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A candy-maker infuses Yakima Valley hops into lollipops to make her signature LolliHops


Heather Hadsel had her aha! moment during a short-lived period when she gave up drinking beer. She’s a fan of IPA, known for its signature hoppy — often citrusy, sometimes piney, always bitter — flavor. But she was trying to cut back on sugar and empty calories.

She was also looking for some sort of a replacement, something hop-forward but non-alcoholic. So she began infusing hops with orange peel and coriander to make bitter but flavorful teas.

“I mixed it, one time, with ginger ale, and thought, ‘This tastes just like candy,’” Heather says — and the idea for Yakima Hop Candy was born. Googling “hop candy,” Heather could only find one other maker of hops-infused sweets, and that business was located in the Midwest.

“I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I can do this!’” After all, she says, “We have all the hops here.”

Heather lives in Yakima, one of the most productive hops-growing regions in the world. Some 77 percent of the entire U.S. hops crop comes from the fertile Yakima Valley located about 140 miles southeast of Seattle.

It wasn’t long before Heather was back to drinking her beloved IPAs. She was also experimenting, making hard candy infused with hops and other natural flavors. It took a few months to fine-tune recipes for her initial 14 flavors and raise just under $700 through a GoFundMe campaign to buy a stove. But she launched Yakima Hop Candy in late 2014, after coming up with the idea in September and running the online crowd-sourcing effort in October. “It happened really quickly,” she says.

Heather had never made hard candy before she came up with the idea for LolliHops. In fact, Heather, who works in the nonprofit sector, had no professional culinary experience. “There was a big learning curve,” she says. “I had to learn how to make hard candy, and I had to figure out a way to get hops into it without getting it too bitter. I made some really weird batches at first.”

LolliHops uses pelletized hops or dried hops leaves to impart a bittersweet flavor.

The trick, she says, is adding the hops near the end of the candy-making process. “If you add it too early, you’re left with too much bitterness.”

But, she says, especially for hops-heads like herself, “I think the bitterness is kind of the fun.”

Instead of hops cones, Heather uses pelletized hops or dried hops leaves to make her bittersweet lollipops. The process takes several steps. First is infusing the hops in butter. The process is “a lot like cooking with cannabis,” Heather says. But — unlike drinking beer or eating a cannabis cookie or brownie — you can’t get buzzed from LolliHops. There’s no alcohol in the candy, only the flavor of hops. Hold one of the lollipops up to the light, and you can see the buttery droplets used to impart that hoppy flavor.

Because of the butter, LolliHops aren’t vegan. Other ingredients include sugar, corn syrup, hops, cream of tartar, and natural flavors.

Flavors change seasonally and have included black licorice, root beer, ginger beer, cherry-peach lambic, pumpkin-peach, lemon shandy, hopped cider, Irish stout, Honey Hefe, passion fruit, blood orange, raspberry, and mango.

“We have 12 at a time, but they’ll rotate,” Heather says. “We just trade some in and out.”

Her favorite: chili lime. “It’s spicy and sweet and hot.”

Jasmine was another of her top picks, “but the floral just didn’t sell well.” So it’s out of rotation — along with rose and peach-lavender. But Heather is considering other flavors to try. “A lot of it is inspired by craft beers,” she says. “Pineapple is in a lot of hops descriptions, so down the road I might have pineapple.”

Today, top-sellers are Irish stout and Honey Hefe. Both are inspired by similarly-flavored beers, but neither contain alcohol. Blood orange and mango are also popular.

All of them, according to the Yakima Hop Candy website, “have a touch of hoppy bitterness that leaves you with a delicious lingering flavor like you just finished a great IPA.”

But they’re actually less bitter now than they used to be. After her initial batches, Heather says, “I scaled back the amount of hops to less than half. It was a little much. I would say that first year we tweaked a lot of things” — including the hops themselves.

Early on, Heather used five different hops varieties. But that made labeling complicated. To simplify the process, she now uses a combination of two kinds of hops: Cascade and Jarrylo. “Cascade is a nice, well-rounded hop flavor,” Heather says. “The Jarrylo is really low in alpha acids, and that’s what makes the bitterness. You get a little bit of bitterness from the Cascade, but not too much. We’re really focused more on the flavors.”

The sweet treats measure 1½ inches wide and sit on the end of a 4½-inch stick. They’re made in small batches in a little commercial kitchen — it measured 10 feet by 10 feet until an expansion over the summer doubled its size — in Selah, 4 miles north of Yakima. Heather co-owns the business with her spouse, Robin Emmans, an attorney.

Heather Hadsel draws inspiration for her LolliHops from the Yakima Valley, which grows some 77 percent of the U.S. hop crop.

The second year, the business broke even. Last year, it made money, and Heather was able to hire a part-time candy-maker to help with production.

Three years after her initial experimentation, LolliHops from Yakima Hop Candy are available at about 50 retailers in the U.S. and Canada, as well as online at etsy.com. Orders have come from as far away as Australia, Belgium, and France, and from as close by as Seattle and Spokane. And, Heather says, “The business is still growing.”

Her top two customers are in Yakima: Inklings Bookshop, an independent bookstore on Yakima’s west end, and The Beer Shoppe, a beer-by-the-bottle shop in downtown Yakima.

“We usually have six or eight flavors,” says Jeff Clemmons, owner of The Beer Shoppe. “People want to try them all. They want to know if they’ll be bitter, like an IPA. Well, it’s not. It’s very subtle.”

His favorite: same as Heather’s — the chili lime.

“It’s definitely fun seeing the different flavor combinations Heather can come up with,” Jeff says. “She’s been a longtime customer and a good friend. It was just an intriguing idea for candy, using one of the big crops of our area. Combining that with candy is a real fun idea. It’s been a good fit, a steady seller.”

Heather hopes to someday open a retail outlet of her own. She’d like to have a storefront in downtown Yakima, home of the annual Fresh Hop Ale Festival each autumn.

Meantime, she’s added hopped, mixed-nut brittle to her offerings. It’s based on an old family recipe. She’s considering hopped chocolate and homemade marshmallows with hopped caramel on top. Now, doesn’t that sound good in a cup of hot chocolate?

Adriana Janovich writes from Spokane. LolliHops — in a variety of flavors — were favors at her wedding. Her favorite is the chili lime.

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