From up top to the tap: Alaska Airlines pulls off ultimate beer run in multiple states 

This fall, Alaska Air Cargo delivered the industry’s first and biggest fresh hops run to breweries in Maui and Anchorage within 24 hours of harvest—this was a huge logistical hop-eration that brought a favorite seasonal beer beyond the Pacific Northwest. 

Made from fresh-plucked, undried hops that are typically rushed straight from the fields to the breweries—Alaska went further than any U.S. Commercial airline has before by delivering more than 1,200 pounds of fresh hops to Maui Brewing Co. in Hawaii and 49th State Brewing in Alaska.  

This is a potential game-changer for the craft beer industry,” says Adam Drouhard, Alaska Air Cargo managing director, noting that Washington state grows almost three-quarters of the U.S. hop crop. “This puts a Northwest agricultural product in places that don’t normally get it. With the size and scope we have in Seattle, we are really positioned to own this.” 

How we made fresh hops fly. 

It all started with a deep appreciation of fresh hops beer and connecting the dots that Alaska Airlines could be the key to sharing it with the world. 

Jake Spotts, postal affairs manager on our cargo team, has tried beers all over the world during his 20-year Air Force career—but says there’s nothing better than the taste of fresh hops during harvest. Packed with unique floral flavor, fresh hop beers are usually made during the late-summer harvest by breweries located near farms in Washington, Oregon and other places in the Northwest.  

Spotts thought that because of our decades of expertise shipping perishable products like fresh Alaska salmon, we could find a way to ship fresh hops to breweries outside the Northwest.  Something that hadn’t been done by a U.S. airline on a commercial scale—until now. 

Farm-to-glass collaboration.

Craft brewers thrive on collaboration, and when the opportunity came to ship a large volume of fresh hops out of state, Yakima-based Bale Breaker Brewing Company helped us get the idea off the vine. 

The brewers at Bale Breaker, Maui Brewing Co. and 49th State worked together on beer recipes to highlight the hops’ fresh flavor, and coordinated logistics with the Alaska Air Cargo team and Yakima Chief Hops, a grower-owned organization that distributes hops for more than 50 farms across the Northwest. 

“Scalability of shipping fresh hops has really been the challenge to overcome because you only have about 24 hours from harvest before the hops start to degrade.”

– Bryan Pierce, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer for Yakima Chief Hops. 

To keep the hops fresh throughout their journey, the harvest was timed perfectly so that the just-picked hops could be bagged onsite at Loftus Ranches, one of Yakima’s longest running family-owned hop farms and the site of Bale Breaker Brewing.    

From there, they were loaded into refrigerated trucks and driven to the Alaska Air Cargo offices at Sea-Tac International Airport just in time to load onto the aircraft. More than 1,200 pounds of hops were shipped nonstop to the brewers. 

On Maui and in Anchorage, the brewers were ready to add the fresh hops to the “boil” – the first stage in beer – as soon as they arrived. 

“When we added the fresh hops, it smelled amazing!” said Kim Brisson-Lutz, Maui Brewing Co.’s Vice President of Operations. “Making beer is a culinary art, and we’re all about making these ingredients really shine.” 

“Using Alaska Air Cargo, we can guarantee the supply chain all the way from field to the kettle,” said David McCarthy, co-founder of 49th State Brewing. “Aficionados of beer are really looking for this flavor, and we’re excited we can now make the freshest beer in Anchorage and the whole Alaska market.” 

Raise a glass of liquid gold.  

This month, Alaska Lounge members and guests will have the chance to sip and savor fresh hop beers from the three breweries in this collaboration at our Lounges in Seattle, Portland and Anchorage airports. 

Try them while you can; these unique brews will only be available in our lounges until they run out. ICYMO, all three breweries are located where we fly.

Bale Breaker Brewing Company Yakima, WA 

The beers: Homegrown Fresh Hop IPA and Citra Slicker Wet Hop IPA 

Where to try them: 

• On draft at Alaska Lounges in Sea-Tac International Airport in North Satellite and Concourse C. And at our Lounge in Portland International Airport. 

• On draft and in 16-ounce can 4-packs at Bale Breaker Brewery in Yakima on Loftus Ranches, the Smith family-owned hop farm is also celebrating its 90th anniversary this year – just like us! 

• On draft and in 16-ounce can 4-packs in Seattle’s Ballard Brewing District, as well as throughout Bale Breaker’s distribution footprint in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Use the beer finder on their website to locate their fresh hops near you. 

49th State Brewing Anchorage, AK 

The beer: Freshial Delivery Hazy Fresh Hop IPA 

Where to try it: 

• On draft at the Alaska Lounge in Anchorage International Airport. 

• On draft and in 16-ounce can 4-packs at 49th State Brewing downtown in Anchorage and at select liquor stores and restaurants across the state of Alaska. 

Hops flown: 454 pounds 

Kegs brewed: Equivalent of 60 kegs (split between different sizes of kegs and cans) 

Maui Brewing Co. Kihei, Maui 

The beer: Hop Cargo Fresh Hop IPA 

Where to try it: 

• Coming soon on draft to Alaska’s North Satellite Lounge in Sea-Tac International Airport. 

• Coming soon on draft to Maui Brewing Co. in Kihei, Maui. 

Hops flown: 833 pounds 

Kegs brewed: Equivalent of 140 kegs 

Links to B-Roll video and still images. 

Denise Clifton contributed to this story. Photos and video by Ingrid Barrentine.