Crack a beer. Any beer. Chances are good there are some Yakima Valley hops going on in that pour. One brewery in particular however, is taking some extra time to spotlight the origin story of the hop by creating special small batch brews using the hops from a single source where relationships have been forged with a grower. The Sixpoint Brewery in Brooklyn, New York has seen fit to create a whole Farm to Pint series where the where is just as important as the how and the what.
With their motto being “Beer is Culture,” it’s no surprise that the individuality of each ingredient would be exalted. The hop, especially, does well in exaltation. With all its various incarnations, it has some personality to spare. Flavor and aroma profile descriptors range from pine and fresh cut grass, to grapefruit and melon, to vanilla and blackcurrant and way beyond. For an artisan crafting a beer, there’s nothing but good times to be had there.
A visit to a hop harvest out on the farm is a bit nirvanic for these city brewers. Connections are made with growers, and hops are witnessed in their untamed state. To see them growing and rub the fragrance out of the fresh cones into their hands is downright glorious. Likewise, the farmer is assured that the flora they have been nursing from root-sprout to loaded vine is going to a good home to people who will love it and call it beer.
These relationships come to be cherished over time. A connection to the farmer is an intimacy with the hop. One grower relationship Sixpoint has established is with Cornerstone Ranches in Toppenish, Washington. Over the last few years they have come out and stayed at the farmhouse, gotten to know the goings on of hop harvest, and have affectionately coined Toppenish – The ISH. Last year, the Yakima Valley saw a luscious Centennial and El Dorado crop, and Cornerstone was approached about doing a farm to pint beer. The self-proclaimed mad scientists got to work, and in September of this year birthed a bouncing baby brew in the form of the Toppen-ISH Cornerstone Ranches IPA.
From the horse’s mouth: This stuff is like straight candied oranges, with a sweet perfume that’s dank at the same time. The El Dos we got from Graham are just insane, and the Centennials provide resinous backnotes. Light haze, smooth feel, barely a sting of bitterness. (Sixpoint Brewery: Farm to Pint)
When Cornerstone’s Graham Gamache was told that Toppen-ISH was having its Brooklyn release in late September of this year, he initially thought that there was no way he would be able to attend as he would still be harvesting the crop. But when he finished picking on a Thursday afternoon before the Saturday event, he made the last minute decision to fly out Friday night, have a whirlwind 24 hours in Brooklyn and was back home Sunday morning to wrap up the harvest.
After being locked into the picking for nearly six weeks, finding himself on the big city pavement was surreal. Truly a world away. A DJ was spinning beats on vinyl, giant wall murals all around kept watch as hot empanadas were being served by a street vendor and people were picking up their pre-ordered small batch ISH. Which, incidentally, was pre-sold out. He even met a few people who had driven a couple hours just to pick up this special brew. All told, he spent hours there having drinks with many of the Sixpoint folks he’s gotten to know so well, both of them feeling pride at the job they did to get this beer out to the world. From standing in the dusty swirl of hop truck, to a Brooklyn sidewalk just like that, all because of a hop.
Even though it sold out, being the farmer of the farm to pint has its advantages. Graham received a few beers of his own to sip during sunset in the true ISH itself. With some family, friends, a few dogs, and a blazing fire on an autumn night, it was wholly savored. Not often does it come full circle in such a complete way. Toppenish to Brooklyn, and back again.