Brewers have long appreciated the value of hops from the Pacific northwest, but it was Cascade, a variety practically synonymous with craft brewing, that made the area more generally famous among beer drinkers. Cascade was named for the Cascade Range, which runs down the west coast of North America. The home of the Cascade hop is the Willamette valley, roughly halfway between the mountains and the coast. Cascade was released in 1972, but the history of hops in the Willamette valley goes back to the 1830s. The industry has seen more than its fair share of ups and downs, all examined by historian Peter Kopp in his book Hoptopia.
The whole question of changing tastes in beer, and how that affects the fortunes of different hops, is fascinating. If you’ve been a listener forever, you may remember a very early Eat This Podcast, about the rediscovery of an English hop known prosaically as OZ97a. Deemed too hoppy and abandoned when first tried, the vogue for craft beers resurrected its fortunes. It’s a fun story, though I say so myself.
Cover photo is Ezra Meeker, the early grower of hops in the Willamette valley who pioneered the global marketing of Oregon hops. The booming hop business made him the territory’s first millionnaire, and perhaps also its biggest bust. Hop King: Ezra Meeker’s Boom Years chronicles that part of his long, rich life.
I had a roommate in college from the Czech Republic who fondly remembered spending time on hops farms picking what he called the county’s “green gold”. It’s interesting to think about the economic and cultural differences and norms built up around such a product. I hadn’t known that the Pacific Northwest figured so prominently in production and find it amazing that the economic timing for the industry was so fortuitous.
Interestingly it didn't stand for digital currency, but a more familiar liquid one.
In the cold opening of Cheers, Season 9, Episode 23 “Carla Loves Clavin” aired on March 21, 1991, Norm Peterson (portrayed by George Wendt) invents the original definition of what would ultimately be adopted as the iconic symbol for Bitcoin. Interestingly at the time it didn’t stand for digital currency, but a more familiar liquid one.
Norm: Okay Rebecca. Um. Here’s the deal, I’ll paint the whole office including woodwork, and uh, it’ll run you 400. Rebecca: 400 bucks sounds reasonable. Norm: Oh no, that’s 400 beers, the B with the slanty line through it, it’s kinda my own special currency.
Italy, land of fabled wines, has seen an astonishing craft beer renaissance. Or perhaps naissance would be more accurate, as Italy has never had that great a reputation for beers. Starting in the early 1990s, with Teo Musso at Le Baladin, there are now more than 500 craft breweries in operation up and down the peninsula. Specialist beer shops are popping up like mushrooms all over Rome, and probably elsewhere, and even our local supermarket carries quite a range of unusual beers. Among them four absolutely scrummy offerings from Mastri Birai Umbri – Master Brewers of Umbria. And then it turns out that my friend Dan Etherington, who blogs (mostly) at Bread, cakes and ale, knows the Head Brewer, Michele Sensidoni. A couple of emails later and there we were, ready for Michele to give us a guided tour of the brewery.
I’m sure there was audio all the way through the tour, but portions of it were cut out, likely for time editing, but I kind of wish the whole thing was there… I could probably listen to this kind of beer talk all day long. I would also appreciate a more chemistry-based technical approach to the topic as well.
The question of the definition of craft beer versus industrial beer is a very good, yet subtle one.
I’m actually curious to try a beer that’s based on legumes to see what the increased protein percentages do to the flavor. It’s also interesting to hear about the potential creation of a signature Italian style beer.