Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Hops in the 1860's

Hops. Fascinating subject. Especially the internationalisation of the hop trade in the 19th century.

Why were British brewers in need of foreign hops? Simple. Not enough could be grown locally to meet demand. The same was true of many agricultural products in the 19th century. Industrialisation caused a surge in population growth and drew people away from the countryside. The result was a dependence on imports for many basic foodstuffs.

Between 1857 and 1871, production of beer in the UK rose from 18 million to 26.5 million barrels. That's almost a 50% increase. But the area under hop cultivation didn't increase. In fact hops were only grown in a few areas of Britain: Kent, Sussex, Hampshire, Worcestershire and Nottinghamshire. There was little possibility of seriously increasing production. Imports were the only solution.

As Loftus states below, initially Bavarian hops were most popular. By the 1880's this had changed and American hops dominated imports. By the end of the 19th century a sizeable proportion of the USA hop crop was being exported to Britain. Though German hops continued to be used in Britain, even after WW I.

"Of late years, Bavarian and occasionally American hops are getting into general use in this country. It has been found that in ordinary pale ale or bitter beer one-third of common hops may be employed to give the flavour and bitter required, while another and finer kind is resorted to for the superior odour it imparts. The powder or pollen which falls through the meshes of the hair-cloth or wirework of the kiln-floor in the course of the drying is of considerable value to brewers. It is known in the trade as "hop dust," and, when collected free from extraneous matter, is nearly equal in efficacy to the hop itself. In porter brewing especially, a certain amount of this dust may he used with great advantage.

Fumigation with burning sulphur is frequently practised, as in the case of malt, to give hops a pale colour; but the effect of the lingering sulphurous acid is detrimental to the success of fermentation, and hops which have been bleached in this manner, however slightly, should be avoided if possible by the brewer.

The counties of Kent, Sussex, and Hants are the principal sites of the cultivation of the hop-plant in England; a mild, delicate variety is extensively grown in Worcestershire. The Kentish hops have the greatest strength and flavour; the colour of these is a rich, golden yellow, with a greenish shade; when rubbed in the hands they leave yellow traces, exhale a strong, agreeable odour, and are in a marked degree oily and clammy to the touch. "Farnhams" or "Goldings" are the the finest flavoured of all the Kentish hops, but they are not so strong as the best growth of other parts of the county. The Sussex hops possess much of the general characteristics of the Kentish produce, and are esteemed of nearly equal value. "Worcesters," as already stated, are milder than either Sussex or Kents; they have a delicate flavour, and are chiefly used in pale ale and bitter-beer brewing. "Kents" are best for old ales and stout; the crop, however, is uncertain, the plant being one of the most tender cultivated; these hops are the heaviest grown, possess the greatest amount of "condition " and have the smallest flower or leaf. The "Canterbury grape" is a very useful and abundant hop. The kind produced in the district of North Clay in Nottinghamshire, is also in high repute, as having great strength and condition, although coarse in flavour until mellowed by keeping.

A very pale or green colour shows that the hops have been gathered too young, while a deep brown shade indicates either that they have been over-dried, by which most of the aroma must have been lost, or that they have been allowed to ripen too long on the poles, and thus deprived both of aroma and bitterness.

Fresh hops are much more valuable than those which have been kept any considerable time. A fourth more is, at least, needed when hops a twelvemonth old are used. At one year old, hops are called "yearlings." At the end of two years they retain little else than the bitter, and are then termed "old hops." After the lapse of three years they receive the name of "old olds."

The best hops are packed in bags or "pockets" made of strong canvas, which when filled weigh from 168 lbs. to 196 lbs. each. The darker and more strongly flavoured are put into coarser sacks, called "hop bags;" these usually weigh about 3 cwt. Hops of this kind are chiefly consumed in porter-brewing.

Nearly the whole of the hop trade for the kingdom, that is, the business of buying and selling on a large scale, is carried on in the Borough of Southwark, London. Owing to the precarious nature of the crop, the amount of annual production of marketable hops is very uncertain, and when an Excise Duty was chargeable on the article, speculation and betting prevailed to an extraordinary degree as to the total of the tax that would be derived from each season's growth.

The importation of foreign hops is rapidly increasing. On the 1st of January, 1862, shortly before the duty was repealed, there were 11,991,2641bs. of foreign hops in bond. In England the number of acres under cultivation for hops has varied from 38,281 to 58 000, and the price per cwt. from £27 10s. in 1817 to as low as £2 15s. in 1848.

In choosing hops the heaviest pockets should always be preferred, as the greater part of the weight is given by the farina or pollen, and it is the abundance of this constituent which mainly determines the value of the hops. As previously observed, the hops should feel clammy when squeezed in the hand, and give out a strong, characteristic odour; the colour should be uniform; there should be no greenish particles in the flowers, and the mass of leaves should be full of hard seeds aud pollen .or "condition."

Mould may be considered as present in the sample if the stalk of the flower is, partly bare of leaf. Rust, proceeding from damp or bad storage, should also be carefully looked for, as it impairs the value more than age.

It is hardly necessary to say, that brown or dark-coloured hops should be used for brown or black beer, and pale hops for pale beers. Hops of a fine straw colour, as having been riper when picked.and better cured or dried on kiln, are generally esteemed the best for pale ale or bitter beer. Fine Sussex or Worcester are well adapted for beer intended for immediate consumption."
"Loftus's Almanack for Brewers, Distillers, and the Wine and Spirit Trades" by William Loftus, 1869, pages 14 - 15.

What else do I want to point out? I know. That the hop trade was based in Southwark. Close to the Barclay Perkins brewery. There's this weeks Barclay perkins reference.

Then there's the variation in price. Hops are susceptible to disease, especially mildew. The harvest varied enormously from year to year, which was reflected in the price. As you can see from the example Loftus, this could vary by a factor of 100 between good and bad years.

Most of the important brewing centres in Britain were well away from hop-growing districts.The only exception was London. Burton, Edinburgh and Dublin were all a long way from hop growers. Yet it didn't seem to have any impact on the quantity of hops they use. Well not if you go by evidence rather than stories.

Farnhams and Goldings were the most valued hops for the whole of the 19th century. Goldings remain highly sought after to this day. It's a remarkable record. Especially of you consider the commercial barley varieties grown today were all developped after WW II. You may remember a quote from a Bass brewer I posted a while ago about the use of Worcester hops in their Pale Ale. There's confirmation of that above.


Arctic Alchemy said...

The fact that American hops where extensively used in British beers in the 19th century is the most difficult concept for many brewers in the US grasp, why is this such a difficult concept to understand?
Also interesting is that freshness of the hops commanded a premium price, yet imported hops had such a long journey and still played a valuable role in the brewing demands, I suppose it was that they had a higher alpha acid content, that still arrived potent enough and fresh enough to become useful.

Alan said...

Are you seeing in the UK records that most of the US crop came from a very limited area around Otsego in central NY or is it just listed as generically US? Also, are you seeing varieties of hops being listed or just by geographical source?

Anonymous said...

It must not be forgotten that the hop crop had to last for at least a year.You can't have fresh hops in July!
Packed tight and later on in refrigerated transport they should have arrived in good condition.
I didn't know about Nottinghamshire hops.They are certainly rampant in the hedgerows here in the south of the county , must do some further research into this.

Ron Pattinson said...

Arctic Alchemy, it's not just American hops. American and middle-eastern barley were used in large quantities in the second half of the 19th century. I've found beers that contained to British barley at all.

There was a global market in the 19th century, much like today.

British brewers weren't generally very keen on the flavour of American hops and tended not to use them fresh. It was reckoned that they kept their preservative properties longer than British hops.

Ron Pattinson said...

Alan, in the first years they appear, they are just listed as American. No variety or specific place of origin. I assume that in the 1850's and 1860's they are from New York state, because that's where hops were grown at that time in the USA.

Later, the origin is more specific: Pacific, Washington, Oregon, California, Sonoma.

Ron Pattinson said...

Anonymous, brewing manuals say to leave hops for a few months to mellow after harvest. And then to gradually introduce a portion of the new season's crop into the brews.

Martyn Cornell said...

when an Excise Duty was chargeable on the article, speculation and betting prevailed to an extraordinary degree as to the total of the tax that would be derived from each season's growth.

Peter Mathias goes into great detail on this - hop growers and buyers basically hedged against very high or very low prices by betting on the tax yield: if you were a hop grower, for example, and you feared a glut, and resultant low prices, you bet on a high tax yield, so that at least you'd make some money from your bet, even if your income was down because of low prices.

Gary Gillman said...

Yet just having tasting a number of "wet hop ales", I find them all superb with a complex hop flavour and bitterness, multi-layered. I wonder if the old learning not to use green hops was more reflection of a practical need, i.e., to age them long enough to last before the next harvest and also to permit a schedule of blending which favoured consistency.


Craig said...


You're correct about New York State hops. In fact the central counties of New York State, such as Madison and Otsego, were the largest producers in the United States. Planter's began growing hops ther in the early 19th century, around 1810. In 1825, with the competion of the Erie Canal, hops producers could transport their harvest, north, via the Chenango Canal to it's terminus, at the Erie Canal, then travel east to Albany and connect with the Hudson River. From Albany, the canal barges could easily travel south to the port of New York City and on to the Atlantic. Within a few years, using the Erie Canal, hops producers could also send their products almost 3,000 miles from central New York to San Francisco, California. New York would remain the dominant hops producer, in the country, until just after first decade of the 20th century. A series of blights during the teens would ultimately cause most hop growers to relocate to California and the Pacific Northwest. The Framer's Musuem in Cooperstown, NY, has a really wonderful hops exhibit on the history and growing of hops in New York. Plus you can go vist Ommegang brewery, if you're there.

Ron Pattinson said...

Martyn, capitalism, eh?

Ron Pattinson said...

Craig, I'd thought that the west coast had taken over earlier, more like the 1890's. At least from what I remember in brewing logs. Though I've never seen New York explicitly mentioned. Funny that.

I wonder how long the journey from New York hop field to Southwark hop merchant lasted in the last half of the nineteenth century?

Anonymous said...

Gary-I've had a variety of "wet hop" ales over the past few years and enjoyed them all. I assume that wet hops would have been used just after harvest time by breweries close to the hop fields.
I recently visited a brewery who had used such hops-they said how troublesome it was to transport 90 pounds by car!Lovely stuff it was too.
Certainly from my experience I can't see any problem with the use of fresh hops unless it's a consistency matter.

Joe Stange said...

"It is hardly necessary to say, that brown or dark-coloured hops should be used for brown or black beer, and pale hops for pale beers."

Now that's one I hadn't heard before. I can think of a few hoppy golden ales I've seen with a nice greenish sheen to them. Maybe they should have used paler hops.

Craig said...

Hop production did begin to move west at the end of the 19th century, actually by mid-century. By the 1890s Industrial agriculture (versus subsistence agriculture) was finally gaining a foothold, but still was growing, in comparison to established system in the east. Although the taming of the wild west was a relatively short period, the years of lawlessness stunted it's industrial efforts and 1890's California, was still a pretty rural and desolate place.

Movement west was not what killed New York hop production. Bad luck did. When the first blight hit in 1909, New York was still considered the premier hop region in the country. Within a few years all of the hops producers affected by the downey mildew, were out-of-business. With the decrease in eastern production, western hops filled the gaps where New York had stumbled. In 1914 an aphid infestation caused a second blow. Some eastern producers did survive both instances, but western hop producers had moved into the lead. The final blow for New York Hops came on January 16, 1919. A blight, an infestation and the illegalization of alcohol within a ten year period made it impossible for hops producers to recover. Not only did those farms stop growing hops. They stopped growin anything, and New York lost a major component of it agriculture base.

As far as speed, 19th century canal boats travelled (with the aid of a towpath and mules) about 4 miles an hour. From Utica (the northern junction of the canal) to Albany is 110 miles, on the canal. From that point a steamboat would, probably, have transported the cargo south, down the Hudson, to New York City, usually a 9 hour trip. So, my I guess is a month and a half to just make the Atlantic.

Craig said...

A bit of clarification, too. Utica was the northern most junction of the Chenango and Erie canals.