We departed from the Land sciences building at 8am on the tenth of September with little understanding of what we were up against for the next five days; an overwhelming line up of brewery tours, beer tastings, hop farm tours and countless hours on a bus which smelled like hangover farts and the broken spirits of Canadian brew students due to excessive alcohol consumption, lack of sleep and because someone got curious and asked how much it actually costs to set up a self sustaining brew-pub, to which, “a lot” was the only tactful response. Despite the lack of nutrition, pickled livers and exhaustion, the trip proved to be an extremely valuable bonding experience for all thirty of us, as classmates and the brewing industry as well, as aspiring brewers. In each brewery, we were greeted with warm smiles, open arms and, of course, many samples of fine craft beers.
Our first stop was Fernie Brewing company. The brew-pub was hearty and smelled like pumpkins, spices and hay which blended nicely with the autumn colors of the British Colombia mountains. They had recently invested a lot of money into their brewery and very proudly showed it off during the tour. They covered everything from mash tons to canning and were very detailed. Even though I have had a few of their beers before, I sampled Kickstand, What the Huck and Sap Suckler, which was the local favorite. Sap Suckler without question stood out and stole the show. It was dark maple porter; full of flavor and good ol’ Canadian “Get-it-in-ya-bud” attitude that left you feeling wrapped in flannels and warmed from the inside out. Fernie brewing company seems to have a very strong relationship with the community. They had a few different charities and had some really cool recycled, Eco-friendly items you could purchase. Overall, the tour left me feeling all warm and fuzzy with Canadian pride and I will definitely be returning for a visit.
Our next stop was Kalispel which is a medium sized fun-filled city that has great taste in beer since it has so many breweries in the surrounding area. We unfortunately only had time to visit one brewery- Kalispel Brewing company- which was very impressive because it was pretty much a one many show based on my understanding. The Head brewer had and impressive degree in Physics and had fitted most of the piping in the brewery himself. He made the CO2 piping so that you could take it apart to clean it if it ever got infected. This tour was really educational for us on the technological and sanitation frontier of brewing and it still remained very interesting. I sampled the Dunkle which has notes of coffee and chocolateand was very refreshing. After the brewery we split up for dinner. A classmate and I stumbled upon a restaurant called Hops which has an extensive beer menu that includes many international brews (including trappiste beers) and a very wide selection of craft beers. Not only was the beer selection impressive, the food and atmosphere were both lovely. five stars for Kalispel, and with that we departed for the main event: Yakima, Washington.
So we visited two very different, yet both very substantial hop farms while in Yakima, Both of which were ridiculously fragrant, charming and educational. Our first stop was Puterbaugh which felt more like gram-grams country cottage mixed with an antique hop harvesting unit. It was a wonderful experience being able to get so up close and personal with the hops and the equipment that stripped the decadent little cones off the vines. The women who lead the tours were extremely hospitable, cooked us a fantastic lunch and gave us all some beers to sample and share. The second hop farm we visited was definitely more updated and bigger in many ways. Sunshine Ranch (Gamache & Sons) dwarfed Puterbaugh and actually owned the Amarillo variety of hop, which no doubt contributed to their success. This tour was a little more interactive, as we had the opportunity to actually feed a hop vine through the equipment. Seeing the insane quantity of hops, the vast fields and high tech processing equipment mixed with family owned, hand-me-down business labels sort of impacted me in way; I had my first realization of the sheer vastness of the industry and how historical and the impact brewing really has on communities worldwide.
We visited a few incredible breweries as well as hop farms in Yakima as well. At about this point in my journal, my writing and note taking became very vague and lacking in detail, probably as a result of the insane amount of beer I had consumed and the lack of sleep. The first brewery we visited was Bale Breaker, which was phenomenal. They have a very large set up for a brewery that hasn’t been up and running for very long. (they had larger than or equal size equipment to Fernie) Bale breaker is a managed and owned by a family who has been growing hops since 1932. Since they grow all their own hops they have the freshest IPAs i have ever tasted. The Top Cutter IPA and the Bottom Cutter Double IPA were both outstanding examples of how local agriculture and strong family business skills can produce top of the line products. The next Brewery we visted was HAAS (or JohniHaas). This was a very interesting company that brews experimental beers using the research they do on Hop breeding and Hop extract making. They definitely had they most high tech, well thought out brewing lab i out there. (even the tiles on the floor were specifically engineered for breweries). As soon as i walked in the front doors, I thought to myself, “This is where I want to do an internship. These are the people that can educate me the most post-graduation”. The building and equipment was impressive,they received the LEEDS award (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) the experimental beers they allowed us to sample were out of this world! all of the beers start by being a fairly normal Lager that they call “Flex” and they they add different hop extracts that they manufacture to create different brews like Snap (reminded me of gram-grams ginger snap cookies). In a nutshell, HAAS was mind boggling and they are the super heros of brewing ingenuity. Next on the list for Yakima breweries, naturally, was Yakima Craft Brewing company. It was much smaller than both the brew-pubs we had visited, but produced some beers that certainly packed a punch and held their own when compared to the larger breweries. they Marketing scheme was incredible and each beer seemed to have its own “soul”. My favorite was the one they called heather; light, refreshing and very easy to drink (Heather Ale is a very traditional Scottish herbal ale, apparently so delicious and important that the Pictish king, when taken captive, through himself off a cliff rather than share the secret of the heather ale recipe). The brewery also had another pub in the city that served up an INCREDIBLE steak salad and all of their breweries beers. I also tried their “Good monk” Belgian style beer which was a very good attempt at a style which is not easy to brew properly unless you’re a trappiste monk.
After all of our adventures in Washington, we began to make our way back home. We went for a tour and lunch at Snipe brewery in Sunnyside, Washington. This was a brewery with a very interesting “old west/ settler” history. Way back when America was still brand new, a cattle farmer set up a lodge that acted as a safe place to rest for travelers trying to make it big in the North-West. The lodge became so popular and well known in the area that it just managed to survive all those years and now is a wonderful little brewery. The beers were lovely, the service was lovely and I wish we had more times to explore and get a good feel for the company, but we were on a mission to get home! After snipe mountain, we spent the night in Spokane touring and sampling the beers from the Steam Plant restaurant and brewery. It was a very creative place in a very interesting historic building! The building was literally an old steam plant that had been modernized into a brew-pub restaurant. The architecture was staggering and had a very industrialized beauty. They served up a sample platter of eleven beers (one of which was jalapeno ale…not my thing!). The beers for steam plant which stood out most for me were the Oktoberfest and the stout. both stayed very true to the style and were very delicious.
Our last two stops were Laughing Dog Brewery and Kootenay Brewery. I have nothing but good things to say about both the Breweries, but Kootenay seemed to be yet another company i could see myself really learning a lot from if i could do an internship with them.The Head brewer (and ONLY brewer) was a fountain of knowledge and beer wisdom. He runs this brewery all on his lonesome, was obviously very talented and would make a fantastic mentor.
Alas, after what seemed to be the longest bus ride home ever, we arrived at home. This has certainly been one of the most valuable and educational five days. We met some of the most influential brewers and brewing industry leaders this great continent has to offer and I hope we can all cross paths again, have a pint and some laughs for the love of beer.