The Legacy and Contributions of Tom Carpenter Jr.
It is with great honor that we at Yakima Chief Hops invite you to gather with our community to celebrate the extraordinary legacy of Tom Carpenter Jr., one of the most influential figures in the hop industry. Tom Jr. will forever be remembered as a visionary leader who possessed both remarkable foresight and deeply rooted humility. His unwavering dedication and inspiring words continue to guide and inspire us at Yakima Chief Hops. His relentless pursuit of doing what is right for all members of the hops and brewing industries has been a powerful fuel that continues to create positive change in our close-knit family-operated industry. His exceptional commitment to adding value and caring for others sets him apart as an exceptional leader.
I will always remember Tom Jr. as a strong and caring visionary who was never afraid to stand up for what was right. He believed in having big dreams and through his tenacious leadership, the dreams that he shared four decades ago are now a beautiful reality that we all participate in. Tom Jr. will forever be missed and will never be forgotten. His influence has already made a positive impact on multiple generations. His vision was for his positive influences to motivate others so that future generations can have the chance to continue to create positive change for their communities. As Tom routinely stated, “I’ve done my job, now it is up to the next generation to keep this thing going.”
Please join us on July 1st at Granger High School in Granger, WA to celebrate the great life of one of the greatest influences that the hop industry has ever known.
Ryan Hopkins, Chief Executive Officer, Yakima Chief Hops
Tom Carpenter lived his life with an emphasis on family, community, work ethic, and humility. Tom’s legacy reaches beyond the Yakima Valley, and many modern brewers may not be aware of the impact Tom has had on their industry. He recognized that brewers and hop growers were the most significant players in their supply chain and had a vision to unite brewers with hop growers in a system of transparency and trust, balancing the needs of growers with the interests of brewers. This vision revolutionized the hop industry, paved the way for brewer-grower relationships to exist, and created Yakima Chief Hops as it is today – a grower-owned global hop supplier with the mission to connect family hop growers to the world’s finest brewers.
The Carpenter family has significant roots in Yakima Valley’s hop industry. Tom’s great-grandfather, Charles Carpenter, planted the very first hops in the Yakima Valley. Charles moved out West from New York for the California Gold Rush, and as he passed through the Yakima Valley on his way to British Columbia, he noticed it looked like good hop country. In 1868, he built a small cabin with his new wife and had rootstock shipped over from his family’s hop farm in Constable, New York. “My family, in one way or another has been involved in hops for a long time. When I say that, I don’t want to imply that we know everything about hops… but we’ve got a pretty good line of history. It doesn’t make us any more important than anyone else.” Tom told Tiah Edmunson-Morton, Archivist for Oregon State University, with his trademark modesty during an interview in 2017.
During the prohibition era, hop farmers understandably had a tough time. Although the family was established in the Yakima Valley, after losing his life savings during a run on the bank, Tom Carpenter Sr. was persuaded to relocate to northeastern Montana where they grew wheat and potatoes and fed cattle and sheep. Those were rough years for the family, and Tom Sr. would later be hesitant to reminisce about the hardships of those cold winter nights, struggling to make a living and keep their children warm. The family experienced a bit of a windfall and decided to move back to the Yakima Valley shortly after Tom Jr. was born in 1937. Prohibition was over, and hop growers had a market again.
Like most farmer’s children, Tom Carpenter Jr. grew up doing farmwork. Everybody had a job to do… milking cows, threshing barley, feeding chickens, picking hops, slopping the pigs. He was a student and three-sport athlete at Granger High School where Betty Roberts was a cheerleader. They became sweethearts and married in 1956, shortly after high school graduation. “They were the perfect balance of truth and grace,” Craig Carpenter recalls of his parents. They had a farm on Liberty Road where they kept a small hop yard, raised chickens, and started their family.
In the early ’60s, Tom Jr. sold the farm on Liberty Road after his father suffered critical injuries in a farm accident. He and Betty moved their young family home, and Tom took on many additional responsibilities, stepping into a larger role as a farmer and provider, while raising their five sons. Later in life, he would express regret that he did not attend even a junior college, and this led to an insistence that his children all pursue college after high school.
Through his work as a hop farmer, Tom was always very driven, always looking ahead. Over time, he expanded his father’s farm from 200 acres to over 1500. He was persistently frustrated by the lack of transparency between the hop growers and the hop brokers. Growers were not allowed to talk to their brewery consumers, and brewers were not given access to their hop growers. All communications and all transactions went through third-party dealers, resulting in a process that was opaque at best. “Growing hops, it’s a tremendous amount of work. And I never could figure out the disconnect between the grower and the brewery. We always had a dealer between us.” Tom Jr. stated during an interview. With dealers acting as the gatekeepers of information, growers struggled just to pave their way into meetings with brewers. “Growers should have direct relationships with brewers… We work very hard to supply their product.” He added, “We need to know what they want, what they need, what they expect”.
After many contentious conversations, a committee was formed. A notable meeting took place in Idaho, and one of the major dealers was there to make a speech about how sacred their hop contracts were, and to caution growers to tread lightly. Tom Jr., unable to just stand idly by, recalls "Well, we were going broke anyway, I didn’t see how we were going to hurt anything. So, when he sat down, I stood up. I turned around and said, ‘Well, the king has spoken.’” He made an impassioned argument for grower engagement, which led to the agreement that a small group of growers could meet with a few different brewery decision-makers, so long as a dealer was present.
Tom Jr. & Betty
They went on a tour of brewery visits, expressing the impact the low prices they were receiving had on the viability of their family farms. During one significant meeting, Tom recalled sitting at a large desk while a brewery representative reviewed his contracts and heard out their concerns. The disparity between what the dealers were charging brewers versus paying growers was revealed to be quite significant, and neither the brewers nor the growers were happy about it.
That meeting fueled Tom with the motivation to work harder for a change in the industry. Later in life, he reflected on the role which hop dealers played and acknowledged they were necessary for creating a worldwide market. “But their role did not give back to the grower the returns he was entitled to. At the end of the day, they’re people too, and I don’t want to imply they are bad people.”
The ‘80s brought anti-trust lawsuits that alleged price fixing. Growers brought one suit, and Anheuser-Busch brought another. They were both settled out of court, but this contributed to Anheuser-Busch forming the AB Direct Program. John Reeves, the new program’s director, reached out to buy hops directly from the growers. Tom Carpenter, along with the Smith, Hogue, Desserault, Roy, Gamache, as well as other families, jumped at the opportunity.
But Anheuser-Busch was mostly purchasing early-season aroma hops, like Willamette and US Tettnang. With their early-season harvest contracted, what would they do with their late-season alpha hops? The dealers were reluctant to work with them now that they were selling directly to the largest brewery in the world. That led the Smith, Perrault, and Carpenter families to partner with Pfizer, which had a hop extract plant in Sidney, Nebraska. Pfizer purchased the hops, converted them into C02 extract, and sold it to breweries utilizing that format. Payments were made in a system of full transparency, shepherding in a new era of grower-brewer partnership.
Everything was running smoothly until the mid- ‘90s when Pfizer decided to sell their entire brewing division to Cultor Food Science, a Finnish company that specialized in flavored extracts. This transition strained the relationship, and the growers got together to devise a plan to purchase the plant. At that time, there were 13 families with a stake in the operation: the Carpenter, Perrault, Smith, Gamache, Sauve, Gasseling, Gannon, Hogue, Desserault, Parrish, Charvet, and two farms in the Newhouse families. They worked together to raise funds and craft a business plan. With a purchase strategy in place and an agreement reached, the only remaining detail was to finalize the paperwork. However, their plans were derailed when a competitor unexpectedly acquired the operation.
Resolute that the Yakima Valley should be home to such an operation, Tom Jr. proclaimed “This is hop country, and that extract plant should be here, anyway. How much will it cost to build one?” The next day he made arrangements with an excavator “I need you to come to Sunnyside and level off this piece of land, we’re going to build an extract plant”.
Tom Jr.’s friends and family each describe him as a “doer” and a “finisher”. He frequently echoed Winston Churchill’s “Never, never, never give up”. In 1997, the 13 grower-owner families convened in Sunnyside, Washington for a groundbreaking ceremony at the site of the new plant. Tom Jr. grabbed a microphone and said “Gentlemen, this is the dawn of a new age. We are going to form a grower-owned company that is going to be successful”.
In 1997, John Reeves left Anheuser-Busch and joined the newly named Yakima Chief Inc. as the inaugural CEO. Other employees from the plant in Nebraska also chose to join Yakima Chief. Notably, Karl Vanevenhoven, current Chief Operations Officer, and Percy Lam, Vice President of Sales in Asia, remain valued members of the YCH family today.
By the late ’90s, most large breweries had implemented food safety standards, but Heineken was pushing for greater accountability. This inspired the Green Chief program, formalizing best practices and efforts to improve the planet, treat people fairly, and focus on environmentally and economically sustainable standards. These programs may not have resonated with the other big breweries of the time, but they appealed to craft brewers very much.
In 2006, grower-owned companies Hopunion and Yakima Chief joined forces. The decision was driven by shared values and the recognition of compatible strengths. A full merger took place in 2014, bringing in Ralph Olsen, and adding to the roster of growers the Van Horn, Desmarais, Davidson, Annen, Smith, Weathers, Houser, and Charron families to the roster of growers. With Hopunion’s emphasis on marketing to serve the domestic craft market, and Yakima Chief taking a process-oriented approach for international brands, the two companies complemented each other. After years of partnership, in 2018 after a brand audit, it was decided that the company would rebrand Yakima Chief Hops, the company as it is known today.
In 2007 the alpha market experienced a short-lived upswing. Farmers in the United States were finally able to re-capitalize their farms, just as the craft beer boom took off. Craft brewers were using exponentially more hops for their ales, and they were growing. This fueled the expansion of Yakima Chief, quickly shooting past its portfolio of 19 brewery customers, and solidifying a presence in the craft market.
With 11 grower owners in 2018, an opportunity was presented for additional hop farmers to buy into ownership. To offer this, the company needed to go through a valuation process. Steve Carpenter brought his dad in on the process to demonstrate the significance of what had been built through his vision. Tom Jr. Was genuinely impressed, if not shocked. With his characteristic humility, he shared cautionary words of praise. “Well, stay humble, and recognize that we’re a bunch of peasants that have had a little bit of success. Don’t get a big head.”
The Double R Hop Farms, owned by the Riel family and Coleman Ag, owned by Coleman families, along with Oasis, owned by Brenton Roy; and Black Star Ranches, owned by the Gamache and St. Mary families joined Yakima Chief Hops as grower-owners, which brings the ownership to 14 families (there are two Coleman family units) running things today. Yakima Chief Hops sources from other growers as well, and the total number of farms involved in the supply is around 56. With a network of over 50 farms providing hops for over 7,500 breweries around the world, Tom Carpenter Jr.’s vision for connection has been realized in spades.
“Yakima Chief Hops is the living embodiment of Tom Carpenter Jr.’s visionary dream, which has grown into a transformative force with profound implications. It goes beyond the fields, beyond this valley, and delivers sustainable practices, improved quality, investments in technology, investments in people, advanced processes, and new varieties.” Reflects Pedro Venegas, Vice President of Grower Relations at YCH. “Tom’s legacy lives on through the thriving community that Yakima Chief Hops has become, which pours through brewers around the globe, breathing life into their craft and fostering endless creativity.”
Tom Jr. at the C02 "2.0" Extract Facility Groundbreaking Ceremony
“He helped change the industry forever. The Carpenter Family will go on forever. The legacy Tom leaves with the hop industry is that it is changed forever, and it’s changed for the good. Growers are getting paid a fair price, and those growers are giving back to the community, and taking care of their employees. Tom’s biggest legacy is that all the industry is sharing in that, together.” Steve Perrault reflects on his best friend, “Tom was like John Wayne. He was the John Wayne of the hop industry, and I will miss him forever.”
Tom Carpenter Jr. passed away on March 1st, 2023, at the age of 85. Yakima Chief Hops and the Carpenter family warmly welcome you to join us for a memorial service on Saturday, July 1st at 1:00 pm in the Granger High School gymnasium, followed by a celebration of life at Yakima Chief Ranches in Zillah. Be our guests in the picturesque Yakima Valley and experience the connection and community that was Tom Carpenter Jr.’s life vision.
Tom Jr. & Steve Perrault