There has been much discussion about what makes up Pacific Northwest cuisine. With so many influences, it’s difficult to pinpoint a single ingredient or style of cooking that truly represents what we do here. An affinity for fresh seafood and local produce belong in the definition, but we are steadily gaining a reputation for another product: beer. As of 2014, there were over 280 breweries in Washington, and that number grows daily. Craft breweries are popping up all over the U.S., but there are many reasons as to why it is such a Northwest staple.
For starters, the hops love it here. The majority are grown in the Yakima Valley, which is known for its sun-filled days and wide, open areas; a perfect environment for growing. Along with desert-like conditions and abundant irrigation, the latitude plays and essential role in making Washington an ideal spot for this type of crop. The majority of commercial hops grow between a latitude of 35 and 55 either North or South of the equator. Several different varieties and strains are found here, and supply 25% of the world’s hop crop (75% nationwide). With such a perfect environment for this crop, it’s no wonder so many have looked to take advantage of what’s growing in our own backyard.
Hops being a local product also fits with another ideal that makes up Pacific Northwest cuisine; the concept of the “locavore.” There’s no way around it, us upper-lefters love to eat local and really focus on sustainable growing practices. Not only are hops right on the other side of the mountains, but several local breweries take it one step further by utilizing other local ingredients to flavor their brews. In June of this year Pike Brewing Company created a beer series featuring 100% Washington ingredients, sourcing not only hops, but also malts, yeast and even water from within state lines. Pike also sources the bulk of its barley from our northern neighbors in Vancouver, further reducing the brewery’s carbon footprint. Several craft breweries in the state also focus on local ingredients, sustainable practices, and converting what would be waste from the brewing process into feed for local livestock.
Beer is gaining steam as a staple in Pacific Northwest cuisine and brewers are becoming more recognized for the detail and creativity that goes into their craft. As tap handles begin to hold their own against wine lists, there’s no denying that beer is just as essential to the unique cuisine of this region as anything else. Its made here, loved here, and, if trends continue, it’s here to stay.
Post by Katie Bauer