Buffalo Wild Wings Beer Begins with Family Farmers
While our beer experience often starts with the tap of a keg or that first refreshing sip, for brewers, it all begins with the autumnal hops harvest in the fields.
“Hops drives the flavor – it’s beer’s heavy lifter,” says Buffalo Wild Wings’ Beverage Category Manager Rudy Singh. As a part of the Buffalo Wild Wings culinary team, he understands the important role played by hops. “As the largest pourer of draft beer in the U.S., we estimate our guests consume more hops than any other on-premises brand.”
For all the importance hops carry in beer brewing, it’s a crop that can only be harvested once a year. “The majority of the crops are pelletized to brew beer year-round,” says Rudy. “When you don’t pelletize the hop and brew it fresh, you get the maximum flavor. That’s the distinction of a fresh hop beer – and why we’re so excited to carry the seasonal Celebration Fresh Hop IPA.”
Team Members from Buffalo Wild Wings and Inspire Impact team members recently traveled to Oregon’s Willamette Valley, one of the areas where Sierra Nevada sources hops, to learn about Buffalo Wild Wings’ hops’ Inspired Origins and see this year’s harvest in action. They visited farms like CLS, a family-owned hops farm now on its fifth generation of growers. Generation to generation, they’ve seen incredible growth through beer tourism, innovation, and pivoting to meet changing environmental needs.
Shelley Desmarais and her husband Eric started CLS Farms in 1996 after purchasing their first 100 acres. For their family and the entire Yakima Alley, the rise in popularity of craft beer has changed everything. It has given CLS Farms the ability to invest in facility upgrades, hop-related research and education, and more sustainable farming practices.
Inspire’s team saw firsthand Sierra Nevada’s commitment to its customers and to sustainability. Did you know they boast the largest solar panel system in craft beer, which diverts 99.8% of their solid waste from landfills? Sierra Nevada also built the first LEED platinum production brewery in the U.S.
CLS Farms has worked to reduce carbon emissions, largely through growing high-yielding hops, which allows growers to harvest more volume from less land, using fewer resources per pound. “CLS Farms yields 10%-15% more than state averages,” says Shelley. They’ve also worked to enhance soil health through cover cropping and carbon additions, which increases nutrient availability and reduces the need for synthetic fertilizers during the growing season. An Integrated Pest Management program, paired with intensive field scouting, helps them monitor natural predators and mite counts, fortifying plants against diseases and pests.
While Shelley and Eric are certainly innovative, they’re not alone in their field. Americans have been producing quality hops since colonial times. Fast forward to just last year, when the U.S. provided 44% of the world’s hops supply, valued at $33 billion in economic output and 360,000 jobs, according to the Brewers Association.
The Pacific Northwest owns 98% of U.S. hops production. That’s where the fresh hops have been hand-selected for this year’s Celebration Fresh-Hop IPA by Sierra Nevada, offered on tap at Buffalo Wild Wings sports bars nationwide beginning October 2023. The hops are harvested from fields in the Yakima and Willamette Valleys, where Inspire’s Impact Team recently visited and where Sierra Nevada brewers scoured local farms to select the most flavorful and aromatic buds of the season. They’ll impact flavors and aromas into the beer like floral, rose, citrus fruit, and pine.
Generational family farms are nothing new to the hops industry. And for family farms like Shelley’s, craft beer has transformed both the harvest and the surrounding communities.
Inspire and Buffalo Wild Wings are committed to making a positive impact in those communities and their future generations. Inspire is proud to help fund and present the Dan Martinez Jr. Scholarship award to help family members of those working within the hops industry support higher education. Scholarship recipients include teens like Sophia from Hubbard, Oregon, who will attend Oregon State University, Sydney from Prosser, Washington, who will matriculate at Grand Canyon University, and Crystal from White Swan, Washington, who studies nursing at Yakima Valley College. The Inspire team met some of their families and learned their stories.
Next time you stop by Buffalo Wild Wings, we hope you will think of the dedicated farmers, like Shelley, who grew the hops in your beer and are working every day to make the hops industry more sustainable.