When you think of a beer, what ingredients come to mind? Water, a source of starch such as malted barley, yeast, and hops all may be on the list. Different types of beers, of course, all have different types of ingredients along with the many varieties of ingredients such as hops (around 130 varieties exist currently, for brewers to chose from).
Regardless of how it’s made though, there are several hidden ingredients in beer that you might not know about. Recently I’ve had the chance to move back to Yakima, Washington from Seattle after 15some years living and working there. I grew up in eastern Washington, about an hour east in the town of Prosser so it was in a lot of ways me coming home.
What I wasn’t aware of, though, was just how vibrant the culture of hop growing and beer making was in the valley. Did you know Washington grew 77 million pounds of hops last year, bringing in $427 million dollars and its all within driving distance to Yakima? That’s 77% of the total hops grown in the United States, on 75% of the total US hop acreage. Yakima even has shirts available on iheartyakima.com that proudly declares “We Grow Your Beer”.
It was in getting to know the folks at Bale Breaker, a craft brewery here in Yakima with a heritage in hop farming dating back into the early 1900’s that I really got to know craft beer. In so doing, those hidden ingredients that lie within each beer became evident.
So what are those hidden ingredients?
The first hidden ingredient is community
If there’s one thing you can pick up on walking into any tasting room is the close friendships that form between the patrons, and employees of a craft brewery. It’s really community that makes beer something that brings folks together, to share in good times and bad. You don’t have to know a brewer for very long before you come to feel like family. Beer, I’ve learned, is not only is great for bringing friends together, but helping make new friends at the same time.
The second hidden ingredient is love
There’s something special about hearing a brewer describe the beer they make. It’s the passion and pride they have for a job well done, combined with a love for making something that others can enjoy. Not only does a brewer, along with the team that supports them, love what they do but they love seeing people partake and are always willing to share how and what they do to anyone that asks. It’s a love and passion seen rarely in the office place and is evident anytime you encounter someone that works in the craft brew industry.
The third hidden ingredient is legacy
In learning about the history of beer, I discovered that there is early evidence of beer from a 3,900-year-old Sumerian poem honoring Ninkasi, the patron goddess of brewing which contains the oldest surviving beer recipe. Monks further refined the concept of brewing dating back to the 16th century, where people around the world have been refining and experimenting since then. In the Yakima Valley, Leota Mae moved to Yakima in 1932 and began cultivating hops on land still farmed by her family today (some of those Smiths went onto start Bale Breaker located on lot 41 of that very same farm). Multi-generation families grow hops all throughout the Yakima valley, with several more families growing other ingredients that make beer great. It’s a profession chock full of legacy, with more history added with each crop year.
The fourth hidden ingredient is creativity, along with innovation
Though there’s several more “hidden ingredients” I could chose from, the last one I’ll talk about is creativity combined with innovation. There’s nothing that demonstrates rapid prototyping, experimentation, and feedback better than beer. Bale Breaker has an “imagination station” where they are making small batches trying out new kinds of recipes and collaborations each day. They share it via their tasting room for instant feedback and aren’t afraid to totally fall on their faces while cranking out new experiments. The ones that make it, get their own can and sold all across the pacific northwest while the rest are shelved for the time being till they’re brought out to experiment with once again. Some experiments are seasonal, some are collaborations with other folks in the beer industry, and some are just for fun. It’s evident though, in how Bale Breaker goes about inventing new flavors though that they truly understand the importance of innovation and creativity to keep a business thriving.
At the end of the day when you add all this up, it comes down to the fact that beer is more than just the beverage. It’s the hard work, passion, and community that comes together crafting each and every type of beer that makes it greater than the sum of its parts. And that alone, is worth spending time getting to know and enjoy.
So head over to Bale Breaker if you’re ever in Yakima, or any of the other amazing craft breweries nearby. Or if you’re not nearby, you’re no doubt within driving distance to someone’s passion and hard work ready on tap and available to share with you and your friends.
Go smell, sip, and enjoy! And when you do, think about those hidden ingredients that truly make beer more than just a drink.