Saturday, 3 October 2009

American hops

Just a small aside. Mostly so I don't forget. I'm trudging my way through Whitbread's Ale logs for my Scottish vs English comparison and just noticed something.

Whitbread's old logs are a right royal pain in the bum. They're just exercise books full of scribbles. The oldest ones are particularly informative about ingredients. "55 qrs" and "Hops 515" is as much as you get. (It's 55 quarters of malt for every brew. Must have been the mash tun capacity.)

Then in 1850, they get more detailed. OK, it still just says "55 qrs" without further explanation. But the different hops are specified. And there it is. The earliest mention of I've found of American hops in a British beer.

Here it is, in case you don't believe me:

The beer in question is X Ale. Whitbread's entry-level Mild. With a gravity of just 1074, it must have just been intended for children.

Now "American" is pretty vague. Exactly what type of hops would they have been and where would they have been grown? Given the date, the west coast seems an unlikely source. Which leaves upstate New York, where the USA's hop-growing activities were first concentrated.

That's it. No revolutionary theories this time. Just an historical observation.


Gary Gillman said...

Ron, I think that's right (viz. New York or East Coast origin in that period) and the above extract indicates Truman Hanbury were using some of these hops as early as 1819 - but as a market expedient only.

It is most interesting that the hops were felt lesser due to their pine wood-like taste. This is the kind of historical commentary I like because I am principally interested to ascertain beer flavour in the past. Here we see that some U.S. hops tasted just as they do today, piny. And this was noticed by the English as being rather different than their own hops. Note the phrase, "it is supposed", the writer is showing doubt that processing methods had very much to do with it.


mentaldental said...

From "Hops, Their Cultivation, Commerce, And Uses in Various Countries, P L Simmonds, 1877, London".

In 1845 the hops grown in the United States were:
New England States....4250 bales
New York..............4000 bales
Total.....8250 bales

Hop culture is now pretty generally diffused over the States; Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts are the principal New England hop-growing States.

According to the census of 1849 the quantity of hops raised in the States was 3,497,029 lbs, of which New England produced 707,743 lbs, New York 2,536,299 lbs, and all other States only 253,987 lbs.

From: "The Hop Atlas, Barth, Klinke, SchmidtNuremburg, Germany, 1994"

In New York, as in New England hop growing was dominated by English varieties, such as Grape, but Canada Seedling, Humphrey Seedling, and Cluster were also grown.
The quality control methods that had been established in 1819 were done away with forty years later without known reason, resulting in a decline in quality, especially in the hop picking.

After Illinois and Iowa, wild hops were found in Wisconsin, near Racine, growing next to wild onions, plums, and apples. Around 1850 the settlers planted the wild hops in gardens and tended them in the "old English style".

Will said...

Foremost, the principle type of hop grown here in central New York during the 1800's was mostly cluster and it really doesn't have any piny quality whatsoever. Rather, I think the article mentioned that the piny taste came from the use of drying the hops with pine wood.

I live not farm from dozens of old 19th century hop farms here in CNY and I regularly brew with the hops found around these farms. They are very floral smelling with good bitterness and an intense grapefruit taste when the beer is young. Just a few weeks ago I harvested around 5lbs of these hops.

Gary Gillman said...

Is it known pine-wood was used to dry hops in this period? Or did the English assume this without foundation?

I think the grapefruit smell was another thing the English didn't like, whatever the explanation, one reads regularly in the (English) literature of the day about the unsatisfactory nature of American hops. They were used when yearling or older to reduce these qualities and as a part only of the hop blend (sometimes).

Of course, flavor is relative. Today American hops are chic in the U.K. It is fashion-driven and also a question of what you are used to.

Neither national "type" is better, just different...


Gary Gillman said...

Period description of drying hops in America, the only fuel recommended is charcoal:

Of course, this does not mean other fuels weren't used.

I wonder what the English used.. Could smokiness in some beers of the period be attributed to smoky hops?

"Smoked hops Imperial Doppel de Saison": the next big thing? :)


Ron Pattinson said...

The complaint I've read about American hops is having the flavour of blackcurrant leaves.

Gary, you're right that it shows just how much people's appreiciation of flavours is based on fashion.

Scott, very interesting information. I take it these were hops just growing wild.

Gary Gillman said...

Ron, I've seen the one about blackcurrant, here is one which is calls American hops "rank and coarse" and attributes this to soil properties:

Numerous other references can be found, we saw similar ones some time ago from Parliamentary hearings.

I don't think the English were being protectionist (or simply that), they were just reflecting their own traditions. I only came to stout flavoured with Chinooks and other C-hops, for example, after accustoming to stout and porter brewed in the English tradition. If it had been the other way around, I might have preferred the American style to the other - or both possibly.

Incidentally not all U.S. stout is made in the new American (or maybe we can view it as an old American) style. Just recently I bought some Southern Tier Dark Porter - from New York State as it happens - and it is a well-bittered traditional London-type beer.


Kristen England said...

Having used Cluster in a lot of the recreations I've done I wouldn't say they are 'harsh' in and of themselves. When compared to the wonderful Nobel hops, yes, they are quite harsh.