Destination: Hops

On a Friday we left Portland heading eastbound toward the Southeastern corner of Washington State. As previously mentioned, any trip along the gorge demands a stop at Double Mountain Brewpub in Hood River. Here we visited our friend Charlie Devereux who shared a hoppilicious pint of Killer Green and a sweet and sour snifter of Devil’s Kriek. After this needed pit stop an hour or so out of town, we continued on our way east along the I-84. Hood River is the dividing line where you can see the climate change from temperate rain forest to high desert. Douglas-Fir trees are replaced with Ponderosa Pines and wet green terrains evaporates into pillowing glacial pastels. The town also marks the end of craft beer abundance in Oregon. Dispersed along the Interstate are some great pours such as Barley Browns in Baker City and Beer Valley in Ontario, but for the most part, once you pass Hood River, you will find your self in Bud Country where cowboys and ranchers are as commonplace as tumbleweeds and livestock.

Beyond The Dalles, we crossed the Columbia River into Washington and headed up US-97 toward Yakima past giant wind turbines through a surreal country of breath taking views and rolling colorful hills. From afar the white windmills look minuscule and unimposing, but up close, they are truly domineering and appear as though they are straight out of a sci-fi movie. Jagging through no man’s land past small towns like Goldendale, many familiar names of towns and streets appeared on roadsigns and on our trusty road map. Names like Simcoe and Ahtanum make the mouth water. There was even the idea of the town of (Hop)Zilla being related to a once produced Bert Grant’s double IPA.

Eventually the landscape leveled out as we headed east on the I-82 near Topponish. From here more agricultural impact became evident. Sights of barren hopyards, unharvested corn crops, and the smell of pumpkins and peppers were quite nice. However, further east, the stench of cow and chicken manure was not nearly as pleasant.

As the sky drew its curtain for a fall evening to set in, we approached Sunnyside, Washington, a blue collar farm town with an overwhelming cowshit odor.  We were at least rewarded with the most fabulous and daring beers of our entire journey. Snipes Mountain. Situated in a large log hunting lodge, Snipes Mountain is home to some of the best beers in the Pacific Northwest. Brewer Chris Miller, formerly of the now defunct Pacific Rim Brewing Company in Seattle, has an uncanny talent for concocting some of the most innovative beers we’ve ever had the pleasure of wrapping our palates around. Miller’s Coyote Moon Brown took home a bronze medal at the 2009 Great American Beer Fest. The low alcohol mild ale is a perfect session beer with a full-bodied character. Even better, we came at the right time to quaff on Miller’s Harvest Ale which won 1st Place at this year’s Yakima Fresh Hop Festival after finishing second in 2008 (This is especially noteworthy considering the Yakima Valley is the country’s number one producer of hops). With a delicious bouquet of Simcoe and Citra hops, the highly drinkable floral ale was the zenith of an incredible day.

We were giddy with craft be delight as Miller gave us a special tour of the brewhouse where barrel-aged specialties like an Imperial Coyote Moon aged in oak left a creamy residual on our tongues. There were even some other experimental hop beers we were grateful to sample out of the brite tanks.

Coming soon: Interview with Snipes Mountain brewer Chris Miller.