Yakima Valley’s Craft Spirits, Great Wine, and An Award-Winning Pale Ale

May 21, 2014

On a beautiful, clear spring morning in Yakima Valley we headed west to Hackett Ranch in the Ahtanum Valley for a 10 a.m. breakfast of champions: craft-spirits and wine tasting. Apparently morning is the best time for tasting, as your palate is clean and free of a day's build-up of proteins. My belly was armed and ready as I told my middle-aged self, "You can do this. You've had Bloody Mary's in the morning. You can do this!" And I did, and loved it.

We drove down the picturesque ranch road that lead to Hackett Ranch. Row after lovely row of apple trees were in full bloom, begging to be photographed against the blue sky. Hackett Ranch is home to Glacier Basin Distillery, Gilbert Cellars, the Cave, and their Amphitheater where you can enjoy their summer concert series. The Ranch is steeped in rich history. In 1897, the Gilbert family worked the farm lands of the Ahtanum Valley, a breath-taking landscape set below Gilbert Peak, named after avid mountaineer Curtiss Gilbert, grandfather of the winery’s co-founder. This year, Gilbert Cellars celebrates 10 years of winemaking and their new foray into hand crafted spirits.

This article is the final article in a 3-part series of wine tasting in Yakima Valley. Be sure to read all about Day 1: Three Glorious Days of Wine Tasting in Yakima Valley here, and Day 2: Discovering the Great Wines of Prosser, Washington here.

Glacier Basin Distillery

We started the day’s tasting in the rustic still-under-design distilling room (complete with snoozing cat on a beat up sofa) of Glacier Basin Distillery, founded in 2012. The lush soils of the Yakima Valley are known to produce some of the sweetest, most delicious fruits in the world and Glacier Basin is distilling these amazing fruits for our imbibing pleasure. Their premium brandies use hand-harvested and locally-sourced apples, cherries, grapes, apricots, peaches, pears and plums at their location on Hackett Ranch. My shocker of the day was discovering how much I love apple brandy. No, how much I love their apple brandy! Whole Granny Smith apples with some Pink Ladies thrown in are crushed and fermented, producing a crisp brandy with beautiful notes of apple that linger on the nose. This brandy, made in the style of Calvados, was smooth and, dare I say, perfection. Their Grappa and Kirschwasser Cherry Brandy are a must-try, but for me their Apple Brandy is still on my mind…

Gilbert Cellars & The Cave

We headed down the small hill, just past the intimate amphitheater, to meet Gilbert Cellars winemaker Justin Neufeld. Of all the wonderful winemakers I met on our 3-day wine tasting journey, Justin was perhaps the most informative. His passion for wine and winemaking was palpable, yet in such a relaxed and informal way that I felt as if I could be sitting in his living room. He taught us how to taste, not necessarily what to taste (a pet peeve of mine as that instantly effects my perception of the wine).  

This year, Gilbert Cellars celebrates 10 years of wine making and all upcoming 2012 and 2013 releases will bear their new wine label. Up to 70% of their own grapes, from vineyards in three of Washington’s most celebrated AVAs, are used in their hand-crafted wines. We began our tasting with a 2012 Mourvèdre, a tasty wine with notes of white pepper and light green herbs. It was light on the palate with neutral tannins. Next was a 2012 Granache (one of my favorite grapes next to Cab Franc) that was beautifully floral and aromatic. Its spicy, dried fruit characteristics made this wine almost Christmasy. It made me want a plate of roasted duck. Next was a bright and fun 2012 Syrah whose body was somewhere between the Granache and the Mourvèdre, but more expansive on the palate and fruit driven. Finally, we tasted a blend of their Granache (48%), Mourvèdre (27%) and Syrah (25%), a delightful combination of these three beautiful grapes.

Though Gilbert Cellars has a tasting room in downtown Yakima the drive out the tasting room, a wonderful and lively wine bar-like atmosphere, is a must-do. The drive through the orchards is spectacular and The Cellar is truly something to behold. Be sure to check out their summer concert series, then grab a bottle from the tasting room, have a picnic, and rock out to some great tunes.

Bale Breaker

Next, we headed to the “East Valley” to Moxee, the heart of hops country. Like with wine grape growing, the climate, long day length, growing latitude, irrigation and exceptional soil quality all make this an exceptional area to grow hops. Yakima Valley produces about 75% of the nation's hops, followed by Oregon's Willamette Valley (about 20%), and the remainder in Idaho.

We stopped at Bale Breaker, the one-year-old brewing company located in the heart of a family-owned hops field. In fact, Bale Breaker is the only brewery located on their own (four generations-owned) hops field. Owners Patrick Smith, Meghann Quinn, and Kevin Smith's great-grandparents first planted hops in the Yakima Valley in 1932, just before Prohibition ended. The siblings, along with Meghann's husband Kevin Quinn, combined their passion for great hand-crafted beers with their love of hops to create their brewery, located just down the road from where they were born and raised. 

The new brewery has already received numerous accolades for their hop-forward, aromatic brews, including their Field 41 Pale Ale, a light and refreshing American Pale Ale named after the hop field on which Bale Breaker is located. This beer sold me on hoppy beer. Typically not a fan of Pale Ales (I'm a unique species in a region filled with passionate Pale Ale lovers), I found myself wanting more of this flavorful and approachable beer. It's no wonder it won an award for one of America's top 25 Best Beers of 2013. And, it was the only Pale Ale and the only beer from Washington State that won. Topcutter IPA is their best-selling beer, rated 95 out of 100 by Draft Magazine. It has a smooth bitterness and lovely notes of pine and flowers. In the mood for something far on the hops side, try the Kiln Series #001 Imperial IPA (or Double IPA), clocking it at 100+ on the IBU scale (International Bittering Units Scale).

Don't miss this stop on your Yakima Valley Tasting Tour. You'll want to hang out at the bar and talk beer and hops with Meghann and Kevin until sundown (or beyond)!

Getting around…
Let Eric Miller, owner of WineriesExpress.com, be your designated driver! Wineries Express helps connect customers with producers in an upbeat, educational, entertaining and safe manner. Wineries Express is a charter service offering individuals, couples, and small groups tours to be driven in comfort and safety across the many estates in the Yakima area while offering wine education and ambassadorship. Click here for more information and to reserve a coach.