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Joshy hopped off to Portland’s Yakima Valley for an epic hopportunity

If you haven’t met our Beer Farmer Josh Thomas, jump on our Instagram feed and check out the picture of him emerging from the mist, wearing a wig of orange zest. He’s a bloody character, and he’s one of the brains behind our beers.

We’re almost positive Josh could have nailed a career in comedy, but fortunately for us he looked to his other hobby (beer) for his future endeavors; becoming one of Beerfarm’s founders and an all-round guru when it comes to beer.

With 9 solid years in the industry and a passion for beer that runs deeper than Yakima’s Canyon Valley, it’s no wonder Josh was invited to partake in Yakima Chief Hops annual hop selection, on behalf of Beerfarm.

So, last month Josh packed up his things (mostly a rotation of T-shirts from different breweries), jumped on a plane and flew over to Portland, where he joined a team of brewers from 13 other breweries around the globe. Each of these brewers, Josh included, were invited to select hops from one of the highest quality hop-growing regions in the world. What a bloody honour!

We chatted to Josh to suss out what the annual hop selection was all about, as well as some highlights from the last minute journey to Yakima Valley in Washington State.

Beerfarm was invited to this year’s Yakima Chief Hops in Yakima Valley, Washington State. How did it feel to be one of 13 international brewers taking part in this very special venture?

Very privileged! It was awesome to be considered and invited along to such a big annual event. I spent my time making new relationships with some very talented Australian brewers and selecting top-quality hops from one of the best hop growing regions in the world for a load of Australian breweries. It was fair to say I was a little excited!

What is Yakima Chief Hops mission, and how did Beerfarm play a role in this?

I think it was clear they are passionate about growing good quality hops and making sure there are enough of them for all the brewers in the world. They are also all very passionate about new leading technologies for hop products, along with building and maintaining relationships with brewers from all parts of the world.

From a BeerFarm perspective; we wanted to be a part of the relationships between growers and brewers to ensure each party understands the process and the demand universally. We also needed to make sure we respected and oversaw the challenges faced by our hop growers of the past, present, and future, after all, we would not have some of our great beers without ’em!

For your average beer drinker who may not know much about hops and its importance in beer – can you describe what it is, and why we need it to make beer?

Hops have plenty of benefits in beer; both in chemistry and in flavour. If chosen and balanced correctly they truly become the star of some styles and the backbone of others. Sure you can make beer with little to no hops, but what’s the fun in that? Hops round out a beer, they deliver many layers of flavour and there are many ways to use them to your advantage. This is something I learned from the great hop growing region, from brewers who have access to these hops at the freshest quality possible!

How important is hop selection, and how does it impact the wider brewing community?

Doing hop selection which was lead by a group of very knowledgeable and passionate brewers, it assisted us as a collective to secure an allocation of certain varieties but also ensured other brewers in Australia were getting the best quality hops possible.

Without selecting or being transparent about demands and preferences, our growers would struggle to plan what and how much to grow, so feedback to them is invaluable.

Yakima have emphasised how important the grower/ brewer connection is to them. Why do you think this is, and what did you take away from this experience?

I think knowing where your produce comes from and who’s behind it is always a big reason to build these tight connections. For me, I was really keen to see the operations and quality management side, along with understanding the history of the hop growing community in the region.

Another vital part was understanding what information we as brewers can give to the growers and how we can best use the information they supply us. The closer we work together, the better for the wider brewing community.

Did you manage to tee up any collaboration brews with any of the other breweries while you were there, and if so, can you spill any beans?

I believe there is a beer planned to be brewed with Bale Breaker (surrounded with hop farms) with the rest of the other brewers over from Australia… so should be something pretty hop-driven I’d imagine!

Yakima is said to be ‘fast-flowing’, supporting an agricultural industry rich with fruits, vegetables, wine grapes, 77% of all hops in the USA and the world’s largest apple yield. Did you manage to get your hands on anything other than hop flowers while you were over there?

It was a pretty beer/brewery/hop farm focussed week, and I did plan to use as much time I had spare to explore what the region has to offer… but I was really unfortunate to come down with the flu while I was over there.

We went for a drive through the mountains on Saturday and bought fishing rods from a fishing tackle shop in Canyon River called Reds Fly shop. We had intended to go fishing in the river the next day, but with most of the crew being sick with the flu, I inevitably caught it too!

So needless to say when I heard the temperature was sub-zero and snowing in some parts, I opted to stay in and huddle up in bed. But other than that, the Mexican food was pretty bloody tops, as well as the apples!

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