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Hops and Huskies

Ask siblings Patrick Smith, ’04; Meghann Quinn, ’06; and Kevin Smith, ’10, what brought them back to their hometown of Yakima after years away, and the answer is simple: “Once hops are in your DNA, you can’t leave,” Meghann says. “There was something drawing us back here.”

For the Smith family, hops is the common thread winding itself through four generations. Knowing the end of Prohibition was near, the siblings’ great grandparents saw a chance to get a headstart on an emerging industry and started their hop farm in 1932.

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With that same vision, Meghann, Patrick, Kevin and Meghann’s husband Kevin Quinn, ’05 — all UW alumni — opened Bale Breaker Brewing Company on the family hop farm in 2013. Originally selling beer only in Eastern Washington, Bale Breaker is making a name for itself across the state. This year it was named the official beer of Seattle’s Beer Week, the first time a Yakima brewery has earned that honor.

If you browse the Bale Breaker website, you’ll find videos of workers caressing the hop plants, known as bines, tenderly gathering them into bundles. The brewery’s identity and story is forever linked to this plant, so critical to Central Washington’s economy. About 75% of the nation’s hops — 30% of the world’s production — are grown in the Yakima Valley. The vast majority of the crop is processed there before being shipped away, used by brewers across the United States and exported to over 80 countries.

With Bale Breaker, the family is reclaiming the hop as their own. Explaining the origin of the brewery’s name, Meghann says, “Our family’s hops left the farm in bales for generations, heading to brewers across the world. Now it is our turn. We finally get to break those bales and make beer ourselves.”

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Bale Breaker sits on a hops farm started by the family in 1932.

Patrick, Meghann and Kevin weren’t always so sure that they’d make a career out of beer — or even live in the area. After high school, they all wanted something different than the small-town experience they grew up with. Patrick went to the UW first and his siblings followed. “All three of us were good students, and we wanted something more prestigious and educational,” Patrick remembers. “From my perspective, the UW is the flagship university of the state. It was the chance to go away and get a great education in a great city, an exciting place to be.”

After graduating with degrees in business and geography, they all stayed in Seattle. Meghann and her husband Kevin, whom she met her freshman year at the UW, eventually moved to Coeur D’Alene, Idaho. In 2009, with nine years in Seattle under his belt, Patrick felt the tug of farm life. He moved back to Yakima to raise his family and run the farm.

Higher education has always been important to the Smith family — and it came to play a central role in the Bale Breaker story as well. When Patrick was pursuing his Master of Science in Agricultural Economics from Purdue University, and a Master of Business Administration from Indiana University, he had to create a capstone project.

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Bale Breaker is surrounded on three sides by the family farm.

Craft beer was rising in popularity, as was the farm-to-table concept and locally sourced food. Along with Patrick’s work in agriculture and finance, Meghann had business and consulting experience, brother Kevin was brewing and Kevin Quinn was working in sales. With their family’s history growing hops, they had a compelling origin story and a one-of-a-kind setting — a brewery surrounded on three sides by a commercial hop farm. All the pieces were in place.

“The idea of creating a brewery on a hop farm was something we had talked about at a really high level as a family,” Patrick says. “That capstone project gave us a chance to formalize the idea into a business.”

Once so eager to leave Yakima, the siblings are now dedicated to celebrating the region they all now call home — a region whose bounty gives their brewery its unique character. “When you get away you realize that you can really do something to impact a small town,” Meghann shares. “We always try to promote Yakima and the Yakima Valley. We’re working to make it a place people want to come.”

That dedication to their family heritage extends to something else they share — their time at the UW. That’s why Bale Breaker stepped up to host the first Yakima Husky Social, a mixer for UW alumni and friends, in February 2017. They’ll host the second one this August. The family was excited to find taproom regulars whom they didn’t know were Huskies show up in their purple and gold.

Patrick credits his time at the UW and in Seattle for giving him tools he’s used to make the business successful. “My father always said there was no guarantee of having a job for any of us. You have to bring something back,” he recalls. “With my finance education and career in Seattle I was able to bring a view of how we could improve accounting in our company… The University of Washington is the campus that I hold every campus up to. It’s such a special place.”

Meet the Bale Breaker crew for yourself at UWAA’s Yakima Husky Social on August 25.