Pursuing HOP-portunities: My Journey in Yakima for Hop & Brew School
Sarah Perez is a seasoned brewer, creator, and positive vibe influencer, who brings her wealth of experience and passion to the craft industry. With over 15 years in the field, she has excelled in various positions, from managing front-of-house operations to mentoring aspiring individuals pursuing their careers in the industry. For the last 8 years, she has dedicated herself to production work, embracing a true calling in crafting unique recipes and thoroughly understanding the intricacies of the brewhouse process. Her commitment to sharing knowledge makes her an exceptional teacher, shaping the minds of future brewmasters. In 2022, she was honored with the MJF scholarship for Distilling, solidifying her expertise in the craft brewing industry. In 2021, she completed the Siebel Institute course on Concise Brewing and holds certifications in the Cicerone program. Currently, she actively serves as a mentor within the Brewers Association, showcasing her dedication to fostering growth and development within the community.
Hop & Brew School® (HBS) is an annual educational event hosted by Yakima Chief Hops, that includes a comprehensive hop harvest experience complete with speaker sessions and panels. Hundreds of brewers and beer enthusiasts have the opportunity to participate in this immersive experience in the Yakima Valley, where 75% of the nation’s hops are produced to gain a deeper connection and understanding of one of beer’s most critical ingredients: hops!
Yakima Chief Hops was excited to have Sarah attend as an HBS scholarship recipient and share her Hop & Brew School experience.
I wanted to make sure that there is light shed on the subject matter here as you read along, things I feel are important for each of you to know. I saw the Hop & Brew School information run on Instagram one day and was so moved and so excited for fresh hops I just knew I had to be there. So, I challenged myself to step outta my comfort box and do the thing that I always say to others. ‘Ask them Sarah’, ask them if there is a scholarship, or partnership so that a great black female brewer who needs to learn more could attend. By eloquently presenting my plan and expressing my commitment, I aimed to pave the way for future black female brewers who aspire to pursue similar opportunities. It definitely pays to ask, and even if they turned me down, I would have figured out a way to go. This journey, this path that I am on isn't just for me, it is for every black female brewer who just wants the same opportunities as everyone else, and I would love to see more faces like mine in the crowds. Hop and Brew School serves as a platform for brewers to expand their knowledge, build networks, and contribute to the growth of the craft brewing industry. My journey to attend Yakima’s Hop and Brew School highlights the need for diversity in the industry, specifically for black female brewers. By challenging norms, advocating for inclusivity, and expressing gratitude towards organizations such as all the Yakima Chief Hop farmers, I have some examples for every aspiring brewer who hopes for equal opportunities and representation. With initiatives like Hop and Brew School, the brewing industry can take significant strides toward becoming a more inclusive and diverse community.
Hop & Brew School Day 1: Facility Tours
Opening day was just what I was hoping it would be, full of life, hops, and old friends seeing one another after what felt like a lifetime apart. I can tell you that morning I was up before the alarm clock even thought about ringing in my ear. I could feel my excitement building as I listened to my favorite author give me all positive vibes as I got ready that morning. I kept checking the bus schedule to make sure that there wasn't a moment lost on grabbing coffee, vitamins, and the biggest spirit essence I could conjure up from inside my swollen heart of love. The bus pulled up to the hotel and it was like the first day of school all over again, I wanted to make sure to save seats for all my friends and figure out how I was going to make an entire list of new friends too. We picked up the last of the hotel peeps and headed to the Yakima plant and boy it was just what I thought it would be, a bus full of humans from all over the place who knew beer, loved hops, and couldn't wait to see the process of those special green cones we all depend on. Getting off the buses was magical. It felt just like the first time I went to Disneyland as a kid, full of wonderment and joy that made my tummy flip/flop around. I saw faces that made me squeal, ones that made me nervous to be amongst the greats, and faces that brought instant relief since I knew them very well. I can say without a doubt that standing in line for my badge, my backpack, and breakfast that first day was just so emotional and heartfelt by each and every Yakima employee and myself. I can say that it felt so damn good having people hug you, remember you, and want to save a seat for you at their tables, such a crazy rad feeling. After the first day jitters got out of the way it was time for the learning to commence.
The first day was Facility Tour Day, where we toured Yakima Chief Hops’ Cryo® processing plant, pellet plant, C02 Extract Facility, Aroma Dome sensory lab, Research and Development lab, in-house R&D brewery, taproom, and cold storage facilities. Meeting people that I have spoken to over the years, and finally getting to meet in person was really awesome, and it really makes an impact on who I want to buy products from as well. The first day of tours was complete, and of course, I made new friends and added to my already huge squad of badass female brewers from all over the country. We had a chat group going and we often roll in together, we are always on the lookout for females who might be alone or seem shy or unsure of what to do. As brewers, we already like to be loners, but during times like these it is best to pull them in and help everyone to feel needed, wanted, and valued.
We headed over to the Sunnyside Facilities tours which were just crazy cool and huge, I did more walking in 4 days than I do when brewing. I had NO idea that the cold storage warehouse was that large, and just how fast it makes things move when at full speed, I loved hearing about the jobs they all did in each facility, like WOW!! The content of the cold storage made me think about how many thousands of breweries call in for drop shipments of hops and just what it really takes to get them out the doors. It would be super rad to follow a box of hops out the doors to its final destination and into your glass of beer. I can’t remember a time I had ever walked through a warehouse this size full to the tops with hops on hops on hops. I loved that first day's meet-up at Kiln and hearing that awesome rad band, and the food, and beers all made it so spectacular. I definitely felt overwhelmed by the amount of people at each venue, and the awesome ways the buses were all coordinated was such a help.
Day one was in the books now and back in my hotel room. I just prepped for the next day and made some fun notes about the whats, whos, and hows.
Hop & Brew School Day 2: Speaker Sessions
I burst up just the same, excited, and full of life, so ready to see the day's events, try the food, and make sure to high-five as many humans as I could. Day two was held inside one of Yakima Chief Hops’ empty hop warehouses and was the first day of seminars and speakers. It was a day full of learning from the Keynotes Speaker, and some of the beer world’s elite brewers, scientists, and growers of hops. It never gets old to me how hops, water, malt, and yeast make beer, but all 229 of us attendees make it differently and we all are just as passionate about the craft. Dr. Allison Lange of Omega Yeast from the Curbing Creep: Advances in Hop Creep Research & Mitigation Strategies session and Charlie Smithson of Aroxa from Exploring the Flavorful World of Beer: A Hop Compound Sensory Training session had to be the highest of the highs for me on Day 2, and of course blowing off steam with my squad did not suck at all. I will never look at the hop creep and off-flavor profiles the same after hearing Charlie Smithson and Dr. Lange speak. I was excited to sleep that night and get up bright and early for the fun bus rides to the farms for Day 3.
Day 3: Hop Farm Tours
Out to the farms! I figured what bus and group was going to be headed to some of the cooler spots and quickly grabbed a seat with a rad bunch of humans. B.T. Loftus Ranches was our first stop, and- man, oh man- did I shed some tears, luckily it was raining in the beginning, so it wasn't so obvious. I was just overwhelmed with the sensory of it all, and walking on the soil, and the grounds that generations had been on was awesome. Loftus Ranches is a 4th generation hop farm in Moxee, WA, owned by the Smith Family.
Stop 2 was C&C Hops Farm- such a lovely family affair there, we really got to break out and explore the plant and all the operations, ask the silly questions, and smell, touch, and inhale every moment. This 4th generation farm really cleared my head about the migrant workers that come to the US every year for harvest, and how much the C & C family makes sure they are all well cared for. I especially loved being told they weren't workers, they were family. I think that everyone has their own feelings about the term in business from family to worker, but when you watch someone's life unfold in front of your eyes, year in and out, and then grow older with them, they are family.
Stop 3 was Gasseling Ranches in Wapato, WA, probably my favorite of them all! The Gasseling family are hard, salt of the earth, true grit people and you could tell they have been through it all. They had reindeer, hayrides, Christmas tree farming, and they cared about how to give back to the land in the off-season.
Stop 4 Perrault Farms, this was like going to the Willy Wonka Factory- they have all the newest inventions, the latest hops, and the most bang for your buck that we saw. Perrault Farms was founded in 1904 and is a 4th generation farm located in Toppenish, WA. Outside of hop farming they also raise bison and blueberries.
Farm day was a very busy, very long day, but damn if I never get to do this again, every single moment is locked into a beautiful assortment of the entire day. Rest and excitement and a sense of dread fell over me on the last day of meetings, talk panels, and gatherings with my friends and colleagues. It was one of those days when you realize just how fortunate you are to have a squad full of humans who love you. I did get to enjoy some rogue hop farm wandering, my really good friend Shelley Desmarais at CLS hop farms made space for me at her table. The entire family was there in full harvest swing, with full tables of food, drinks, and humans. I felt right at home and really hated to leave that farm at all. Sunset over the hop bines, and a firepit full of old memories, followed by breakout dances with my squad and of course a Polaroid picture on the wall to mark my existence.
Leaving is the sweetest of sorrows, but I can say that it was the most spiritual, most raddest, most educational experience around. Remember to be your own guide in this life, create the path you want, and ask the questions to help define your destination. I'm thankful to have been able to walk through the steps of the other half of craft beer creations, the scientists, the hop bale creator, the tractor driver, the taproom beertenders, and the 4th generation hop farmer. There are countless other components that go into just growing hops, and countless other humans that make it their life, and I am honored to take the baton and pass it over the finish line.
Thank you, Yakima Chief Teams of Super Rad Awesome Humans,
Thank you to all the farm families,
Thank you, bus drivers.