Baled Out: The Ahtanum® Story
Much like the art of brewing, there is a unique craft to growing hops. It involves many different techniques and processes to ensure things such as harvest quality, varietal purity, and a healthy yield. Hop growers must pay close attention to many natural factors such as weather and disease to anticipate and alleviate any harmful effects they may have on the crop. Unfortunately, Ahtanum® Brand YCR 1 is one such variety that was once a victim of an unstoppable viroid that spread throughout the Yakima Valley.
Bred by Yakima Chief Ranches, Ahtanum® is an aroma-type cultivar known for its citrus, earthy and floral aromatic properties and moderate bittering. As the first variety released out of the program, it was named after the location where Charles Carpenter established the first hop farm in the Yakima Valley in 1869. When it was first released, it had solid demands and was brewed with by some of today’s most popular breweries including Stone Brewing and Boston Beer. But when a viroid spread across the crop in the valley, growers went searching for clean plants to revive the hop.
“Once the plant has a viroid, you can’t get it out,” says Steve Carpenter, Chief Supply Chain Officer of Yakima Chief Hops.” “It’s very important to find some clean material to do softwood cuttings and propagate from there. They looked all over the place to try and find a clean plant in the commercial fields and they couldn’t.”
“Luckily, our very own Pedro Venegas, my procurement guy, happened to plant a little hop yard,” Steve recalls. “They went along the warehouses at our facilities in Sunnyside. He had eight plants of Ahtanum®, and we got the idea one day, gosh, we can’t find anything else! Let’s go to Pete’s yard.”
Of the eight plants grown by Pedro Venegas, Field Procurement Manager at Yakima Chief Hops, two of the plants were clean. Using just those two plants three years ago, growers began the clean-up process with softwood cuttings, and a hop variety was reborn.
“Now, almost 100 percent of the Ahtanum® that are grown this year came from those two plants,” says Steve. “They’re clean and look absolutely amazing! Now that we have it cleaned up, it will be consistent and stable in terms of yield and quality from here on.”
“I began my career in the hop industry at a very young age working in the hop fields, so obviously hops are a huge passion of mine,” says Pete Venegas. “I started and maintained the hop yard at YCH because it was something I truly enjoyed doing. It’s exciting to know that, because of our small hop yard, we were able to preserve this amazing hop variety and continue sharing it with brewers. We are looking forward to expanding the growth of Ahtanum® and seeing it pop up in more and more beers.”
We are thrilled to be a part of the revitalization of Ahtanum® so that we can bring it back to kettles and pint glasses around the world! By sharing its unique story, we encourage you to use this hop to inspire or compliment one of your beers. Through greater knowledge and programs such as those offered through Yakima Chief Ranches, our growers hope to protect this hop for years to come.