Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Peter Kopp's History of Hop Fever in Oregon Historical Quarterly

For the most part our focus is on things in and around Salem, but every once in a while it's nice to step back and look at a little bigger picture.

In the latest issue of Oregon Historical Quarterly, Peter Kopp surveys the history and development of hops as a "specialty crop" in the Willamette Valley.

This is the lingo of trade associations and marketing groups, so it's not surprising that in 2010 at the annual conference of the Agricultural History Society, Kopp presented a paper as a member of a panel titled, "The Falsity of Freedom: A Historical Look at How Agricultural Producers Influence What We Eat":
  • "The Demands of Domesticity: Why Americans Drank Frozen Concentrated Orange Juice in the 1950s"
  • "Creating Brand Recognition for Washington Apples in Eastern Markets, 1910-1930”
  • "Hop Wizard of Corvallis: How Alfred Haunold Changed American Beer"
Haunold is a hop-breeder in Corvallis, and if the word "Cascade" means anything to you, you'll tip your pint! But it also points to what we might say is "a brewery-industrial complex" and the mixing and interconnectedness that takes place at the nodes of that network.

Kopp is particularly interested in analyzing things on a local-global axis, and in this he highlights the role of Ezra Meeker in Washington, who in so many ways was first-in and first-out: In 1869 he secured a deal with Henry Weinhard to supply hops; developed an important supply house, which imported rootstock, sprays, and other vital supplies, and sold them to local farmers; wrote a hops how-to book in 1883; made a fortune; and was out of hops by 1900.

He also talks about Emil Horst, one of the the Horst brothers we have met in the context of Louis Lachmund and the strike of 1933. In 1904 Emil Horst* contracted with Guinness to supply the Irish firm with Willamette Valley hops exclusively and he was one of the largest hop growers in the country.

Along the way Kopp mentions William Wells and Adam Weisner at Buena Vista, whose hop planting of 1867 didn't pan out, but who set the stage locally for hop growers. He also mentions the developing reputation of hops from the Pacific Northwest, and then the overexpansion and glut that depressed prices in the 1890s and early 1900s. With the rise of rail and easy transportation, international growers could source hops from wherever was cheapest, and hops had become a commodity crop, subject to booms and busts.

Kopp also discusses harvest, and highlights that hop picking took a labor force four times that of apples. Consequently, even those growers who desired a "whites only" labor force could not get one, and the hop yard became one of the few distinctly multi-cultural mixing zones in the Northwest.

For beery readers of CT, the international network and reach of local hops will not be a surprise, but perhaps to the greybeard eminences and other readers of OHQ this will be news! We suspect the history of hops don't get no respect - and Kopp aims to change this! Presumably this article is part of his dissertation. We hope it is published as a book.

The piece also suggests that in at least one interesting way, "what old is new again" is also a reversal. In the 19th century, most hopyards were small, 5-25 acres according to Kopp, and the brokers bundled hops and got them to the pre-prohibition breweries across the country and globe. Today's hopyards are much larger (like the Goschie hopyard), and it is the modern micro-brewers that are small and multiple. And the farm-to-pint connection that we see most clearly in the wet- and fresh-hop beers isn't just pre-prohibition, it is positively pre-industrial! So there are distinctly modern twists on the micro-brewing reversion to pre-prohibition patterns.

And it all results in an especially lively ferment. There's never been a better time to be a beer lover than today - more styles and better beers with every year. To which we raise our glass: Prost!

* Check out this film circa 1910 of a Horst Hops Harvest! The Center for Sacramento History suggests it was filmed in California, but since Weister Motion Picture Company is from Portland, there's a chance it was filmed at the Horst Ranch north of Independence. A puzzle!

Here are later, mid-century images from the harvest at Horst Ranch and a sweet memoir about a farm adjacent to the ranch.

Hop picking image from the Oregon State Library

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