There was barely room inside Tom Handy's Jeep Wrangler for him to actually drive. Every other square inch of the vehicle other than his driver's seat was occupied by 190 pounds of freshly picked hops.
It wasn't the most comfortable trip, but there wasn't time to think about comfort as Handy made his way from Carpenter Ranches hop farm in the Central Washington town of Granger back to his Paradise Creek Brewery in Pullman. There, brewer Keith Tyler was waiting, with the base of the beer already in progress.
Although the inside of the Jeep was cramped, there was some comfort afforded to him by the hops.
"You almost get a natural high just breathing the hops," he says. "The aroma is incredible."
To brew something like this — the third iteration of Paradise Creek's Alpha Madness Fresh Hop IPA — timing is everything. The hops can't sit and dry out, and the rest of the process can't wait too long for the hops to be added, as is the case with brewing any fresh hop (sometimes called "wet hop") beer, a style that Handy says makes for a beer season that's like "Christmas for IPA fiends."
But again, nothing about it is easy. First, you need to know someone who can get you freshly picked hops, which Handy, who founded Paradise Creek in 2010, gets through a chance meeting that turned into a friendship with one of the Carpenter Ranches' owners. Being based in the Inland Northwest does, however, make things a touch simpler.
"We're blessed in a way to live where we do, and the majority of the hops grown nationally are grown right here within our reach," he says.
By "within reach" he means a drive to the middle of the state that has him hitting the road by 6 am, alerting Tyler to get the brewing process started. From there, the two constantly communicate throughout the day, knowing that a construction delay or road blockage could seriously foul up the Alpha Madness. At the hop farm, there's no chitchat or much time to stretch road-weary legs. You load up the hops and turn around.
The boiled wort is then pumped over the fresh hop flowers — in this case, citra and mosaic hops — which already take up the bulk of the space in Paradise Creek's brew kettle.
"The sheer volume of using that many hops in a batch is really fun," says Handy.
As if that wasn't enough hops, equinox hops, which are harvested later, requiring a second trip west, are then added to the fermentation process in what's known as "dry hopping."
Why go through all this extra pain when you're a brewery that can get hop pellets delivered to your door?
"There's great value, because there's a flavor in the beer and a flavor in hops that you can't get any other time of year," says Handy. "There's more chlorophyll and a little grassiness, too. It's amazing." ♦