Nearly everyone has heard of the legendary upstate New York hops industry. While many people cite “the blight” as the cause for its demise, they are unaware of other more important factors which also contributed. Lately, there has been a great deal of discussion regarding the possibility of growing hops again in this area, with many people asking if it can be done, and if so, how? The answer to that important question is yes, but to be successful, an entirely new approach must be taken. Fortunately, there are people willing to pursue that different angle, and in doing so, they are helping to both preserve hops history and plant economic seeds for the future.
To plan for the future, we must first try to understand the past. The rise and fall of the hops industry reads like an Old Testament narrative. Hops first came to America from Europe around 1630. Small crops were produced for many years, probably to supply small breweries and taverns, and began to emerge as a major crop in New York around 1830. By mid-century, due to excellent yields and good market prices, hop production assumed feverish proportions. By 1849 New York had attained the national leadership in the production of hops, and by 1855 the region was raising well over three million pounds annually.
Hop growing predominated in the area contiguous to what is now Route 20, running from Sharon Springs to Cazenovia, with a north-south axis of this belt extending approximately 20 miles in either direction. The major producing counties were Otsego, Oneida, Madison, Schoharie, and Montgomery. In those days, good, properly brewed beer was a favorite beverage and fields all over the United States bloomed with hop-bearing vines. Even though hops from England and Germany were in great demand, the Otsego County hop was considered the best in America, and the equal of any in the world.
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