Introduction: Defining Hoptopia

From: Hoptopia

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1 among the fields and orchards of Oregon’s Willamette Valley grows a unique agricultural crop called hops. In this rural farming region, the climbing plant stands out for its vigorous vertical growth up high trellises and for the bright green cones that peek out from the plant’s leaves, top to bottom. (See figure 1.) During the summer months, when the hop reaches maturity, the cones exude aromas reminiscent of fruits, grasses, spices, and herbs. Upon harvest, the hop’s yellow resin, called lupulin, dusts the air. Given the plant’s distinctive physical characteristics, inquisitive passersby often stop and exit their vehicles for a closer inspection. But botanical curiosity is probably only part of the reason. For those in the know, the real intrigue lies in the fact that those hop cones partake in a nearly singular purpose: almost all of the harvested crop is used to make beer.1 Hops serve beer makers unlike any other ingredient. When added to the kettle early in the brewing process (whether as whole cones or, more commonly in the recent past, in a pelletized or extract form), they provide a bitterness to counteract the syrupy sweetness of malted grain boiled in water, called wort. If added toward the end of the boil or during cooling, certain hops (often simply referred to as aroma hops) impart pleasant aromas—spanning grapefruit, pine, currants, mint, and more—that will one day delight a beer drinker’s palate. But those are not the only reasons that brewers covet the plant. Antibacterial agents within hop cones act as natural preservatives to sustain the shelf life of beer, and the chemical makeup of the cones also helps clarify the beverage and stabilize its foamy head. No other ingredient can claim such versatile worth to beer makers, and for that reason the plant has been dubbed the brewer’s gold.2 Introduction defining hoptopia 2 • Introduction In the past thirty years, the craft beer revolution that swept across the United States brought attention to hops more than at any other moment in the past. As brewers from California to New England eschewed bland American lagers in favor of more complex recipes, they almost universally featured more of the ingredient in their malted concoctions. The hopped-up vats created more flavorful and aromatic beers, unlike anything seen in U.S. markets since before Prohibition. In the process of winning over the senses of American beer drinkers, the hop also became an effective symbol of the craft beer industry, and, in effect, a marketing tool. Breweries showcased hop plants and cones on their beer labels and branded new brews with names such as Hop Czar, Hop Henge, Hop Jack, and Hopportunity Knocks. By the early twenty-first century, it was arguable that, whether beer drinker or not, Americans confronted hops on a daily basis via television commercials, billboards , and grocery-store displays. The hop truly achieved star status. Yet the plant’s significance to brewers and beer drinkers has a rich history that transcends the craft beer craze. Prior to being the featured ingredient in today’s pilsners and pale ales, the hop took part in a global journey that has been in motion for millions of years. The story began with the evolution figure 1. Hops on the bine. Courtesy Rogue Ales and Spirits. defining hoptopia • 3 of the species and its quest to spread forth across the world, and took a turn much later when European beer-making traditions expanded the plant’s territory as an agricultural commodity essential in brewing. Like a climbing hop bine (a shoot that uses sticky hairs to pull itself upward around a host, as opposed to a vine that ascends via tendrils, suckers, or runners), the plant’s journey entangled the stories not only of brewers and beer drinkers, but also of farmers, businesspeople, scientists, wage laborers, and governmental agencies that engaged with one another and the agricultural landscape. This book tells that story as it unfolded in the Willamette Valley, Oregon—a region that, unbeknownst to even many craft beer lovers today, is one of only a handful in the world where farmers grow hops commercially. Twenty-first-century beer enthusiasts know well that Portland (which sits at the northern edge of the valley) has emerged as the Craft Beer Capital of the World, because it houses the most breweries per capita on the planet. Some residents simply called their home Beervana. But many do not know that the Pacific Northwest...


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