We went to Walla Walla for a weekend of wine tasting with friends. Along the way, we stopped at five breweries. You should see what happens when we go beer tasting.
Located along the old Yakima Valley Highway, Snipes Mountain Brewery and Restaurant is easy to spot and hard to imagine. When you find it, you might ask yourself, “Did aliens drop this here from outer space?”
Sunnyside, Washington is an unmistakably rural community. It is not necessarily a small and sleepy place, but it is busy with fruit packing facilities, feed stores, and farm equipment dealerships. Sunnyside seems like an unlikely place for a brewery. But then again…
“All the hop farmers hang out here,” says Chris Miller, head brewer at Snipes Mountain. “They’re some of my best customers.”
This is the hop capitol of the world. The experts tell me that the Yakima River Valley produces 75% of the nation’s hops and 30% of the world’s hops. Bert Grant decided thirty years ago that this valley was the perfect place for a brewery.
The Snipes Mountain Brewery is as beautiful as it is unlikely. If this building were in Aspen or Lake Tahoe, it might go unnoticed. In Sunnyside, it stands out. It looks like a ski lodge or perhaps one of those really fancy hunting lodges in Montana where rich people pay a lot of money to go kill things. (A short video at the end of this post gives you an idea.)
Don’t misunderstand me. It’s a beautiful building. I’m just trying to emphasize the fact that it really stands out. When you walk through the front door, it is unmistakable that this is a brewery as well as a restaurant. The bar is immediately in front of you and the brewery is in glass just beyond that.
When we arrived, the windows into the brewery were wonderfully steamy. Chris was busy brewing up a batch of his Octoberfest creation. He intends to serve it at this year’s Fresh Hop Festival (which we’ll tell you about in another post). He took a few minutes to show us around, which we appreciated since he was obviously busy.
A Seattle native, Chris is a skilled brewer who learned his tricks at the old Pacific Rim brewery in White Center (now Big Al’s Brewing). When offered the job at Snipes, he quickly packed up the family and left the big city behind. “Now my yard is surrounded by grapes and hops,” he tells us.
Chris showed us his collection of oak barrels. These days, every brewer has some of those. In one barrel is Winter Coyote, which I assume is a stronger version of his Coyote Moon. In another is Pumpkin Head, which he describes as imperial pumpkin ale.
He also told us about his growing collection of funky yeast strains. “Everyone is making funky beers. Sour beers. Weird beers. I want to make funky beers too,” he says somewhat sarcastically.
At the bar, Chris pointed to what appeared to be an empty tap (no handle) and had the bartender pour us a glass of a beer that he calls Hog’s Leg Red. Apparently, we were there for its one year anniversary. Chris brewed the beer a year ago for a friend’s wedding, originally naming it Forever Red. How sweet.
“There are a lot of different malts in there,” says Chris. “Dry hopped about 3 or 4 times. I don’t really remember. There were hops all over place. In the mash, in the air, on the floor.”
It’s hard to tell if he’s talking about the beer or the brewing event, but it’s really all the same. Chris describes this beer as being kissing cousins to a barley wine. The alcohol content is not quite as high but it does have the same kind of richness. Of course, the hop storm that Chris described balances it out nicely.
Any tour of the Yakima River Valley should include a stop at Snipes Mountain. We also ate lunch there and the food was great. To find Snipes Mountain Brewery and Restaurant, just cruise through Sunnyside on the old Yakima Valley Highway and amidst the tractor repair shops and feed stores you’ll find a big log building that looks like it should be in Vail, Colorado.