Updated: Jun 10, 2021
As part of our dealer and brewer spotlight, we sat down, or should I say virtually sat down, with Legion Brewing and Yakima Quality Hops to talk about their relationship, how the companies began, and how COVID-19 affected them.
Legion Brewing and Yakima Quality Hops: Growing Together
Growing up, Phil Buchy always loved cooking. His family grew up with home-cooked meals, specifically remembering his mom owning an abundance of the “Joy of Cooking” books throughout the house. Into his adulthood, he always had a passion for food and culinary creations throughout the U.S.
It wasn’t until he went to the Air Force Academy in Colorado when he first started drinking craft beer. After returning to North Carolina — his home and the birthplace of Legion Brewing — Phil tried to find the same flavors in the beers he drank while in Colorado but didn't quite find what he was looking for. He then bought a home brew kit, starting brewing in the late 1990s, and began working for a local brewery out of college.
Roughly 15 years later, Phil took his dream of owning and operating a brewery and put it into action. As a prominent member of the local home brewing group, he wanted to extend the culture of that community and share it with others. At the end of 2015, with the help of a business partner and his knowledge as a home brewer, Legion Brewing opened its doors to the public in Charlotte, NC.
At first, Legion Brewing focused on Saisons, a more rustic and ale style of beer. Realizing the need to diversify their product offerings, Phil worked with Scott Griffin and Alexa Long, both brewers for Legion, to craft an IPA.
Phil drew on the roots that he’d grown up with — home cooking and using fresh, local ingredients. For this IPA, he wanted to “honor the local heritage and purveyors” by using American ingredients and specifically looking to source locally in North Carolina. This has followed suit even into 2021, using ingredients like malt and hops that come from the U.S. in its beers along with local ingredients in their food at the taprooms.
Still wanting to add an IPA to the rotation of beers, he told Alexa and Scott some of his favorite hops that he wanted them to use: El Dorado®, Mosaic®, and Cascade. Alexa came back with a plan, brewed it up, and when they tapped it, it sold out instantly. The beer was called Juicy Jay — a mix of an East Coast Style IPA with Traditional IPA characteristics, paying homage to the brewery’s East Coast roots.
Scott, the current head brewer for Legion, described Juicy Jay as an approachable beer with a soft, pillowy mouthfeel that has a bitter backbone to it. Of the hops used in this beer, the brewers rely on El Dorado® to do what they called the “heavy lifting” for the flavors. Used in the dry hop, it adds a complex melon and citrus aroma that defines Juicy Jay. It has notes of mango that hit on the tropical aromas that many brewers use to characterize El Dorado®.
Phil described it as having a “back-end bitterness that leaves you wanting more and makes you want to have another sip.” It’s the perfect balance of bitterness and juicy fruitiness that doesn’t overwhelm the drinker.
"With the complex, tropical aroma and flavor El Dorado® exhibits, we really love using it in the whirlpool and dry hop," Scott said. "When we use El Dorado® as a dry hop, we prefer to time the dry hop after we've already reached terminal gravity. Some hops we look to use biotransformation by hopping at about 15-20% of fermentation left for additional levels of aromatic complexity. With El Dorado®, the aromatic qualities are impressive enough that biotransformation isn't necessary. During our time brewing at Legion, we've found that El Dorado® is an extremely versatile hop. Whether used as a single hop or with other hops, it has the strength and complexity to stand out regardless of setting."
During the same time Legion Brewing opened its doors, a new dealer called Yakima Quality Hops began selling hops. Lee Rottweiler, the Vice President of YQH, was passing through Charlotte in 2016 when he stopped into Legion Brewing to introduce himself to the team. Lee had just begun working with his uncle, Tim Sattler, to sell hops. What began as an unannounced stop into the brewery turned into a relationship spanning five years, with both companies growing and expanding alongside together, even going white water rafting with each other a few years ago.
YQH began with Tim Sattler who had connections with local growers in Yakima and knew a few breweries that needed to buy some hops. After helping a few places out, he saw an opportunity to switch careers from working in the medical field to working in the business of hops. Since then, YQH has become an influential player in the market.
Lee Rottweiler on the left and Tim Sattler on the right.
Lee was living on the East Coast with his family around the time Tim started dealing hops. After talking with each other, Lee switched careers and started working with YQH. Brewers enjoyed working directly with owners and building those relationships to buy high-quality hops. Like Phil’s love for the community, Lee described YQH’s real authentic commitment to brewers and their love for connecting with brewers from all over to provide them with what they need to succeed.
At the time YQH and Legion first started, the connection between brewers and farmers was just beginning to form. Tim and Lee acted as liaisons for those smaller to mid-size breweries who wanted to learn more about the places where their hops were coming from. With this unique relationship between YQH and its breweries, it could bring them out during harvest to introduce them to the farmers growing the hops and show the facilities processing them.
With a focus on the customer, YQH has continued to expand, selling both domestically and internationally to hundreds of breweries, including Legion Brewing. Tim and Lee have helped bring breweries like Legion to the Yakima Valley with the hope of forging a relationship between farmers and brewers. For Phil, this connection to the ingredients and commitment to the customer is key in their brewery, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic in the last year.
Because many breweries were unable to come to Yakima for hop selection, YQH hosted a virtual selection with some grower representatives to conduct sensory on a live Zoom. This gave breweries insight into what the lots smelled like and helped them choose which one they wanted.
Legion participated in the El Dorado® sensory, where Cherie Steinmetz and Eric Desmarais from CLS Farms gave their impressions on a few lots. Once they made the decision, Tim and Lee could reserve some pounds of the El Dorado® lot they choose. While it wasn’t ideal and everyone would much rather be in-person, YQH’s flexible and fun approach to selection allowed for breweries to still choose the lots that matched their aroma needs.
In the last year, Legion has had to make other adjustments due to the pandemic. It went from 100% draft to canning their flagships just to stay open while also navigating distribution channels. The brewery is also in the middle of an expansion, building two production facilities and one with a large Biergarten. West Moorhead, a 25,000 square foot facility, will have the capacity for 100,000 barrels and a large Biergarten with a full food menu. The Trolley Barn, the second location opening in May, will mostly be a production facility for the dry hopping and fermentation part of the brewing process.
Though both businesses faced high uncertainty throughout the last year, their relationship remains strong. YQH continues to work with Legion on supplying El Dorado® and other varieties along with fostering the relationship between brewers and growers. In 2021, both Legion and YQH are looking forward to hop harvest so they can reconnect, smell some hops, and maybe stop by Sports Center for a beer.
Claire Desmarais is the marketing manager for CLS Farms and El Dorado hops. You can email her at email@example.com. Feel free to reshare this article on any of your platforms!