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Musing: Wine top dog where hops grow

New hopyardLet’s start with good news from Yakima. Here’s one of several new hopyards we saw Sunday and Monday. You can see why farmers point out it takes more than a year to make a hop field productive. Hops are well up the strings in nearby fields.

A day and a half driving through one of the world’s premier hop-growing regions was a mixed bag. We saw plenty of hop memories — vacant buildings where hop merchants once did business, a hop kiln you can spot from the Interstate, and of course the American Hop Museum in Toppenish.

It was also evident that wine is a much stronger tourist attraction. Interstate exit signs advertise stops with wineries, and we’re talking scores of choices. The banners in downtown Yakima remind visitors this is Washington Wine Country. Many of the tasting rooms were jammed during the Memorial Day weekend, while we were the only visitors at the Hop Museum.

Daria and Sierra have both written about that experience, disappointing from the moment we walked through the door covered with plywood. It felt like the beginning of a museum when I visited in 1997, but nothing appears to have been done since. Including maintenance. It made me think I really need to take them the German Museum of Hops (Deutsches Hopfenmuseum) in Bavaria this fall so they’ll see a hop museum done right.

Quite simply, this one does not reflect the love of hops that American brewers expend in creating beers that celebrate American hops. Perhaps we need to put a tax on Simcoe and Amarillo hops to pay for some upkeep — and that way those hop varieties might merit a mention somewhere within its walls.

Former Grant's Brewpub

As appropriate as it turned out that America’s first brewpub, variously known as Grant’s Brewery Pub and Yakima Brewing and Malting, opened in hop country it should be sobering that starting in Yakima you can now visit scores of wineries before you find the first brewing operation (Snipes Mountain in Sunnyside). Grant’s, housed in the old downtown train station, still looks great from a distance. Hops are etched in the glass doors leading into the pub, along with the hours. But the only thing inside is the old wooden bar, and cobwebs hang around the windows.

Fortunately we headed from there to Moxee. Amarillo and Simcoe are grown here. Don’t you wonder what Bert Grant would have done with those hops? Here there are more hopyards than vineyards, but as across all the rolling hills of Yakima Valley more fruit trees than anything. Also plenty of sheep, goats, cattle — we later visited a cheese factory that can process a half million gallons of milk a day — and horses. (Apparently the Yakima Valley is a top pot producer as well.)

Yakima hop workers

Although it was Memorial Day, we spotted several crews at work in the hopyards, a quick reminder that hops are downright labor intensive as far as agricultural products go.

Worth appreciating.

A note from Yakima Sportsman’s Park: I plan to continue with Monday musings throughout our journey, but there are times I’ll be writing on Monday and not posting until I find the next Internet connection.

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5 Responses to Musing: Wine top dog where hops grow

  1. Todd May 28, 2008 at 7:09 pm #

    Thanks so much for the updates and picts of the Northwest tour.
    I wish I was there but I’m glad I’m here. I’m in the field doing the same thing as the picts and things here look similiar. We finally got the heat here in NM and it looks like so did Yakima. Please keep posting.

    When I did the NW tour, I also got worked up for the Hop museum and got the sort of hmmmmm,…. “let down”? not really?…..But…………I got some really cool t-shirts and a really cool plastic hop bine with cones. I sure learned alot from the old picts. Hmmm.

    You know, your post of how old and sort of run down some things were got me to think.
    Could all of it be some of the fallout from such highly reduced prices for hops for so many years? Folks quit caring and just move on to more fertile ground???

    See if you can get Ralph to take you for the inexpensive, giant prawn cocktails in Moxee. Maybe the awesome deals for such great food is related to the cobwebs.

    But, maybe the price of prawns is now related to the price of hops. Ouch!

    Thanks for the updates from the real fields Stan!!!

  2. Stan Hieronymus May 29, 2008 at 8:52 am #

    Good point, Todd. The state of the museum may have been influenced by deflated hop prices.

    Also, Toppenish is NOT a tourist destination – hard to plow money into keeping up a place people don’t visit. But if people came to the region to sample beer like they do to sample wine then it would be a perfect location.

  3. Sam May 29, 2008 at 11:09 am #

    Sounds like a chicken or egg problem

  4. Todd May 29, 2008 at 4:47 pm #

    I was shocked that Toppenish, Moxee, Yakima and more were not such a tourist destination. It sure was beautiful, the folks were really super nice, and if you groove with hops,,,,, wow! I guess I was never a winer.

    I’d sure think that every brewer that ever was eventually would make the pilgramage to the hop zones of the world.

    Nice people and beautiful hops in a real pretty place make for potentials.

    But,,,,, tourism is rough these days.

    Sounds like other places that don’t want anybody to know how cool it really is there……….. if you like that kind of place…. and kind of people.
    Simple life, no rubber biscuits

    I like the idea of hard farm work, cheap prawns, major hops, kind people,
    great weather, and hopefully great beers!!!!!!, and again, lots of hops!!
    Someday….
    Hops,,,, I mean hope…. I mean hops…….for the future.

  5. Eileen September 2, 2008 at 4:22 pm #

    I agree Stan. I would be all for beer tasting.

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