Thursday, November 13, 2008

It's Time for NY Hops again?

Hops, anyone? New York State may be getting back on the beer-brewing map. (Thomas McDonald for The New York Times)

New York is famous for high finance, skyscrapers and the Erie Canal. But hops?

Well, yes. In the 1800s, farmers, eager to serve beer-thirsty immigrants from Ireland, Germany and other parts of Europe, started planting hops upstate. Breweries thrived. By the middle of the century, New York State was the nation’s leading producer of hops.

Then fungus arrived, killing the golden crop known as 
humulus lupulus. Upstate New York, it turns out, gets too much rain in the summer growing season, leading to humid conditions that fungus thrive in. In the days before effective fungicides, powdery mildew and downy mildew started killing the party.

Around the same time, irrigation systems were built in eastern Oregon and Washington, which have dry summers. Business moved west, particularly to the Yakima Valley, where it remains today.

But the sold-out New York Brewfest on Friday night at the South Street Seaport is one indication that hops may be returning to New York. Commercial growers and home brewers have been peppering Ian Merwin, a professor in the horticulture department at Cornell University, with questions about growing hops upstate.

Demand for hops has increased because of the popularity of home brewing and because some hops growers in the Yakima Valley are now growing Pinot grapes instead.

“There is the potential if the supply remains limited for hops growers,” Mr. Merwin said.

He added that home growers with just a few hops plants probably will not attract much fungus, and that commercial growers may enjoy a “honeymoon phase” before hops-specific pests start showing up.

“If you’re lucky, it could be 10 to 15 years,” he said.

By then, New York might be back on the beer-brewing map again.

By KEN BELSON The New York Times

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