Yakima’s Little Hopper safely drives beer enthusiasts among Valley’s breweries | Arts And Entertainment

After moving to the Yakima Valley, Wendy King fell in love with the beer and the brewing industry. She saw the enormity of hops here and knew she had to be part of it.

Her answer was the Little Hopper, a small tour bus that stops at area breweries, connecting people and creating community.

“I want to be part of this industry. I love this fun. I see these young kids, 20-, 30-year-olds, investing in these craft beverage places and really changing the landscape of how we socialize with, you know, with the kids and bring the dogs and we’re out in the grass and we do local music,” King said.

King’s idea for connecting breweries and customers began after visiting Cowiche Creek Brewing Co., 514 Thompson Road in Cowiche. The brewery is about 13 miles from downtown Yakima, and requires driving winding country roads.

“Holy heck, people need to know what this place is, but it’s so far out,” she said. “So it really served as a need. And I love the industry. I love the people. I love what I saw happening and that’s when it all kind of started to fall in place. A bus to get people out here.”

A popular option for locals and visitors is the Hop On, Hop Off excursion, which offer continuous shuttles on designated routes. Buses arrive at each location roughly every 45-60 minutes. Seasonal routes and times vary, according to the website. Prices start at $23 plus tax and tip for the day.

Little Hopper

Barbara Jensen grabs a beer she ordered from the bar at Bron Yr Aur Brewing Co. after arriving on the Little Hopper bus Saturday, July 16, 2022 in Naches, Wash.

There are Yakima east and west routes, an Interstate 82 Sunday drive route, as well as private brewery tours and celebrations. The east route includes stops at Bale Breaker Brewing Co., Single Hill Brewing, 5th Line Brewing and Wandering Hop Brewery. The west route visits Cowiche Creek, Bron Yr Aur Brewing Co., Hop Capital Brewing and Valley Brewing Co.

The I-82 Sunday route makes stops at HopTown Wood Fired Pizza, Wanderland and Varietal Beer Co.

New this year are private winery tours. Private brewery tours and wine tours can be arranged with King, who will help put together an itinerary for three craft brewing locations or wineries.

Little Hopper

Harvey Hoke, Little Hopper bus driver, talks to his passengers while transporting them from Cowiche Creek Brewing Company to Bron Yr Aur Brewing Co. Saturday, July 16, 2022 in Naches, Wash.

Building relationships

Since the Little Hopper’s initial run during the hop harvest season in 2019, King has shuttled people visiting from Europe and Australia, many here selecting hops for their breweries.

“We could keep them together and all go out and celebrate and have fun, go to local restaurants and go to local foods,” King said. “I would take the bus out in public fields where they were giving tours and it was just this super fun, absolutely amazing experience.”

One of the main contributors to King’s success is her emphasis on maintaining strong relationships with the businesses she connects with visitors.

“I did not want to be just transportation, because I know relationships are everything and (are needed) in order for me to build and sustain,” she said. “In order to build on the tourism aspect, I need to have relationships with these wineries and breweries. I really want to build on our local craft beverage and restaurants, and anything that I do is really centered around that.”

Little Hopper isn’t just about tourism. It’s for locals, too. Enjoying the atmosphere that each brewery creates can be difficult while practicing safety and following rules against drinking and driving.

The bus routes are providing a service for locals to understand what is in their backyards and getting them there, King said.

Little Hopper

The Little Hopper bus sits parked at Bron Yr Aur Brewing Co. Saturday, July 16, 2022 in Naches, Wash.

Tours of the Valley

Little Hopper also offers something to do when family visits.

“As you’re plugging on and as we go along these routes, we go through beautiful hop fields and orchards along the way,” King said. “I’ve become a tour guide about what we’re driving through, and people have questions. This Valley has so many treasures.”

There’s the beer and there’s the vibe. And then there’s the people and it makes a full experience.

Yakima resident Chelsea Rowley rode the Little Hopper for the first time and raved about the stops.

“My mom’s cousins are in town, and they thought it’d be some fun and we’ve all wanted to try it,” Rowley said. “They take us to all these places and it’s a safe way to get around. Harvey, he is actually our old UPS driver, and we love him. It’s been great.”

Harvey Hoke retired from delivering packages in 2020 and started in 2021 with Little Hopper.

“Once they’re on the bus, I consider them my precious cargo and it’s my responsibility to get them from here to there together, and that part I know I can do well,” Hoke said. “I don’t know much about the beer, or the types of beer, but get them (the passengers) in the bus and I’ll make sure they get to where they’re going.”

Hoke enjoys the people and learning about different beers. “They all have their own flair, and and I’m learning more and more about the industry as I visit them,” he said.

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