The second largest wine-producing region in the U.S. is Washington and the industry is focused on the eastern part of the state, mostly stretching from Walla Walla to the Yakima Valley.
But beer’s popular here, as it should be since the valley is one of the largest hop producers in the world. There’s even a two-room American Hop Museum in Toppenish, a 20-minute drive from Yakima, that’s worth a visit.
Snipes Mountain Brewing in Sunnyside in the Yakima Valley is a huge log cabin-type building, cozy and family-friendly with a huge local following.
Brewer Chris Miller is starting to age his beers in wine barrels to give them some sourness, he said. The first he’s trying is his Coyote Moon, an English mild―a nut-brown, kind of English mild-gone-wild―with very few hops. He uses wild yeast and souring agents and matures the beers for a year, sometimes adding fruit. These beers should be available next spring, Miller said.
“It takes time for the wild yeast to chew through some of the sugars so you have to forget about it,” he said. “It mirrors [the aging] in the wine industry, so it feels like a natural step.”
Miller also mirrors the wine industry by taking cast-off barrels from Willow Crest and Kana wineries. For his Coyote Moon, he uses red wine barrels. “If I’m doing a brownish-red beer, red barrels lend themselves best. It’s mostly woody flavors that concentrate the beer,” he said.
Miller enjoys watching Budweiser drinkers being turned on to his beers, which include an American-style hefeweizen, with more subdued flavors; Harvest Ale, which is packed with flavor from the green hops used; and Roza Reserve, a complex, high alcohol (9.2 percent) beer with great malt and hop depth.
Seasonals include The Pumpkin Death, which Miller describes as the anti-pumpkin beer. “So many pumpkin beers are over-spiced but I just burned the pumpkins for some caramel flavor.”