Hometown Boys From Yakima Valley Hops Give Industry, Local Economy A Lift

All they wanted to do was brew some beer.

The only problem for John Snyder and Jeff Perkins was that they didn’t know where to get their hands on any hops.

Back in 2012, procuring the essential beer-making ingredient was far more difficult than it is today. So the two Central Washington University buddies — now the owners of Yakima Valley Hops — asked their friend, Matt Hollingbery, for a handful of product so they could brew up a few experimental batches.

Hollingbery, of Hollingbery & Son Inc. in Yakima, provided Snyder and Perkins with a garbage bag full of hops — way more than they needed to get started.

The two friends decided to share their bounty with Iron Horse Brewery in Ellensburg, trading their new-found hops surplus for growler fills.

Then, almost overnight, Yakima Valley Hops was born.

“We worked with Iron Horse a few times and then we started putting the hops out on eBay,” said Snyder, 34, a West Valley High School graduate and former fishing guide. “That summer, it really took off. By the time I had gotten back from Alaska, the business was really moving, thanks to Jeff.”

The aspiring entrepreneurs started working with other hops growers in the Valley — including Roy Farms, Hopsteiner, CLS Farms and John I. Haas Inc. — and began distributing their products globally.

As recently as six years ago, hops from the larger enterprises were only available to the big players in the industry.

Snyder and Perkins wanted to change that dynamic, so they began stockpiling a variety of locally grown products and shipping them around the world. They took up shop in Perkins’ parents’ garage, using a freezer and a Seal-A-Meal to vacuum pack their product before mailing it out to small breweries and home brewers.

It didn’t take long for the concept to catch on.

“We knew there was definitely something happening and we needed to develop our own website,” Snyder said. “So we searched for the yakimavalleyhops.com domain and, amazingly, it was available. Even though Yakima is No. 1 in the nation for hops, no one seemed to care.”

YV Hops eventually moved out of the garage into a warehouse at 702 N. First Ave., but the business model was somewhat rudimentary. They were still hand-packing and sealing the hops, while also meeting customers at pickup locations.

“We were literally selling bags of hops out of the Fred Meyer parking lot; it was kind of sketchy,” Snyder said with a laugh.

They hired their first employee, Corey Hacker, in 2013, and then purchased some industrial-strength equipment to streamline the packaging and distribution processes. Soon after, Ryan McKonkey came on board and the company just kept adding pieces.

Snyder and Perkins opened Yakima’s first home brew store the same year and continued to add to their staff. Nowadays, YV Hops employs 12 people and they want to keep growing.

“Back then, we didn’t really know what was happening,” Snyder said. “We were just in this warehouse and tons of people wanted to buy from us. Things just grew and grew, and now we’re supplying 45,000 home brewers and 4,000 breweries in 38 countries.”

Perkins said that unexpected rise is what gives the company an authenticity that you don’t find with other startups.

YV Hops literally began in a garage with a Seal-A-Meal, some bags and an eBay account.

“We never had a ton of money to invest in hiring, so we’ve had to utilize our resources the best way we know how,” said Perkins, 33, a graduate of Davis High School. “We were organically grown and we started off super-small. As more money comes in, we reinvest it in the company.”

As a result of their down-home approach, the local economy — and the beer-making community — have been reaping the rewards.

Perkins and Snyder are proud that, after coming on the scene just a few years ago, their vision and hard work are directly contributing to the prosperity of their hometown.

“Employing local people and bringing outside money into town has been very rewarding,” Perkins said. “We have built a good, solid team, and we consider every one of them to be part of our family. Now that we have a strong foundation in place, we’re beginning to realize what this can become.”

Filling A Need

The trouble Snyder and Perkins went through back in 2012 to find hops for home-brewing made them realize they weren’t alone.

Until a few years ago, the hops-distribution network was geared more toward larger companies like Sierra Nevada, New Belgium or Deschutes. If a brewer didn’t want to buy pounds of hops, there was very little available to them.

Craft breweries and experimentalists could only dream of an online-ordering system for hop pellets, hop leaves, extracts, oils, brewing ingredients and more.

Enter Yakima Valley Hops.

“The main driver for us was the old system,” Snyder said. “There were mass inefficiencies in distribution and the little guys were just getting the leftovers. We came in and started offering hops pellets in bulk and people ate it up. As we continued to grow, so did our quality.”

As a hops broker, YV Hops acts as a middle man between the hops farmers and the brewers.

The farmers don’t have to compete with one another, nor do the brewers.
YV Hops sells all of its 150 varieties year-round to anyone who wants them — home brewers, brew pubs, microbreweries — in one-pound, two-pound, 8-ounce and 2-ounce sizes.

Customers aren’t tied to contracts and they can order what they want when they need it. What YV Hops has been able to do differently is offer an easy-to-use personalized service that wasn’t available to the little guys a mere six years ago.

“It was the Wild West back then and no one had a connection to the source,” Snyder said. “Back then, none of the smaller guys could get the time of day. So we stepped in to solve the problem, with our only goal being to help people make good beer.”

By allowing its customers to purchase different varieties and amounts, YV Hops is able to help the hop farms and the brewers equally. The farms can try out their experimental varieties and receive valuable feedback from customers who purchase a specific product.

“We call it the bottom-up approach,” Perkins said. “The farms give us their experimental varieties to try with our customers and if it takes off, their larger clients recognize how valuable it is. That’s how their hops become commercially viable. We work very closely with each of the farms, and we have been pivotal in influencing what varieties get noticed in the industry.”

Yakima Is Beer Central

Yakima has long been known as the hops capital of the world, but only in the past decade has it truly been recognized as the place to find the highest-quality aroma hops — the intense-flavor varieties that are used to create craft beers.

Word is starting to travel, however, with the explosion of local breweries in the Valley over the past two years.

Snyder and Perkins have made it their mission to keep Yakima top of mind for anyone who wants to talk about beer-drinking destinations.

“Yakima is to hops what the Napa Valley is to wine grapes,” Perkins said, “and I think the beer industry here can be even bigger than the wine. The biggest breweries in the world came here last summer because they know this is where the best hops come from. It’s a very special place, and it’s been amazing to see what has developed over the past five years.”

The number of breweries popping up around the Valley is not by accident. YV Hops works with nearly all of them, and has played a significant role in advancing Yakima’s beer culture.

Yakima Hops and Brew Supply, located on site at the company’s headquarters on North First Avenue, has been equally instrumental in spreading home-brewing fanaticism around town.

The home brew store has provided access to top-quality hops and other brewing ingredients and accessories that weren’t previously available.
“We’ve found a lot of support in the community, and it’s been really rewarding to introduce some of our bigger merchants to the home-brewing crowd,” Perkins said.

Now that Snyder and Perkins have successfully bridged the gap between home-brewers and hops suppliers, they are looking to become ambassadors for the industry, and for Yakima.

They operate a local music venue on site called the Hop Shop and often rent out the event space for private parties.

They also have launched a successful podcast called “Late Addition” that focuses on the hops industry (the name is a nod to their brewing roots — adding aroma hops at the end of the brewing cycle to maximize flavor).

The introductory podcast received 3,000 views and episode 4 is currently in the works.

No matter how far the business goes, Yakima Valley Hops is making a name for itself in Central Washington and around the world.

“There are a lot of people out there who want to try new things, and we’re glad we’ve been able to be part of that growth,” Snyder said. “We knew the industry needed it, and we’ve been very well received. We think this is just the beginning.”

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