread from resident food truck Guerra’s Gourmet.