As fall approaches in Washington, the freshest yield of hops are ready for harvest.
Almost as prevalent and admired as Cascadia’s spectacular scenery is the region’s abundance of craft beer. Brewed with a bounty of local ingredients and inspired by residents’ love of the outdoors, it’s more than a sudsy libation in the Pacific Northwest; it’s a way of life.
Among the craft beer capital’s vast and interconnected network of neighborhood breweries is the SoDo District’s Two Beers Brewing Company. Just across the bridge from The Woodmark Hotel, the brewery specializes in artisanal beverages spanning the full spectrum of color and tastes. From public hop-picking parties to experimental brews to conservation-minded fundraisers, it embodies a community culture bearing the distinctive flavors of the Pacific Northwest.
What spawned a decade ago with Joel VandenBrink’s dream in a 140-square-foot Seattle storage unit has grown into one of the region’s most beloved mainstays for hand-crafted, hop-infused beverages. An avid outdoorsman with a passion for making quality beer, VandenBrink started Two Beers Brewing in 2007 as a one-man show, brewing from his quaint space and distributing kegs to local accounts from his van, otherwise known as “Brutus.”
“From there, people just really liked the beer he was brewing,” explains Maura Hardman, PR and Marketing Manager of Two Beers Brewing and avid IPA drinker. “He always took quality into account and made sure he made really delicious beers.”
Eleven years later, Two Beers Brewing bases operations out of a 39,000-square-foot facility and 3,600-square-foot taproom aptly named The Woods. A popular community hangout with seats for over 150 guests, The Woods serves as a distribution point for the company’s keg production (which, in 2017, topped 5,500 barrels per year) and a 24-tap tasting hub for new and inspiring brews. Here, sprung from the meteoric success of Two Beers, VandenBrink started Seattle Cider Company in 2012, and just this year, launched Sound Craft Seltzer as an answer to the nation’s blossoming hard seltzer trend.
Less than 150 miles from the Yakima Valley, which produces up to 75 percent of the country’s hops, Two Beers Brewing harvests its cones directly from the innate origins of their respective strains. The internationally venerated hop haven provides the ideal source to ensure that the brewery’s beer is always as fresh as possible, often going from field to fermentation in a matter of hours.
To make one of his most coveted seasonal beers, Fresh Hop IPA, VandenBrink drives a box truck to Yakima to personally harvest enough whole hop bines to fill the back. He then delivers them back to the Two Beers patio the very same afternoon, where an army of local volunteers eagerly wait to help him pick the fresh hops from the vine.
“We go from vine to brew in under 24 hours. Everyone participates and it’s a huge party,” explains Hardman, who adds that this year’s version aims to win the hearts of Two Beers fans for the ninth consecutive season. “Our Fresh Hop is not just fresh hops, it’s very much a labor of love and it’s all hands on deck.”
Because the 2018 hop harvest came three to four weeks earlier than last year, the brewery crafted 60 barrels of Fresh Hop IPA with a blend of Centennial and Cluster hops before returning to Yakima for an additional harvest two-and-a-half weeks later.
“It was like coming full circle, because we got to drink the fresh hops from the previous harvest while we were harvesting the next hops,” says Hardman. “Of course they’re phenomenal in beer, but it’s really just incredible to smell those hop cones and pull them apart and see all the beautiful, bright lupulin. It’s a major ‘hop-topian’ moment of amazing smells and delicious beer.”
When he’s not brewing, VandenBrink can almost certainly be found in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest.
“A large part of what appeals to brewing for him is he can make his own schedule, so when he’s not brewing, he’s camping, or on a mountain, or in a kayak,” says Hardman. “It’s beautiful out here. Even though Seattle is a bustling metropolis, it’s not very far to get to a great place to hike, or a great place to be on the beach or on the water, or find a mountain to climb, so it kind of worked out perfectly for him.”
Earlier this summer, the brewery owner and CEO climbed Mount Rainier with eight of his team members, in part to raise $20,000 for the Washington National Park fund. The brewery is also a regular partner of the Washington Trails Association, a 42-year-old organization dedicated to educating, inspiring, and engaging hikers.
“One of the things that is important for Joel in the company is giving back to the community,” says Hardman. “There’s a lot of love for the outdoor spaces we have, and we take a lot of care to make sure we are giving back in the Pacific Northwest. It’s not just the importance of being able to enjoy those spaces, but being able to give back to organizations that keep them usable for everyone.”
Consideration for preserving the region’s singular beauty started early for VandenBrink, who became one of Seattle’s first breweries to begin distributing in cans rather than bottles. Apart from keeping beers fresher for longer, canning is considered to be far more environmentally friendly, not to mention more conducive to transport when exploring the outdoors.
“Cans are a little easier to crush down and throw in your backpack and not have to worry about leaving a trace,” says Hardman, “so we’ve been in cans pretty much since the beginning.”
Located in nearby Kirkland on the northeastern shore of Lake Washington, The Woodmark Hotel approached Two Beers Brewing earlier this year with an idea to collaborate in celebrating the bounty of harvest season in the Pacific Northwest. Intermittently pouring the brewery’s selections from the hotel bar’s rotating taps, The Woodmark saw the brewery as the perfect partner for a fall event that pairs chef-inspired small bites with beverage counterparts.
“Being a brewery that focuses so close to home as far as where we source our ingredients, this event just seemed to click and be a good fit,” says Hardman, who invited the hotel team to participate in their recent hop-picking party. “It’s going to be so great when we’re at the event and they get to tell people they helped pick some of the hops in the beer that they’re drinking and pairing with.”
The Woodmark Harvest festival is slated for the evening of Thursday, September 27 under the Olympic Terrace Tent facing Lake Washington’s sprawling waterfront vista. In its inaugural appearance, the event will feature Woodmark Executive Chef Jesse Olson’s culinary creations, which will be thoughtfully coupled with Two Beer’s popular Wonderland Trail IPA, Fresh Hop IPA, a barrel-aged Russian Imperial stout named Fall Line, as well as an additional limited release for those holding an early-access ticket.
The festival, however, is not exclusively for barley pops and hopheads. The Woodmark also added whiskey to the mix, enlisting spirits from Woodinville Whiskey, an award-winning distillery located just up the 405 from Kirkland that blends time-honored traditions with the region’s craft-centric scene. Woodinville Whiskey will offer three unique pairings to expand on the five pours provided by Two Beers Brewing.
“Once you have the opportunity to taste our beer, you’ll see why this foodie event highlighting all these wonderful flavors is such a good fit,” says Hardman. “It’s not just about wine pairing dinners anymore. I love wine too, but at the end of the day, I’ll stick with a pint of beer.”
The Woodmark Harvest will take place on Thursday, September 27 from 5 - 9 pm. Tickets are available to purchase online.
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