New England was once the hop growing capital of North America. Like the population, it migrated to New York and eventually to the west coast. But it all started here, introduced by the Massachusetts Bay Company in 1629, making it one of the original crops brought to North America. Potatoes wouldn’t be introduced for almost another century. So beer played an important role in the life of the earliest settlers. The Puritans were pretty good at growing hops and eventually began exporting the harvest to other colonies.
If there is a problem with growing hops in New England, it’s the humidity. Hops are susceptible to downey mildew, which can devastate an entire crop. Downy mildew and other factors like Prohibition eventually led to the entire hop growing industry shifting to the west. In my younger beer drinking years I thought of hops as a west coast crop, and my experience growing a single hop bine proved futile enough to make me believe it wasn’t meant for New Hampshire’s climate. And yet it was indeed a viable and profitable crop for almost 300 years.
Today’s explosive growth in micro-brewing has fueled a resurgence in local hop growing. Driving around Vermont and New York you can easily spot the hops growing in farms and even in urban breweries. Growers will built tall support structures of wooden poles and string strong cables across the tops. From these vertical cables run from the ground to the horizontal cables, forming 20 foot long channels for the hop bines to grow. The hops are usually harvested in August and September and give unique bitter characteristics to the beer. So we’ve come full circle, and hops are once again a viable local crop.