Bale Breaker Brewing in Moxee, Wash.
Imagine Napa Valley with no wineries. Kentucky or Tennessee with no distilleries. Belgium with no abbey breweries.
This was essentially the state of Yakima Valley in the vacuum left by Bert Grant's death in 2001. Grant founded Yakima Brewing and Grant's Brewery Pub in Yakima, Wash., in 1982 and gave the U.S. not only its first brewpub since prohibition, but its first taste of what would later be known as Northwest IPA.It wasn't until 2007 that the esteemed Yakima Craft Brewing Co. picked up the mantle and brought brewing back to the region that produces nearly 80% of the hops grown in the U.S. The brewery even uses Grant's original boil kettle for some of its brews. While Yakima Craft proved last year with its Fresh Hop Imperial Red that there are benefits to being near the source, another brewer right down the road is taking that assertion to its logical extreme. Bale Breaker only opened in April, but the great-grandparents of owners Patrick Smith, Meghann Quinn and Kevin Smith first planted hops in the Yakima Valley in 1932, the year before Prohibition ended. Their 30-barrel, 11,000-square foot production facility sits in their family's hop fields just down the road from where they grew up and is surrounded on three sides by Cascade hops. Smith, who serves as head brewer, came over from a shift-brewing gig at Two Beers to develop his brewery's offerings at the family farm's nanobrewery. These are the people you want pouring you a fresh hop beer, and Topcutter IPA is the one you want to start with. Named for a piece of farm equipment that removes hop vines from the trellis during a hop harvest, Topcutter is laden with some of the Yakima Valley's most sought-after hops. By adding Simcoe, Citra, Ahtanum and Mosaic late in the process, Smith gives Topcutter a fruity, citrusy flavor and strong floral aroma that's only heightened by the use of fresh hops. At 6.8% ABV and a formidable 70 international bitterness units -- potent for a non-imperial IPA -- Topcutter is built around the hop. Picking up a can of it certainly won't hurt the brewery's cause, but the Bale Breaker taproom only does the fresh-hop version of its Topcutter IPA more favors by running it through a Randall -- a dual chambered device from folks at Dogfish Head Brew that attaches to a beer tap and stores hops in one chamber to infuse a beer with even more hoppiness, collects unwanted foam in another chamber and pours out as close to a liquid version of hops as you'll find. For hop-minded beer lovers, it makes Yakima and Bale Breaker as worthy as a pilgrimage as Napa would be for fans of Pinot Noir.