When it comes to hops, I am often a creature of habit. I love Cascade, Centennial, Citra, and Simcoe for my IPAs, and I’ll sometimes throw in Galaxy or Amarillo. I love Saaz, Hallertauer, and their American equivalents for my German beers. And…I don’t get much outside of that box very often. With a bewildering array of hops on the market for homebrewers, I just get overwhelmed and usually stick with what I know.
Now, that philosophy can be great for consistency and predictability. It also helps me to avoid chasing the latest expensive fad hop, and I’ve really gotten to know the flavors in each familiar variety. That said, I’m almost certainly missing out on some real gems. But, how can I break out of my rut, without too much effort on researching and such?
About two months ago, I was super excited to learn about a hop subscription box from Yakima Valley Hops, called The HOPBOX. HOPBOX was totally sold out then, but one of their reps said to check back at a certain date, and I should be good to go. Sure enough, I visited the website a few weeks later and I could order! (thanks for the tip, YVH rep!) I signed up for a full year (which came with a 15% discount), and waited for my first shipment…
A little over a week ago, a very attractive box landed in my mailbox. Opening it up, I saw eight 2-oz. cans of eight different hop varieties, along with some stickers, a card describing the hops, and a set of stainless steel cups to portion out hop additions.
So, what do I think about all of this? Let’s take a look! (note: I paid for this myself, and did not receive any compensation for the review, so I feel I can be reasonably even-handed)
I was pretty impressed by the hops! All were from the 2021 crop, so I have no doubt on freshness. High marks there.
I am also impressed by the varieties–this box included Bravo, Cashmere, Cascade, Centennial, El Dorado, Strata, Waimea, and Wai-iti. A few are ridiculously expensive to buy at some suppliers (e.g., Strata sells at over $2.50 per ounce at some online stores), and others aren’t yet available for this crop via YCH (e.g., Cashmere and El Dorado).
For my brewing habits, this is a perfect quantity of hops. There are enough to do a few beers with fun blends–for instance, my first batch uses Bravo as the bittering with Waimea+Wai-iti+Cashmere for the whirlpool and dry hop. There isn’t enough of each for a five gallon SMaSH beer, but I think I’m okay with that. I can always go back and try a particularly intriguing variety in more depth. For me, Waimea is the standout in my current package so far, and I may well come back to that.
I like that this box fits within a general theme, of “hops that are good for IPAs and pale ales”. That made it a lot easier to plan brewing, versus if I had gotten a smattering of hops suited for disparate styles.
One thing that might have been nice is access to detailed data on individual lots. The packages had alpha acids, etc., but I wouldn’t complain if there were specifics on particular hop oil quantities, etc. That is a very minor quibble, though.
This box came with two stickers as well as a set of stainless steel cups to portion out hops. I’m not really a sticker person, so those were somewhat of a wash, but the cups have already gotten use in my brewery. Previously I have been using reusable plastic containers, which are OK but a bit large for what I need. The little stainless steel containers (the same as 4 oz. sauce cups you might get at a restaurant) are branded with the YVH logo and will fit 3 oz. of hops fairly comfortably. The cups also make it easy to weigh out an ounce at a time, or a measure mineral additions.
One extra I might suggest for future boxes would be to include variety-specific recipes for the hops. I of course had fun thinking up something on my own, but at the very least a starting point would be helpful.
Yakima Valley Hops uses a nitrogen-flushed pull-top can, which is pretty slick. There’s no doubt as to the fact that they’re sealed and pretty impermeable to oxygen. A minor beef is that they are a little less convenient to store compactly in my deep freezer than bags are, and the cans also tend to wrinkle slightly due to the contraction of the internal gases at freezer temperatures. That said, they’re quite visually attractive.
The box itself was nicely arranged, and it was enjoyable to open and see what all was inside. I personally find unboxing videos or excessive commentary on such things a bit over the top, but I can’t deny that I had fun.
The box/packaging itself are maybe a little big for what’s inside, but it is all cardboard and recyclable, so I give them high marks for that. There’s no excess plastic junk, or unrecyclable bits. Also, everything arrived in perfect shape.
Because I ponied up for a one year (four box) subscription, this knocked 15% off the $40 price tag per box, so I’m paying $34/box. And, shipping is free! Is that worth it? Overall, I think yes.
For comparison, I priced out 2 oz. containers of each hop on the Yakima Valley Hops website. This adds up to about $18.50 of hops and $9.70 of shipping, for $28.20 total. I will note, though, that some of the things in my box are currently sold out or only available in 2020 or 2019 crop years. When I compared with MoreBeer, you’d spend around $31.42 and then an additional $8 or $10 for shipping, and you wouldn’t necessarily get as much control over which year you got.
In pricing out the stainless steel cups, it looks like they run around 50 cents to $1 each online; just for the sake of argument, let’s say $1 each (they have printing on the outside, after all). So, that’s $6 value there, more or less.
With everything included ($28.20 of hops and $6 of steel cups), and free shipping, I would say this box is about a break-even proposition, and you definitely come out ahead versus if you had to pay shipping. The exclusive access to some hops is also a nice perk. Overall, the box is also a fairly good value versus buying each individually at a reseller. However, the box wouldn’t necessarily be a good value at full price ($40).
On the whole, I rate the HOPBOX a 4 out of 5, and it comes awfully close to being 5 out of 5. The cost for what you get is pretty good, although not a ridiculous steal. The full-price one-off box might make for a good gift for someone, but if you brew a lot and are likely to use the hops, I would just get a full-year subscription to save a fair bit of money. The hop selection is top-notch, and the extras in the box are pretty cool. Additionally, at least this first box has definitely helped me to expand my brewing horizons, so mission accomplished! I definitely recommend this if you are a hophead or know someone who is.