I grew up in Washington state, way out in the country. As a kid, I would often climb our backyard fence to grab a few fresh ears of corn for dinner from our neighbor’s farm. My mom recalls a one-year-old me in her baby carrier, devouring fresh-picked strawberries almost as quickly as she could gather them. Fields of grazing black and white dairy cows were as common a sight as the surrounding mountains. No one will contest that agriculture is a huge industry in Washington, but it still came as a surprise when I learned that 75 percent of the total United States hop acreage is in my home state! With access not only to locally-grown hops, but also unique new strains of barley and wheat, it’s no wonder so many microbreweries are proud to call the Pacific Northwest home.
Fremont Brewing is just one example of a native Washington brewery with a stake in local hops production. They’ve set up a partnership with a forward-thinking, fifth-generation hop-growing family in eastern Washington (the Carpenters) to provide support “for testing new varieties and methodologies of growing and harvesting organic hops in Washington.” Each September, Fremont Brewing releases an exclusive, small-batch, Cowiche Canyon Organic Fresh Hop Ale, made with hops that were developed and grown as part of this farmer-brewer partnership.
Washington hops aren’t the only local staple for breweries in the area. How cool is this?!?! In the little ole Skagit Valley, where I grew up, there is an establishment called The Bread Lab (part of the WSU-Mount Vernon Plant Breeding Program) which studies “the diversity of locally grown grains to determine those that perform well for farmers, and that are most suitable for craft baking, malting, brewing, distilling, and other culinary creations.” Started in 2013, The Bread Lab is currently expanding to include a dedicated brewing and distilling micro-lab—overseen by Emerson Lamb, founder, and Matt Hofmann, master distiller, of Westland Distillery, and Will Kemper, co-owner of Chuckanut Brewery and Kitchen.
A brand-new, aptly named brewery, Farmstrong Brewing Company, is scheduled to open this month in Mount Vernon, WA, with a beer selection brewed from Skagit Valley wheat and barley. One of their first beers, Here we Goze, will feature 100 percent Skagit Valley malt, developed by another innovative local operation: Skagit Valley Malting.
Let those Wisconsinites brag about their cheese, New Mexicans of their green chilies, and Vermonters their maple syrup. I’ll be sipping locally-produced brews and helping to spread the word to support Washington agriculture. Join me!