Alaska Airlines Just Changed The Craft Beer Scene Forever

As recently as 20 years ago, you'd be hard-pressed to find a beer made with fresh hops. Back then, the brews that have since taken the Pacific Northwest by storm were little more than tiny seeds of an idea in the minds of local brewmasters curious about how using fresh hops, instead of dried, would change the taste of beer. It wasn't such a far-fetched idea. According to Willamette Week, a British brewmaster had been wondering the same thing. A 2015 Willamette Week interview with Jeff Alworth, author of "The Beer Bible," pegs the first experiment with fresh-hopping, as it's called, to 1992 when the head brewer at Wadworth Brewery in Southern England was watching the autumn harvest when he began to wonder how using green hops would affect the taste of beer. It was a hit ... and it was also a logistical nightmare.

Fresh hops are highly perishable: They start to deteriorate immediately after they're picked and become unusable after just 24 hours (via CanCan Awards). With timing of the essence, it's easy to understand why the production of fresh hops beer always takes place at breweries with easy access to the harvest, like the Pacific Northwest. But that's about to change.

Timing is everything

Beer lover Jake Spotts, a fresh hops aficionado, had an ah-ha moment when he joined Alaska Airlines' cargo division. He had sampled beer around the world during his 20-year career with the Air Force but could only get his favorite fresh-hops beers in the Pacific Northwest. Realizing the system the airline employed to ship fresh Alaskan seafood could be adapted to transport fresh hops from Washington state (where 75% of the nation's hops crop is grown) to breweries in Alaska and Hawaii, he reached out to colleagues who, pardon the pun, hopped on the idea (via Alaska Air Cargo). The airline then connected with Yakima, Washington-based Bale Breaker Brewing Company — a brewery conveniently located on a commercial hops farm — to get the ball rolling. With Bale Breaker on board, the next step was to recruit breweries to join the initiative. That's when Kevin Quinn, Bale Breaker's co-owner, contacted Maui Brewing Co. in Hawaii and 49th State Brewing in Alaska.

The breweries collaborated on recipe development while the airline fine-tuned its transport plan. Logistics in place, it was time for action. In early September, Bale Breaker harvested, bagged, and loaded fresh hops into refrigerated trucks that boarded cargo planes in Seattle. Within 24 hours of the harvest, brewers in Hawaii and Alaska were adding fresh hops to their boils.

Maui Brewing's Hop Cargo Fresh Hop IPA is set for release on October 3 while 49th State Brewing plans to debut Freshial Delivery Hazy Fresh Hop IPA by the end of September (via Food & Wine).