The time is March 1941. American political columnist Drew Pearson, writing with Robert Allen in their syndicated column “Merry-Go-Round”, noted that U.S. cotton exports to Russia might be ending up in German hands.
They then turn to another subject:
…. some highly interesting figures … have just been compiled on U.S. imports of hops, essential in the brewing of beer.
Prior to the outbreak of the war principal sources of imported hops were Czechoslovakia, Belgium and Poland, now all under Nazi domination. In 1939 Russia sent us $3,000 worth. But last year this figure skyrocketed to $450,000, many times the total of hops ever obtained from Russia.
Figures on the extent of Russian hops production are not obtainable, since the Soviet is very secretive about such information. It is possible that Russia, foreseeing a profitable export field, grew enough hops in 1940 to warrant the tremendous jump in sales to the U.S. Trade experts admit that they don’t know.
But they point out that it also would be very simple for the Nazis to ship hops from the occupied countries to Russia for re-export to the U.S. in Russian ships, and that such a deal would be very advantageous to the two allies. It would enable Russia to obtain American currency for purchases here, and give Germany a credit in Russia payable either in American, dollars or in the goods the Soviet buys here.
The suggestion was American cotton might be paying for hops ending in American hands.
Such cooperation between Russia and Nazi Germany was not inconceivable. The 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, a non-aggression treaty between the two countries, was still in force. It was dropped of course when Germany invaded Russia in June 1941.
The Merry-Go-Round column often blended fact with speculation, gossip if you will, so nothing was crystal clear here, while readers were left with an impression.
It does seem clear America imported no, or very few hops from Germany after the European war started on September 1, 1939. The Royal Navy imposed a blockade of Germany that was generally highly effective, for one thing.
Before that, due to American antipathy to the Nazi regime, U.S.-Germany trade in goods had declined significantly. There was some barter trade in cotton and other commodities, but general trade (vs. say, direct investment via corporate affiliates) was minimal by 1939.
Barth states America henceforth would import hops mainly from Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Poland, in part due to Germany facing a tariff of $0.24/lb. The rate applicable to Czechoslovakia and the others was lower.
One may note, parenthetically, the clear presentations of world beer output and hop production and usage, including lbs/bbl of hops used. America actually exceeded Germany, for example.
It is a useful continuation of similar data I discussed recently in a Polish brewing journal for 1935/1936.
Certainly once the war began for the United States, European hops from any source, I believe including Great Britain, did not enter the U.S.
American hop growers made some efforts to grow a hop with European characteristics, and would keep trying for the next 30 years. Indirectly this led to the hops that power craft brewing, as the first star, the Cascade hop, was intended initially to replace European noble hops.
In July 1941 the Cazenovia Republican in New York State described a plan to grow in Bridgewater, New York a seedless Saaz-type hop, developed in the West.
Sadly it seems such plans did not materialize, or produce the expected results.
A 1949 brief submitted by the U.S. Hop Growers Association to the federal government states America relied on its own hop supply during the war. See also brewing scholar Greg Casey’s remarks on wartime hop self-sufficiency in his recent article in the MBAA Technical Quarterly.
I noted recently that Anheuser-Busch, for its part, continued to make beer during the war from malt, hops, rice, and water. It did not use non-standard malt adjuncts such as sorghum or potatoes, in other words.
No doubt Anheuser-Busch stockpiled imported hops before the war, as it had for World War I. How long they lasted must await a detailed study of its wartime brewing methods.
Certainly at war’s end American brewers resumed importation of European hops to supplement American hops in the brewhouse.
In January 1946 an ad from Gunther’s Brewery in Baltimore proudly touted use of new Czech hops (Evening Star of Washington, D.C.):
The tenor suggests that wartime beer likely was affected by lack of noble European hops.
Returning to Pearson-Allen and 1940, one wonders if they had a tip from a brewery worker. Be that as it may, it should be noted Volhynia was a historic hop region, Polish until the Soviet annexation in September 1939.
So perhaps the hops in question really were Russian. Barth & Son didn’t have great things to say about Volhynia hops in their report, at least for 1937/1938, but it may have been a case of take what you can get.
See our follow-up post, Saaz Seedless.
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