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A Local Ode to Hops

Humulus lupulus, Common Hops, and Hops. These are all one in the same and all refer to the plant by which gives beer it’s flavor, bitterness, aroma and provides preservative qualities. The plant is part of the hemp family Cannabaceae and grows natively in Europe, western Asia and North America, growing best in full sun with moderate amounts of rain. It is a perennial, which means that it comes back to life every spring, with a life span of up to 20 years, and it is dioecious, meaning that there are separate male and female plants. Hops climb upwards, much like Morning Glory or Clematis, and have twining vines, also known as bines, which climb by their bristly shoots growing in a helix rather than traditional vines that use tendrils or suckers. The plants can climb to heights of 15 to 20 feet and the fragrant flower cones or “fruits” are harvested in late August through early September and usually dried.

There are several different varieties of hops, with as many as 170 different types grown around the globe, and many more being developed, bred and cultivated each year. According to a 2018 survey conducted by The Brewers Association, the top 10 varieties of hops used in brewing beer are as follows: 1. Cascade, 2. Centennial, 3. Citra, 4. Mosaic, 5. Simcoe, 6. Chinook, 7. Amarillo, 8. CTZ (Columbus, Tomahawk, & Zeus), 9. Crystal, and 10. El Dorado. During the preceding 6 years, Cascade and Centennial had also taken the top two spots, respectively.

Here in the greater CNY area, the vast majority of hops that are grown include Cascade, Centennial and Chinook, but other varieties grow well too. Alta Vista Farm, in Cherry Valley, NY grows the aforementioned three, but also cultivate Cluster, Columbus, Fuggle, Northern Brewer, Nugget and Willamette hops in addition. Each variety of hop can be broken down chemically with each having their own unique percentage levels of alpha acids, beta acids, and cohumulones (alpha acid analogs in hop resin), along with total oil numbers (ml/gram), and of course with each displaying their own natural aromas. It’s these varying compounds and individual make-up that guide brewers in the specific types of hops they add into their brewing process and recipes.

Hops have a long history of being grown here in Central New York. According to the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, the first hops field was planted in Madison County in 1808 by James D. Coolidge and by 1859, NYS became the primary producer and supplier in the United States, providing approximately 87% of all hops grown. By 1880, 21 million pounds of hops were harvested in New York State per year. Unfortunately, the trend was not to continue as a fungus called Blue Mold took hold in the 1880s, and decimated crops across the state. By 1909, NYS lost it’s hops crown to California and Oregon and most of the hop farms in the area were converted into dairy farms.

Today, hop farms continue to grow across the state, thanks in part to former Governor Andrew Cuomo’s creation of a farm brewery licensing program in 2012, that promotes the use of locally grown and produced ingredients. The legislation is tiered, meaning that over a course of years, the percentage of locally sourced ingredients that goes into creating beers, ciders, etc., increases and in order to maintain the farm brewery license, each particular brewery has to meet those standards.

This year marks the 25th Anniversary of Madison County’s Hop Festival. Held every year in September, the weekend long celebration commemorates the past, present and future of the hops industry in both Madison County and throughout NYS. This year, the event will take place on Friday and Saturday, September 17th & 18th.

On Friday at 6pm there is a 4-course paired beer dinner located at the Foothills Hops Farm Brewery in Munnsville, NY and catered by HipStir Café. During the dinner, the “Hop King” of 2021 will be recognized – this year’s honoree being Chad Meigs, owner of the Bineyard in Cazenovia. Tickets are $75 each and must be purchased by Sept. 9th.

County Historical Society grounds in Oneida. Guest speakers, hop farmers, beer clubs, home brewing demonstrations, hop exhibits on hop history and culture, vendors selling hop-related merchandise, several food trucks, live music provided by Guy Young and The Rockers and raffles will be available for your enjoyment, along with craft beer sampling from 2pm to 5pm, with over 30 craft breweries expected to attend. While there is no admission fee for the festival itself, tickets for the beer sampling are $30 in advance and $35 at the door, and of course you must be 21+ to participate. Proceeds from ticket sales go to a good cause, benefitting Madison County Historical Society’s educational programming.

**It is important to note that ANYONE attending this year’s Hop Festival will need to provide proof of vaccination against Covid-19 to security upon admittance via the original or a copy of your vaccination card. This includes the dinner and the sampling session.**

Tickets to all events can be purchased online at www.madisoncountyhopfest.org and at Kraig’s Kegs or at the Madison County Historical Society in Oneida, NY. More information and a full itinerary of the event is also available on the same website and Facebook page.

Hope to see you there, Cheers!!

Kristin Merritt
Just a brief introduction that I’ve joined the Table Hopping crew as your new craft-brew-loving gal who will be bringing you your monthly pour of beer education and the low-down on all things beer related in the immediate CNY area and beyond. Along the way I hope that I can give a few recommendations for your grocery lists, event suggestions and local hotspots for an afternoon out with friends or planning a date, and if not for nothing, perhaps enlighten you with some random knowledge that you can amaze your teammates with at trivia night – or at least give you and your pals a suggestion on what to drink at the bar! I have some mighty large shoes to fill that my friend and fellow Syracuse Women of Craft Beer member (& founder), Gloria Rakowsky, left for me, but I hope that my style (and shenanigans) will keep all y’all coming back for more each month. Cheers!