Wild Hops and Independence

In Greenfield, MA in 1933 The Daily Recorder-Gazette re-printed a story from another newspaper in the state, in Worcester, dealing with wild hops.

With the end of National Prohibition, brewing was being revived in many states. Rural communities graced (in the eyes of some) with annual or perennial roots of the wild hop vine, took increasing notice of this resource.

Most newspapers in the 1930s, as before Prohibition, mentioned hops in connection with hop markets: what were they worth, the bounty of the harvest, the different types of hops, and their harvest periods. The hops in New York State, then still a growing area, included English Cluster, Canada Red Vine, Humphrey, and, by 1935 or so, Late Cluster.

Late Cluster was planted from roots imported from California and Washington. The West Coast cultivars were more resistant to disease than English Cluster.

People sometimes wondered if the wild hops could make good beer. One story, from back in the 1890s in Minnesota, suggested the hops were tasteless and of no value. The journalist did aver that only a trial could really tell.

The Worcester Telegram took a different approach. The writer was unusually reflective. He looked at the hop, not in the context of a revived brewing industry, but for its importance to American history and the American spirit.

This type of article was quite rare in the small-town press of the 20th century. It was more common in the 1800s, when most U.S. journalists worked in small towns and cities.

Revival of the ancient interest in brewing is a reminder that wild hops still grow in more or less profusion around many an old homestead of Worcester county. With perennial hardihood, they must have survived down through the years, since a time when the Colonial family was inclined to be entirely sufficient unto itself.

Those wild hops stand for a period when men very largely made their own beer. People made prac­tically everything they used, in those days, buying as little as possible. A farmer—and most of our an­cestors were farmers, grew hops and barley for his beer, grapes for his wine and perhaps rye for his whiskey. He raised sheep and sheared them for wool, that his wife might make his clothing. He butchered his own cattle, eating their meat, tanning their hides for shoes for himself and harnesses for his horses. Perhaps he owned a forge and made his own scythe, hammering it out again into a sword if the need arose.

A rather pleasant picture, all this, of the family finding all its provender, even its amusements. But there were crop failures in those days, too. The farmers were not always completely self-sustaining. The hops have come down through centuries to remind us of the independence that used to be so American, but also they remind us of the dangers that went with the simple life of that simple day.

One of the wild hops of America is Neomexicanus. The pioneering craft brewery, Sierra Nevada, has used it in brewing. I tasted the beer which was superb, and not gamy or weird in any way. The hop in question is pictured above, and the beer, below. (Source for both: Sierra Nevada’s website).

The uncredited author of the Worcester Telegram story would have been proud.

Note re images: The two images above are from the website of Sierra Nevada Brewing as linked in the text. The quotation is from the Fulton History newspaper archive, also as linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owners, as applicable. Material is used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.