Seattle breweries brace for hazy future as wildfires impact hops harvest

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The owner of Fremont Brewing said thousands of pounds of their hop harvest had been affected by forest fire smoke.

SEATTLE – A scorching forest fire season continues to devastate farmers across Washington state, including those who grow and harvest hops, a key ingredient in beer production.

The result now has an economic impact on local breweries.

Fremont Brewing in Seattle said it first found smoke in their Cowiche Canyon Fresh Hop Ale. The batch is a special project for harvesting organic hops, which is produced once a year and released until it is used up.

It was supposed to be released last week but was delayed.

“It was devastating,” said owner Matt Lincecum, who added that nearly 2,000 pounds of her entire 37,000-pound crop was smoky-flavored.

Fremont Brewery makes more than 80 types of craft beers, but they specialize in small batches. So if a batch is damaged, it affects the entire company.

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Especially if the company is still trying to recover from the nearly 40% pandemic losses. The harvest season should help make up for these losses.

“You’re in the fields and watch and watch the hops, and then they come in and it’s like Christmas Day,” said Lincecum.

This year the smoke got in the way. First in sight and then in taste.

“You can see some of the damage,” Lincecum explained. “They are yellow instead of this light green mark, they are a bit yellow … you notice it really well, you notice the aroma immediately.”

But it’s a trait, he said, that her team has to get used to seeing climate change as a harsh reality.

“We’ll see that next year,” said Lincecum. “We believe in climate change … we don’t know why it was just that particular crop, but that’s what we’re trying to find out.”

Over the weekend, the team was able to remove the smoke using a process called a centrifuge to separate the solids from the liquid.

“We just turned it around and refined it a bit,” explains Lincecum.

But with up to 75% of the nation’s hops coming from Washington, Fremont Brewery takes no chances.

Lincecum said they are working with their partner farmers and Yakima Chiefs Hops to be better prepared for smoke effects, both in the field and in the brewery.

“The goal is now [to try] to defuse where we can, “said Lincecum.