Hop Shopping with Founders Brewing Brewmaster

Founders Brewing brewmaster Jeremy Kosmicki selects centennial hops for next year’s beers.

written and photographed by Jackie Dodd

It’s a mecca of sorts for every brewer in the country, hallowed ground that’s been trampled by every important beer maker in the world— and it just so happens to be in our own backyard. Yakima isn’t necessarily a top travel destination for most, but for the true 1 percent of the beer community, it ranks well above Munich during Oktoberfest. Traversing the valley during harvest behind the brewers from Founders Brewing, I felt the indelible weight of touching the bines, smelling the crushed, fresh leaves in my hand, drinking a pint made with a hop I might never taste again, and doing it all next to the most important brewers alive today.

We drove toward the back of a hop field, its remaining bines being stripped from the wires. Rowdy brewers and hop growers, loudly chatting just minutes ago, were suddenly silent with reverence and respect as we walked inside,. A small back room, lit by overhead fluorescent lights, held a table front and center. Hops sat in small cylindrical containers, as if on a stage waiting for their moment of judgment. If they were capable of emotion, they’d be nervous.

Only the brewers sat. Each brewer looked down, shutting the rest of the world out, assessing the piles of hops— all different lots of the same variety. The brewers were here to choose—not the type of hops, that was already decided— but which of the centennial hops, all meticulously grown in different parts of the Paci c Northwest, like deciding which Granny Smith apple to bake with, the ones grown in Yakima, Hermiston or Idaho. To the average beer drinker, the difference between each pile isn’t even perceivable—all have the same size, shape, color and basic aroma. But to these experts, the difference can make or break next year’s beer. The decision is crucial.

As the spectators waited, the churning of thoughts, senses, and indefinable gut feelings was palpable. The brewers rubbed the hops into oblivion between their hands, pressing their faces into their palms, closing their eyes and inhaling deeply at each pile. The room remained silent—you don’t talk in a man’s backswing.

When it was over, the room instantly felt lighter. The brewers returned to the present and compared notes. Smiles returned to their faces and for a second you could see a flicker of doubt—did they get it right? When everyone came to the same conclusion, doubt was replaced by satisfaction.

When it was over, we ate, leaving the space to make room for the next crew and shaking hands with the owner of Sierra Nevada. Heading to the restaurant we passed other celebrities of the beer world. We all stayed at the same two hotels, ate at the same restaurants, and drank at the same bars. It was like Craft Beer Summer Camp. If there was ever a time before this when I felt lucky to live in Washington, this beat it by a mile.

On the Hunt for Good Beer

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