A Good Beer Blog

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Have you read The Unbearable Nonsense of Craft Beer - A Rant in Nine Acts by Alan and Max yet? It's out on Kindle as well as Lulu.

Maureen Ogle said this about the book: "... immensely readable, sometimes slightly surreal rumination on beer in general and craft beer in particular. Funny, witty, but most important: Smart. The beer geeks will likely get all cranky about it, but Alan and Max are the masters of cranky..."

Ron Pattinson said: "I'm in a rather odd situation. Because I appear in the book. A fictional version of me. It's a weird feeling."


Comments

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Craig -

That's funny. I just heard this on Friday, on my public radio station, WAMC/Northeast Public Radio. I wonder if there's any connection.

Stan Hieronymus -

Just one quick point. It wasn't Prohibition that killed NY hop growing, which is listed as a factor in the NPR stories.

It was the inability to compete with NW hops. Today's farmers face the same challenges (quality and price) and more (rebuilding the harvesting infrastructure). I'm rooting for them, but emphasizing local has to be an important part of the equation.

Alan -

I think the new NY state farmhouse brewery regulations will help a lot on the initial leg of getting the industry revived as a grass roots proposition but, yes, the shift to local will definitely need to be part of the marketing when facing what is essentially "macro-hops" for lack of a better word... though I immediately like that one a lot. The Cornell co-op extension program involvement will help, too.

Alan -

PS: good description of the forces cpmpared to Pacific NW hops that halted NY hops here:

"...So what happened? During the "Golden Age" of the hops industry, market prices soared, and many farmers, eager for sudden wealth, plowed up every available piece of land. While they depended on other income from dairy, potatoes, grain, or lumber, they also planned on saving whatever profit there was from their hops. Unfortunately, West Coast farmers had the same idea. Achieving greater yields and utilizing mechanized picking, they manipulated the market, so that in 1882 the price peaked at an unheard of price of over $1.25 per pound, and plunged considerably the following year. These violent price fluctuations made profits more uncertain. Local growers grew skeptical of these risks, and began to cut the size of their hop yards in favor of the more stable occupations of dairying and the raising of corn, grain and potatoes.

Then, a series of disasters conspired to destroy the local growers. In 1909, the crop was hit with the downey mildew sphaerotheca humuli, often referred to erroneously as ‘blight’ or ‘blue mold.’ Efforts to defeat the disease were in vain, after two dismal years put the family farmer nearly out of business. Then, in 1914, an extreme attack of hop aphids broke out that further added to their demise. But by this time the picture in upstate New York was one of disaster, and farmers no longer could afford to make further attempts at growing hops. The final blow came as Prohibition eliminated virtually all needs for hops. Eventually, hop yards were plowed up, other crops were planted, and the barns and equipment were converted to other uses or left to rot. There were only a few attempts to grow hops following the repeal of Prohibition, and small crops were reported as late as 1953 in Schoharie County...."

Jeff Alworth -

There's a fascinating economics dimension to this that makes me wish I'd taken an econ class in college. What we saw over the course of the 20th century was consolidation and streamlining into mass markets. For producers, this had an obvious logic--it was less complicated to get hops from one source and they could drive costs down, which lowered the price of a can of beer. (Same with food.) Macroeconomically, this meant American's food bills dropped so we could spend our cash on things like radios and muscle cars.

Now the reverse process is happening, where craft brewing has created micro markets for things like steel fabrication, small malteries and hop growers. It doesn't make sense to grow hops in NY as a part of a five-brewery national market, but when you have 100 small NY breweries, all of a sudden it makes tons of sense. Of course, that means the price of a can of Sixpoint goes up, along with our heirloom lettuce and apples at the farmer's market. So we spend more on these things, but presumably less on flat screen TVs and, what, health care?

Interesting times.

Alan -

I also see this as waves of the culture. Hops start in NE and NY, move to the mid-west and then on to the Pacific NW as I imagine the children and grandchildren of the NY and NE hop farmers move west and farming at a bigger and bigger scale each generation. Hop production aggregates in the PNW and grows to a point in scale where sub-production at a low level is left open as a new entry point as you describe. The hop plant requires that this occur, as Stan points out in his book, in a restricted band of latitude so it practically speaking must occur back in upstate NY. Plus, the current NY state government, I understand, has bought a pelletizing machine for cooperative use. Sounds like it is not organic only but that will come. But in all this the old homesteads are revived and, perhaps, villages resurrected. Great public policy.

Craig -

The biggest hindrance to NYs re-budding (pun intended) hops industry is the size of the farms producing the hops. They're to small to go it alone—the closest harvester is on Long island and the closest pellitizer is in Wisconsin (NYS is discussing a cooperative pelletizer). Both are astronomical investments for farms of 10 to 20 acres of hops. The farms in NY, at this point, can't even supply a local brew pub consistently. There is just now an organizational effort happening within the state. Dieter and I have spoken ad nauseam about getting his farm up and running. It, like any farming, is a tough row to hoe.

Alan -

I should link to this Feb 2008 post on the idea generally if only for the photo, the caption of which might be my finest. Oh, except for these ones...

Stan Hieronymus -

Oh, look. A feature on Hopshire Farm and Brewery, one of the first New York farm brewery license owners.

Alan -

Excellent. That is handy to Ithaca where the ice cream is tasty.