Over the occasional “schhp” of a beer bottle being uncapped, Steve Miller, New York State’s first hops specialist, employed by the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Madison County, began his lecture at the Big Red Barn on Thursday Feb. 16, the fifth event in a weeklong university-wide celebration of Darwin’s birthday.
Advertised as “Local Climate Change’s Effect on Hop Production” and followed by a beer tasting sponsored by Saranac Brewery, the event had little to do with climate change and, perhaps, less to do with Darwin; but out of the roughly seventy people in attendance no one seemed much to mind. Instead Miller gave a brief history of hops (Humulus lupulus, to nod at Darwin), a main ingredient of beer, and discussed how the crop is grown—emphasizing its production in New York State.
“One hundred years ago New York was the number one hop producing state,” said Miller. “It produced eighty to ninety percent of all hops in the country.” Today New York devotes about 20 acres to its hops as compared with Washington State which devotes about 25,000 acres, Oregon, around 5,000-6,000 acres, and Idaho, maybe a couple thousand acres, he said.
This dramatic decrease in acreage can partly be attributed to powdery mildew (Sphaerotheca macularis or S. humuli, depending on which mycologist you talk to), a fungal disease that wreaked havoc on New York hops back in 1909, Miller said, later referring his audience to a resource early twentieth century hop growers did not have access to: a free electronic copy of the “Field Guide for Integrated Pest Management in Hops” available at www.usahops.org.
“The thing that really put the final nail in the coffin was Prohibition,” Miller said, presenting a slide of early temperance movement propaganda: ten stern women under a sign reading, “Lips that touch liquor shall not touch ours.”
The Anti-Saloon League would not be happy to know that the New York State senate may soon pass into law a bill that would allow New York State farmers to manufacture and sell beer on their farms. The bill’s predecessor, the Farm Winery Act of 1976, has already successfully jumpstarted New York’s wine industry, said Miller. As a loop around Cayuga Lake will evidence, the Finger Lakes region is now budding with vineyards.
Miller also explained that he and the Northeast Hop Alliance have begun developing a project to actively seek out feral hops (those that have come up from seed in the wild or were leftover on somebody’s farm), that he expects will be operational by summer. Anyone with an interest in hiking and beer should contact Miller for further information, he said. Until a press release has been issued, Miller said he would like to keep the project somewhat under wraps.
Attendees were also treated to three seasonal Saranac ales; the profiles below are adapted from the Saranac Brewery website at www.saranac.com.
Saranac White I.P.A.: a hazy unfiltered mix between a Belgian-style wheat ale and an IPA that has notes of orange peel and coriander and a fruity finish; made from Citra hops.
Saranac Irish Red Ale: a less hoppy, garnet-colored Irish Red Ale that has notes of caramel and toffee; made from Vanguard hops.
Saranac Imperial I.P.A.: a complex, amber-colored IPA; made from 10 different kinds of hops including Cascade, Columbus and Centennial varieties.