Alaska Air Cargo

Second “Fresh Hops Fly” collaboration brings flavor of Northwest to Austin, San Diego 

Photography by Ingrid Barrentine / Alaska Airlines

Fall is our favorite time to brew up a fresh farm-to-glass connection. 

In September, the Alaska Air Cargo team shipped about 500 pounds of just-picked hops to breweries in Austin and San Diego — cities far from central Washington state, which grows more than 70% of the nation’s hops. Within hours of harvest, vibrant Mosaic hops from Loftus Ranches poured into the breweries’ kettles, infusing the beer with their distinctly grassy, floral scent.  

Now, taproom visitors to Zilker Brewing Company in Austin and North Park Beer Company in San Diego are enjoying a taste of fresh hop beers, a style rarely brewed outside the Pacific Northwest because of the challenges transporting commercial-scale quantities of the highly perishable hops. The October releases at Zilker and North Park are products of the second year of “Fresh Hops Fly,” a collaboration between the breweries and Alaska Air Cargo, distributor Yakima Chief Hops, Loftus Ranches and Bale Breaker Brewing Company to bring fresh hops to new regions of the country. 

Hop harvest at Loftus Ranches.

“This is a special moment in the harvest calendar year in the Pacific Northwest and an opportunity to educate beer drinkers around the country on where their ingredients come from,” said Pascal Fritz, director of marketing for grower-owned Yakima Chief Hops, which distributes hops from more than 60 farms across the Northwest. “The beer scenes in both Austin and San Diego are impressive, and this was an amazing opportunity to open up the aperture and bring some fresh hops to their locations.” 

Last year, in the inaugural “Fresh Hops Fly” effort, we were the first domestic airline to transport fresh hops on a commercial scale, flying more than a thousand pounds to Maui and Anchorage. Kevin Quinn of Bale Breaker, the family-owned brewery located on Loftus Ranches, joined the collaboration at both breweries. “The most impressive thing I took away from last year was that we could get hops off our family farm in Yakima and all the way to Maui and Anchorage in under 24 hours and not break a cold chain,” Quinn said. 

This year, Marco Rodriguez, Zilker’s director of brewing operations, said his team in Austin marveled at the fact the hops were still cold when they plunged their hands into the shipping totes after they arrived at the brewery.  

“You could smell it in the warehouse as soon as they opened the van up,” Rodriguez said. “Just like hop harvest in Yakima, it had that green pungent hop smell.” 

Fresh hops arrive at Zilker Brewing. (Photo courtesy Zilker Brewing Company)

Alaska Air Cargo Managing Director Adam Drouhard says his team is uniquely positioned to help bring fresh hops to new beer-drinking audiences nationwide because of our decades of experience in shipping perishables like fresh seafood — and the location of our headquarters at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, a short drive from the heart of hop country.

“Our commitment to cold-chain integrity helps us put a Northwest agricultural product in communities that don’t normally get to experience it, and it’s exciting to see those opportunities grow.”

Adam Drouhard, Alaska Air Cargo managing director

Yakima Chief Hops’ goal is to expand the fresh hops opportunities to “hubs” in a few cities across the country, Fritz said. “Ultimately, we want to take these amazing ingredients from farms in the Pacific Northwest and get them into the hands of brewers in areas that have never had them before,” he said. “That’s going to take partnering with Alaska Air Cargo and identifying locations that make logistics sense. Over time, we want to share the magic of what happens around here in other cities.” 

This fall, here’s what’s on tap in Austin and San Diego: 

Zilker Brewing Company, Austin

Fresh hops received: 240 pounds 

Total beer brewed: About 14 barrels, or around 30 kegs

Beer name: Perishable Fresh Hop West Coast IPA 

Tasting notes: Strawberry, orange, finishes with dark resinous berry/stone fruit 

“Our goal with our West Coast-inspired IPA is to feature the flavor and the freshness of those hops and ultimately create something that’s fruit forward. Fresh hops have a particular kind of funkiness to them that you don’t get with other forms of dry hops, so we want to make sure we retain that. This is kind of a rare thing for us and for the consumer down here, too. Any time we have the opportunity to get more connected to the ingredients and to the process, it is a really cool thing for our team.” 

Patrick Clark, co-founder and director of operations, Zilker Brewing
North Park’s lead brewer Tyson (pouring hops) and Kevin Quinn of Bale Breaker Brewing. (Photo courtesy of North Park Beer Company)

Fresh hops received: 240 pounds 

Total beer brewed: About 15 barrels, or around 30 kegs 

Beer name: Fresh Express DDH Harvest IPA 

Tasting notes: Floral aromas and flavors of blueberry, bright orange and wild berry Skittles 

“We have basically an exhibition brewery, and our brewhouse is exposed to everybody in the taproom. So, when we have wet hops in the brewery, we always take a couple of pitchers of them and put them out at the bar and if people want to just throw them in their beer, they can. … I tell people this is a bit like cooking: It’s a bit like working with fresh basil vs working with dried herbs, It’s very fresh, it’s very raw. It’s in its original state, and it is just the most vibrant expression of that thing that’s only available for that moment.” 

Kelsey McNair, head brewer and founder, North Park Beer Company
A toast to brew day: Top row: Kevin Quinn and North Park founder Kelsey McNair. Middle: Pascal Fritz of Yakima Chief Hops. Bottom row: Tyson and John, brewers at North Park. (Photo courtesy of North Park Beer Company)
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