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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

400 Years Later, New York State Grows Hops Again

Few crops are so specialized as hops, and few have such isolated commercial growing regions. The Willamette and Yakima Valleys account for almost all the hops grown in the US--and a large percentage grown in the world. Ah, but it wasn't always so. The first US hops were used almost exactly 400 years ago:
Hop growing in North America goes back to Dutch Colonial times, when Adrian Block and Hans Christians built a commercial log house brewery in the trading fort on Manhattan Island about 1612.

A contemporary traveler claimed that "...good hops grow in the woods..."

Their origin is unknown, they may well have been indigenous wild hops. By 1629 the first hop garden was in production on Manhattan, and there were a number of breweries in production by the 1630's.
Hops were produced in New York state for the next three hundred years, but by the start of the 20th century, lush fields on the West Coast finally supplanted the Empire State's hegemony. Hop growing has remained the fiefdom of the west for the past century (though the fields migrated from California northward), and in the age of industrial farming, it has seemed almost axiomatic that it should remain so.

Or maybe not.

It looks like New York is trying to make a comeback:
The Northeast Hop Alliance is a nonprofit created to re-establish a hop culture in New York and the Northeast and to preserve the hop heritage and architecture of the past. Kate and Larry Fisher, owners of Foothill Hops Farm, have been growing and selling hops for nine years.. They are among just a handful of hop growers in the state selling to commercial and home brewers....

The annual Madison County Hop Fest is Sept. 18 on the grounds of the Madison County Historical Society, 435 Main St., Oneida. It includes the Taste of Hops food-and-beer pairing event, noon to 2 p.m., and beer sampling 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. Try more than 40 beer styles, many of them from New York state breweries. Tickets are available from the Madison County Historical Society, 363-4136, or online at
Although I have certain parochial interests in the idea that our corner of the country has cornered the market on hops, I recognize what a great boon this would be for Eastern craft breweries--and craft brewing in general. Obviously, it would give local breweries a chance to hand-select their own hops and work with local growers in the way NW breweries work with farms here. It would allow them to get in on the fresh hop fun. But more than that, New York hop fields would surely produce hops of different type and character than those on the West Coast. That would open up whole new avenues for breweries, and give Northeastern breweries a chance to make locally-distinct beers--which would, perhaps counter-intuitively, also help West Coast breweries distinguish their own beers.

So, good luck to you, New Yorkers. May your fields be lush again with the fruit of the humulus lupulus.


  1. As you'd expect, several important local hopsmen from a century ago came from NY and the east coast. Louis Lachmund, for example, who was a mayor of Salem, initially joined Horst Bros out east and finally landed in Salem.

    Lachmund is also interesting because he tanked Salem's effort to get mountain water (like Bull Run), and delayed that connection for another quarter-century. It appears that brewing interests in and around Salem on the cusp of prohibition were more interested in boosting sales of beer via safety claims than in getting a purer source of tapwater for the whole community. Contemporary beer advertising sets up explicit contrasts between typhoid-laden tapwater and wholesome beer.

  2. I had a chance to speak to the founders of alliance and apparently they have a small plot dedicated to a wild hop variety they called Tarp. So there may be more than just the same hop varieties with different characteristics.