In the 19th Century, Local Hops Were Used to Brew NYC Beer


Essential to the brewing of good beer, hops give the beverage its bitter edge and also serve as a preservative. Hops (Humulus lupulus L.) are grown in few places around the world, most importantly in Bavaria, Oregon, and Washington State. I assumed those sources were where 19th-century New York brewers — of which there were dozens in the city — got their hops. Then, while reading old issues of The New York Times online, I discovered an article published August 4, 1883, that indicated that local sources were utilized, at least in part.

Located at 69 Broad Street in downtown Manhattan, S. & F. Uhlmann was a company that specialized in acquiring hops and distributing them to local brewers. As the excerpt above (in the section “Local News”) indicates, in 1883 hops were being grown under contract in Oneida County, New York, which lies just east of Rochester. The hop crop was apparently of some importance, since the day when the crop became available for brewing was carefully noted each year.

Doing a search on S. & F. Uhlmann, it turns out that the source of hops changed as the decades passed, so that by 1920, the company was getting at least part of its crop from Oregon. One suspects that the cheapness and efficiency of rail transport by this time made the acquisition of Pacific coast products possible.

The 1920 citation involved a lawsuit on the part of S. & F. Uhlmann (of whom the current partners listed were Williams Uhlmann, William J. Wannamaker, Ferdinand Goebel, and J.W. Kaufmann) against one Kim Daw (described as “a Chinaman”) in Oregon Supreme Court for failure to fulfill a hops contract. The contract specified delivery of 20,000 pounds of hops in each calendar year beginning in 1916. Assuming one pound of hops for every 40 gallons of beer, Kim Daw’s hops would be sufficient to make 800,000 gallons of beer. That’s a lot of suds.

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