Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Hunting the Wild Hop

With all the focus on the commercially cultivated hops used in our favorite beverages, and the shortage of same, it's interesting to note that the common hop plant, Humulus lupulus, is found growing throughout the United States and Canada. The United States Department of Agriculture PLANTS database distribution map shows this perennial vine as being found in 45 of the lower 48 States. Three native varieties, along with one introduced form, are listed. Here in Virginia, the distribution covers much of the center of the state.

I'm not aware of any home brewers harvesting native hops, nor do I know what flavors would be imparted. However, it would seem probable that early colonists might have used the native plants in their beers. Brewers and brewsters throughout history have made use of native flora to flavor their fermented beverages.

PLANTS Profile for Humulus lupulus (common hop) at USDA PLANTS

Illustration from USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. Vol. 1: 633

7 comments:

  1. A very interesting post - something I had never really taken into consideration before. I wonder what kind of growth is really out there, though. I've never seen anything that comes to mind as being related to hops, but I don't go out hiking deeper in the woods, so it's not really all that surprising.

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  2. Interesting, and it definitely gets the homebrewing vibe going! But unless you know people with large tracts of wooded areas, I think searching for these in a place where you were not trespassing would be pretty tricky.

    Proteus, you up for some hunting through land records and making some phone calls?

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  3. I know of a wild hop vine that grows in a little town some 30 miles west of Denver, Colorado. I remember it from my childhood there in the 1970s and during a visit last month, I returned to find it there, still climbing on a fence right off the highway. I mentioned it to the owner of a very small craft brewery in Denver and he said it might have been planted back in the days when every little town had a brewery of one size or another. I'd love to harvest some runners and see if I couldn't grow them where I'm living now...maybe use them in a homebrew! Great post!

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  4. Wow! I'm glad I googled you. I live in a recovered and added to log cabin at about 3600 ft above sea level in the Blue Ridge of southwest Virginia. The original cabin was built in 1870. Eary this fall I just reqalized the the pesky vine grawing in the old, out of control, forsythia, nock orange and butterly bushes under the 2 - 60 foot tall arborvitae trees are HOPS!

    I just may have to start my own micro micro brewery. Thanks for the site.

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  5. AppalachianArchitect, there may very well be some home brewers looking to hook up with you!

    Glad you found the info useful.

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  6. I've also found wild hops west of Denver. Search "wild hops" in maps.google.com and it's the first one there; I've provided a marker so you can go harvest your own! I just finished a batch of homebrew using these hops, and it came out pretty good.

    Michael, I'm curious where you found some growing on a fence though; the stuff I found is up on the slope of a canyon. Also, how can you "harvest some runners"? Is it easy to grow myself?

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  7. If anyone knows the location of some wild hops plants in central virginia please let me know. I am trying to study these plants in their wild habitat. Any information leading to the discovery of these plants will could lead to free beer.

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