Hop Trek Part 1: Yakima

I am standing on the base of an upturned tree, on a ridge overlooking the jagged tips of the Cascade Range of northern Washington. It is dark, save for the blue illumination of a new moon. Around me, the ancient sun-baked roots of a toppled spruce tree fan out mechanically in all directions forming a throne Ralph calls the “Starship Enterprise.” For HopUnion’s gregarious leader Ralph Olson, this is a retreat from the high-pressure world of hops down in Yakima, just an hour to the east. The fact that he has bestowed this imaginative fantasy on a dead tree speaks worlds about those who spend time in the hop trade.


Hop Trek Part 2: Saaz

I am met in the Czech Republic by Richard Mattas, Managing Director of Czech Hops Worldwide, the HopUnion affiliate there. As he whisks me off toward the hop region, we first stop at Plzen, about an hour south of Prague. At the Pilsener Urquel brewery we quickly ditch the tour and duck into the brewhouse. There’s a cart near the kettles holding a can of tarry hop extract and a bag of sharp-smelling pellets next to the more traditional Saaz aroma hops.


Hop Trek Part 3: Hallertau

Change is occurring in all of the world’s hop regions, but is most dramatic in the largest of those, the Hallertau of Bavaria. Hops are still grown in “gardens” here, with an average size of about 15 acres, despite the fact that there are over 43,000 acres in cultivation. Today there remain just one-eighth the number of farms as in 1900, despite the ten-fold size of the harvest. This consolidation, which will continue into the future, is having a dramatic impact.


Hop Trek Part 4: Kent

The region of Kent is just to the south and east of London, a rolling green land dotted by ancient villages and castles. Situated between London and the coast closest to France, it has always been washed by foreign influences: Celts and Romans, then the Normans in 1066, and waves of Flemish immigrants in the late 15th century who brought their beloved hops with them, changing the region—and British beer—forever.