When drinking a beer, rarely does anyone ever consider the complex interaction of politics, geography, history, economics, and science that produced the beverage. But historian Peter Kopp does just that in his book Hoptopia: A World of Agriculture and Beer in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Although Kopp focuses primarily on the Willamette Valley of Oregon, his work effectively places this region, and the hops that came from it, into a global context. The farmers of the Willamette Valley of Oregon at various points not only provided the American beer industry with hops but also those of Germany, England, and Belgium, as well as various nations in South America, Asia, and Africa. It is no exaggeration to say that Willamette Valley hop growers fueled a global beer industry. The history of hops is inextricably linked to the history of beer. Kopp begins his analysis at the dawn of human civilization, some 10,000 years ago when ancient Sumerians first began to brew beer. He moves quickly through the first nine millennia, however, since beer brewers only began to use hops, the focus of his analysis, beginning in medieval times. Prior to this, Kopp explains, brewers relied primarily on water, malted barley (or some other sweet element), and yeast that fed on the sugars and produced alcohol. At some point during the eighth and ninth centuries, it was brewers in Bavaria and then Bohemia who first began to use hops, which grew naturally in the region, in their beer. This element, Kopp explains, added a balancing bitterness to the sweet-tasting malted barley, increasing the palatability of beer. Hops also helped preserve beer, increasing its social utility since it could be stored for longer periods of time and also transported to various locales. Once hops’ positive effects on beer became apparent, people from all over Europe began to cultivate it. Hops thus expanded from the southern part of present-day Germany to regions throughout France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and England. During the initial phase of his book, Kopp alludes to the similarities between the climates of northern Europe and the Willamette Valley. The reader is thus primed to better understand the importation and proliferation of hops in the New World of the Pacific Northwest. Ultimately, this is a story of triumph. While the climate of the Willamette Valley is well suited to hop growing, the crop’s success was not predetermined. Kopp is careful to highlight the enormous effort farmers, laborers, and horticulturalists expended to establish a viable hop-growing industry in Oregon. The Willamette Valley’s isolation made it difficult for hop growers to sell their product. The area was chronically short of labor, the moist environment gave rise to a hop-attacking fungus, and international competition and European biases against American hops all worked against Willamette Valley hop growers. Despite these challenges, Kopp shows the manner in which local farmers, with the help of a range of actors, met and overcame these obstacles. Before Prohibition and especially during that era, hop growers sought out global markets for Oregon hops; instead of relying on white workers, farmers turned to Native Americans to pick hops; with the help of the federal government, scientists at Oregon State University developed hop strains able to withstand disease; and a vibrant West Coast–based brewing culture, rather than downplaying the bitterness of Northwest hops, chose instead to make it a central aspect of the flavor profile of their beers. This emphasis on hoppy beers initiated one of the most consequential trends in the history of beer making, the craft brewing “revolution.” Hoptopia is not only a fun and entertaining read; it also serves as a vital addition to the historiography of beer making in America and beyond. It is surprising there are not more historical treatments of beer brewing, given the truly ancient history of this well-known drink. Indeed, beer’s invention predates the Egyptian pyramids by over five millennia. Kopp’s detailed, heavily footnoted analysis provides a sorely needed counterpoint to the majority of literature on the topic that mainly consists of how-to guides for beer brewing and biographies of the craft brewing industry’s bigger names. Kopp has crafted an effective and eloquent narrative that explains how culture, economics, environment, and politics influence the production of what has become the preeminent ingredient—hops—in American beer today. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Society for Environmental History and the Forest History Society. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Environmental History – Oxford University Press
Published: Jun 5, 2018
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