Neil Sowerby savours craft beer suppliers’ down home heartland

AND I’d been pronouncing it ‘Yah-KEE-mah’ all this time, when it should be ‘YACK-i-maw’. Unfamiliar with Yakima? The name does crop up on craft beer cans, the contents of which increasingly rely on its prime product, hops. Oh, and it’s a lovely laid-back place to hang out in – preferably with a beer or two.

Crowning glory was the hugely ornate Masonic ceremonial temple on the top floor, designed to replicate the throne room of King Solomon’s Temple

Yet it’s not a monoculture this super fertile agricultural valley in Washington State, irrigated by the Yakima River. It abounds in fruit, in particular apples, and its grapes produce some of America’s most thrilling wines, but there’s no escaping the hop in all its varieties – Cascade, Chinook, Centennial and the rest, now globally familiar. Some 75 per cent of US hops are grown hereabouts in ideally suited volcanic soil.

180104 Hop Museum 180104 Toppenish Clearing Land 1989

So it seemed a good idea while passing through the region to drop in on the American Hop Museum in the township of Toppenish, whose major claim to fame is the 70 hand-painted murals, of recent origin, evoking its Wild West past. They are more vivid than the museum, which is as dry as last year’s hop pellets. Still this project of local pride, assembling the rusty machinery and fading pictures of yore, sets the scene for the hopfest to come.

180104 Hop Pizza 180104 Hop Town 180104 Hop Babygro Copy

Of all the stop-offs on our San Francisco to Seattle road trip this wasn’t the most obviously touristic and yet we found it fascinating from the moment post-museum when we lunched in a pizza place where a dab of Cascade hoppiness joins tomato and mozzarella as the prime toppings, nibbles are called hoppetisers and the merchandise includes hop-branded babygros. 

Best before we order a nine-incher at Hop Town Wood Fired Pizza, to grab a Hop Nation Ego IPA. Guess what, it was the perfect accompaniment for a $12 Porky Pine Prosciutto, where pesto, parmesan, pecorino, prosciutto, pine nuts (all the Ps), tomato, hops and a balsamic reduction smothered the charred, springy crust.

Hop Town used to be a street food operation before taking over the folksy tasting room of the former Piety Winery. Guerra are another local pop-up operation and their travelling oven provided some amazing roast chicken at Balebreaker, the most recommended country brewery, whose beers are so hugely popular across the Pacific North-West they don’t need to export. Our and the rest of America’s loss.

180104 Meghan Quinn Copy 180104 Hops 180104 Guerra 180104 Guerra Chicken

We sampled some wonderful beers with the chicken lunch al fresco in a garden sheltered by tall bines, the harvest half way through, for this is a working family hop farm (they even supply the likes of BrewDog in the UK). 

The younger generation persuaded initially sceptical parents a custom-built brewery on site might just work and it has. And one of those siblings, Meghan Quinn introduced us to a beer making a gratifying political point in Trump’s America.

Sesiones del Migrante is a series of beers brewed in collaboration with Mexican and American breweries to celebrate the Mexican migrant workers who travel to the Yakima Valley to help with the harvest. The latest, a Mango IPA, left a beautiful taste in the mouth – unlike those absurd Border Wall plans.

As it turns out, a third of the population in Yakima, at home in its sunny desert climate, is Hispanic. It’s an area full of tacos trucks and shacks. Locals’ pick? Tacos Los Primos 2 at 404 N 4th St in the city proper. If you’re adventurous go for the tripe filling.

What astonished us immediately about one of the world’s premier hop-growing regions was the lack until recently of local breweries tapping into the resource… or speciality beer bars. That’s all changing fast on the back of Balebreaker. One of their brewers, former wildlife biologist Chris Baum, and four buddies are busy setting up their own brewing operation, Varietal with the premise of wild yeasts, sours, fruit beers and barrel-ageing – the fun, cutting edge stuff.

180104 Hop Party 180104 Berchmans 180104 Hop Centric 180104 Maison Decor 180104 Sports Center 180104 Tieton Pumpkin 180104 Tieton Counter

Look hard enough in superficially sleepy Yakima city and you’ll find an array of bars in tune with all this. The best beer outlet with more than 500 different bottles, the Beer Shoppe, even runs to a couple of handpulls dispensing cask-conditioned beers, though we’d recommend nearby Berchman’s and Hop Nation. All feature on the Craft Beverage Trail.  

You’ll find both brewtaps in the spacious Old North Yakima Historic District, where the closure of the Northern Pacific Railroad once hit the town hard. Now, as in so many other similar places, this is where the cool fight back begins.

180104 Crafted 180104 Beef Crafted 180104 Beer Shoppe

The best restaurant in town is a newcomer, Crafted on North 1st Street. Dan Koommoo is in the kitchen and his wife Mollie front of house. This thirtysomething couple chose Yakima because Mollie’s family is from these parts; Thai-born Dan is a Cordon Bleu chef with a glittering cv. Together they have created a casual contemporary dining space, from oysters to cocktails a total delight.

Also recommended is Cowiche Canyon Kitchen, an industrial chic brasserie-style operation with a cool cocktail bar called the Ice House. We decamped next door to the Sports Center for live blues and to hang out with brewer Baum and his partner who, naturally, works for the major hop supplier in Yakima. Yep, we sampled loads of different local beers.

Cider, or what they call hard cider, is a refreshing alternative. The custom-built Tieton Cider Works on the edge of town offer sampling tours. With apples and other fruit sourced from the family’s own organic orchards it’s a clean tasting product, a world away from our own trad scrumpy; we loved the smoked pumpkin cider.

180104 Capitol 180104 Farmers Market 180104 Maison Main 180104 Masons 180104 Gilbert Cellars

Sunday mornings are for mooching in Yakima. We kicked off with excellent coffee and double fudge brownies at the Essencia Artisan Bakery, then crossed over to the weekly Farmer’s Market. It takes place outside the town’s most distinctive facade, belonging to the historic Capitol Theater. That was all that was left after a 1975 fire. The rebuilt theatre is still home to the ghost of Shorty McCall, a technician during the 1930s, who hanged himself there after an ill-fated love affair. The Sports Center – so-called because of a hunting theme not because it’s a place to play basketball – is equally haunted with staff reoporting eerie chills and the sound of clinking glassware. All this dates back to the days when it was a brothel with Mafia connections.

Our Downtown Yakima lodging, the Hotel Maison has a more benign but equally striking history. Six storeys high, it was built in 1911 during the boom times by prosperous Freemasons as their club. Crowning glory was the hugely ornate Masonic ceremonial temple on the top floor, designed to replicate the throne room of King Solomon’s Temple. Long mothballed, it has survived the building’s conversion to a hotel, its future mapped out as an events space. 

Elsewhere the comfortable hotel’s decor playfully celebrates its Masonic past and, of course, the pre-eminence of the hop. On our Saturday night there we sipped complimentary Tieton cider and watched the weekly ‘paseo’ of vintage automobiles, all adding to the period charm of the place.

The best place to sample Washington wine Downtown is the Gilbert Cellars, showcasing the family’s wines such as Horse Heaven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon. It saves having to trek out to their vineyard tasting room, but when in wine country it would be wrong not to sample in the wineries, all within easy reach of Yakima town.

180104 Owen Roe Pour 180104 Juergen Grieb 180104 Wildridge 180104 Cowiche Trail 180104 Yaks

I’d recommend the folksy Owen Roe Winery, an organically farmed estate whose reds are particularly impressive, the nearby Treveri Cellars, (tours for $50) sparkling wine specialists run by a German winemaker, whose top bottles have been served at White House receptions and another family winery with real character, Wildridge, whose eclectic biodynamically cultivated grape plots are located high above Cowiche Canyon. 

We scramble down for a mini-trek of the attractive walking trail. It was an appetiser for next day’s spectacular drive away from Yakima, a scenic detour off US Route 97 along the Yakima River Canyon. Highly recommended. We were heading west for our final road trip destination, Seattle. Via Twin Peaks, but that’s a sub-plot for another piece.

Fact file

Neil Sowerby stayed at the Hotel Maison, 321 E Yakima Avenue, Yakima, WA 98901.  Rooms from $171 a night.

At the end of his West Coast road trip he flew back to from Seattle to Manchester via London Heathrow with British Airways

Neil Sowerby’s car hire for his US West Coast road trip was booked through Affordable Car Hire

An essential guide to the area is Visit Yakima; for a full guide to the state go to Experience Washington. To plan your American trip of a lifetime go to Visit USA. 

Manchester Airport parking:

Neil Sowerby left his car parked through T3 Meet and Greet. Here are all the options:

VIP Valet – drop and collect your car right next to the terminal and get fast tracked through security. Your car is parked on site.

Meet and Greet – drop your car off with staff next to the terminal and collect on your return. Your car is parked on site.

Multi-storey car park at T1, 2 and 3 – ultra-convenient multi-storey car parking right next to the terminal. Park and walk under cover to reach the terminal.

Long stay car park at T1, 2 and 3 – ground surface car park offering free, regular 24 hour bus transfers direct to the terminal.

Shuttle Park – secure parking at great rates for cost-conscious travellers. Free, regular 24 hour bus transfers direct to the terminal.

JetParks –  low-cost parking option run by Manchester Airport, fully manned 24/7, parking from £2.99 per day. Visit this link