Dr. Al Haunold – Craft Beer Pioneer

Dr. Al Haunold is a retired United States Department of Agriculture hop breeder. He ran the joint USDA-Oregon State University hop-breeding program in Corvallis for 34 years from 1965.

He arrived from the east to work on the problem of downy mildew in the Cluster hop, then a workhorse of U.S. brewing, as was Oregon Fuggle, both primarily for bittering. Aroma in beer, at the time, was the preserve of fine imported varieties, at least for premium beers. Hops such as German Hallertau and Tettnang; Czech Saaz; and various English hops.

Haunold was an Austrian immigrant who had grown up on a farm about 60 miles from Vienna. He joined USDA after doctoral studies in Nebraska that added to his extensive Austrian qualifications.

He is now a hale 87, and after retirement consulted in various capacities including to Indie Hops in Oregon. Former litigation attorney Roger Worthington, founder of Indie Hops, recognized Haunold’s great expertise. He enlisted his help in the company, a notable supplier to craft brewers. Indie Hops has also funded a hop research program for research on new varieties.

Roger Worthington now also runs Worthy Brewing in Bend, OR. Worthy Brewing will release this year a series of IPAs showcasing hops developed from this program.

Worthington authored a number of key posts on the blog of Indie Hops including this 2010 post on the development of the Cascade hop. This is most illuminating as are the other posts dealing often with hops that proved key to craft brewing, which Haunold bred or helped develop when at USDA/USU.

This brief recent clip posted by Worthington on Youtube is a tribute to Haunold’s great importance to craft brewing history. Haunold had field-tested Cascade (not bred it, that went back to 1956 in Oregon), promoted and believed it, got it to one-acre commercialization scale, and finally got Coors to buy it. Coors encouraged Northwest hop growers to produce it in the amounts needed by industrial brewers.

As recounted in the 2010 post, and by Haunold in a number of oral history interviews, Cascade was developed to substitute for the German Hallertau Mittelfruh. The latter, long used for aroma hopping in America, was sometimes subject to pest problems and its price, to currency fluctuations.

On paper, Cascade looked similar to Hallertau, e.g., the alpha-beta acids ratio. But it proved to have a distinctive geraniol (grapefruit, citric) aroma. This proved ultimately not agreeable to Coors and other large brewers. So the hop, initially grown in large amounts in Yakima Valley and peaking mid-70s in production terms, appeared destined to languish.

When Anchor Brewing and early craft brewers came calling to USDA for ale hops, Haunold recommended Cascade. It was available as well in smaller parcels suitable to ship small-scale brewers. The rest is history, as Cascade proved the keynote flavour of the craft brewing revolution.

While many hops appeared later, including in the “C” series Centennial, Chinook, and Columbus, Cascade proved to be long influential. Many of the later hops resemble it or close enough so that a “Pacific Northwest” character is recognizable.  When you taste IPA from California to Calabria, they often share a characteristic PNW flavour.

Haunold later developed or had a hand in developing 16 cultivars including Willamette, Mt. Hood, Liberty, and Sterling, all craft brewing standbys. He also developed the early high-alpha Nugget, important in industrial as well as craft brewing for its high bittering content.

To understand the state of U.S. hop-growing in 1979, i.e., pre-craft, the following extract from a 1980 paper by Dr. Haunold on world hop-breeding and production is instructive. Bear in mind this is before the new hops mentioned started noticeably to impact U.S. brewing:

The Yakima Valley of Washington, with 8,637 ha of hops in 1978, is the most important hop-growing area in the United States, followed by Oregon with 2,214 ha, Idaho with 1,081 ha, and California with 593 ha (10) (Table III). The most important U.S. hop varieties are Early Cluster, Late Cluster, English (a collective trade name for the English varieties Bullion and Brewer’s Gold), Cascade, Talisman, Fuggle, and Comet (Table III).

Systematic hop research in the United States started at Oregon State University in 1931 when most U.S. hops were grown in that state. The threat of downy mildew similar to that in Germany stimulated a crash program to combat this disease. The Cluster variety was too susceptible to this fungus, and most of Oregon’s Cluster acreage shifted to the Yakima Valley in the 1940s, to be replaced by downy-mildew-tolerant varieties such as Fuggle, Bullion, and Brewer’s Gold.

Fuggle-H, an improved selection of Fuggle, was released for commercial production in 1967 (14), followed by Fuggle-T, a colchicine-induced tetraploid Fuggle for breeding purposes (12). Cascade, an open-pollinated seedling with Fuggle and the Russian Serebrianka in its pedigree, was released as an aroma hop in 1972(4). In 1975 Comet, a high a-acids selection from a cross between a seedling of the English Sunshine and an indigenous American male hop from Utah (47), was released. Two triploid aroma varieties, Columbia and Willamette, which originated from crosses between the tetraploid Fuggle-T and selected male parents, were released in 1976 (11,13).

In the latest of Haunold’s oral interviews, recorded in August, 2017, he gives a wide-ranging account of his life, interesting unto itself. For example, he discusses conditions in his part of Austria during the war and how it affected the family.

He also describes experiences in the U.S. as a young immigrant, learning English (he could speak it well in three months!), and early work which pertained to cereals such as wheat. Asked whether he found Nebraska quite different to home, he indicated of course some novel impressions. He did not and never has accustomed to peanut butter!

On the other hand he met people in the state who spoke German, clearly descendants of 19th century immigrants. The world is not so small really, even then…

The part involving Cascade does not really explore the craft usage of it, this aspect is brought out in other interviews and accounts. We found of good interest his discussion of beer likes and dislikes, see especially from 1:37 in the video.

He was asked, justly, whether he liked beer, as not every technical expert in the brewing field can be presumed to do so. He exclaims that he “always” enjoyed it, not “excessively” but with meals. Asked to explain his preferences, he mentions brands such as Helles Bock of the well-known food and wine retailer Trader Joe, and Full Sail Amber. These brands are notably malty and perhaps reflected tastes acquired in Austria before emigrating.

He discusses how mass market beer has gotten progressively “thinner”, initially to appeal to a wider market including women. Later, he implies cost reduction was behind cutting back on malt content, to reduce impact of smaller sales.

He is no less tart about large-selling German brands. He states that a re-acquaintance with them on a recent trip to Austria reminded him of mainstream U.S. beers 20 or 30 years ago. Clearly here too he is referring to large-selling brands especially where owned by international brewers, a development he notes, vs. small regional breweries on which he did not comment.

He makes clear, when asked his view on imported beers, that craft beers – he still calls them microbrewery beers – offer superior flavour.

Dr. Haunold explains that when he embarked on his work, he did not intend to change the taste of American beer. He states the industry did not intend to, either. It was satisfied with the hops then available, and was simply seeking substitutes either due to insufficient supply, especially for the Oregon Fuggle, or the kind of issues noted viz hop imports.

Cascade’s new flavour, proving not appealing to the large brewers who helped fund the work to develop it, happened to be picked up by the new crop of small brewers who came along. It was fortuitous in many ways, in other words.

At the same time, Haunold is undoubtedly a key link in craft brewing history. He stands with figures and organizations such as CAMRA, Peter Austin/Ringwood, Michael Jackson, Charlie Papazian, Fritz Maytag, Jim Koch, and Ken Grossman on whose shoulders stand the achievement of American craft brewing. Indirectly their influence helped spread that culture around the world.

N.B. Although in my writing I’ve often related U.S. craft brewing to British inspirations, here is an example where some Germanic influence, in my view, is evident via Dr. Haunold. While an American resident for over 60 years, as someone who knew fine beer from his native land, I’d have to think in discussions with early craft brewers he encouraged them to maximize the use of both hops and malt in beer. One way or another the influence is there, I think.

4 thoughts on “Dr. Al Haunold – Craft Beer Pioneer

    • Thanks very much Sam, I do appreciate very much your reaction especially as my work seems to elicit very little reaction from the various beer communities.

      Gary

  1. Hi Gary ,
    Nice article, I wonder whether Dr Haunold would be able to shed any light on the old
    ” Sonomas” variety , as this one has me stumped as to a modern equivalent, or for a description as to it’s qualities.
    I’ve seen it in a few brewing records & hop ledgers (Magee Marshall Hop & Malt book 1899-1927)
    Cheers
    Edd

    • Thanks Edd. This is probably a form of Cluster grown in California at the time. Even in 1980 there was some production still there as Haunold noted in the article I linked. It may be one of the two forms of Clusters he mentioned. I’m sure he would know.

      Gary

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