Are Canada Red Vine Hops… Canadian?

The other night I had my nose deep into a bag of Canada Red Vine hops, a variety revived in Tavistock, Ontario.  The scene was Folly Brewpub in Toronto and the bag was care of Jordan who had picked it up at The Tavistock Hop Company. The fact that some of the bag of hops exists at all is pretty neato as this news item explains.

Wynette dug up some rootstalks, called rhizomes, on the banks of the Speed River. He grew a new generation of plants on his farm in Tavistock. He took cuttings from those plants, and soon had enough for a small crop. “So now in Tavistock we grow these same hops cloned off 100-plus-year-old plants,” Wynette said. Based on a chemical analysis of the plant, Wynette believes he cloned a type of hops called Canadian Red Vine.

My nose was pleased but my mind was racing. I had heard of this reintroduction a few days before and had asked Stan about it. His tweet in reply was succinct: “Grown in US NW into the 1970s. Origin of name unknown.” Hmm. I don’t like unknown. Someone once told me that the history James Pritchard, Loyalist, was unknown. Nope.

So, being that way, I started to look around and found this reference in the Documents of the Senate of the, 139th Session, 1916 which, as you know, contains the 34th Annual Report of the New York Agricultural Experiment Station located at Geneva, Ontario County. The 34th year was 1915. I found this in a passage about mildew:

That there are other influences which affect the growth of the mildew is very apparent. Yards near enough together to be equally affected by periods of wet weather frequently show great differences in severity of mildew attacks though new spots may appear in both at the same time. Different varieties and even different leaves on the same plant vary in susceptibility. Named in order of susceptibility beginning with the most susceptible, the New York varieties would be arranged as follows: Canada red vine, English cluster, Humphrey and native red vine. No serious injury has been noticed, so far, on the native red vine variety though planted near badly infested yards and, in some instances, scattered through yards of a susceptible variety. It is said to be a light yielder, however.

Not a lot of references to Canada Red Vine out there on the internets and this one describes it as a New York Variety. Things get a bit weird in terms of naming conventions around the east end of Lake Ontario. Notice above there that Geneva, New York is located in Ontario County. In 2009, I wrote about running into a pal at a gas station north of Utica. It was right where route 12 meets route 28 – near West Canada Creek, NY. Country well known by Sir William Johnson in the 1750s and well known to his son Sir John Johnson in the 1770s and 1780s during the American Revolution as a Loyalist military force escape route back north. It was called that because it was the way to Canada… aka New France… aka Quebec.

Here’s a thought. People take what this like with them when they move. If that is correct, a third generation of US northwest farmers may well have still be growing the hops their settler great-great-grandparents carried with them to the West. The grandparents of those settlers may have dug up the rhizomes in central New York as they started the family’s trek west after the Erie Canal opened up in the 1820s. And some of their cousins may have had other plans and shifted north into what was then Upper Canada. Many did, euphemistically now called Late Loyalists. And they may have carried the rhizomes with them to Tavistock, Ontario and rammed them into the banks of streams.

Tracing hop lineage is difficult. Consider this observation from William Blanchard Jr. published in the 13 September 1823 edition of The New England Farmer:

The Hop is a native plant. It is found growing spontaneously on the banks and intervales of many of our large rivers. There are several distinct species, all bearing a near affinity to each other; (I have noticed five.) At present they are cultivated together, promiscuously; no preference having been given to any particular one of them by the brewer. But I am of the opinion that there is an essential difference in their qualities—that one may be the best for pale ale; another for strong beer; and a third for porter; and I presume, ere long, particular attention will be paid to ascertain their different qualities.

I love at least two things in that passage. Obviously, the foreshadowing of the use of specific hops for specific beers. And also the fact that only 92 years stand between Mr. Blanchard’s letter to the paper and the Report of the New York Agricultural Experiment Station mentioned above. [And the river banks. Fine. Three.] I expect that the noticing of five distinct species of hops had advanced, through the application of science, some way in those years. Yet – in the 1860s, only a few sorts are propagated in central New York, including Pompey and Cluster. And of the New York varieties identified in 1915 only four are named: Canada red vine, English cluster, Humphrey and native red vine.

Are all three instances of Canada red vine the one variety? Is it one of the five one could spot in a promiscuously planted patch? How can I figure that out?

5 thoughts on “Are Canada Red Vine Hops… Canadian?”

  1. I’d be dubious about those rhizomes being 100 years old. AFAIK hop plants only live 35-40 years.

    And any hop growing wild in North America, even if it had European ancestry, would have had an American parent too, probably.

  2. Alan, a lot of the information on hops in New York from the 1870s on note three main varieties: Cluster, Humphreys, and “True” Canada. This is similar to your 1915 description. The True Canada was described as a prickly, red-vined hop (pickers hated picking it). So it could be that the “Canada red vine” was what was called the “True Canada” – perhaps with true Canadian origins – and the “native red vine,” which could account for the references to false “Canada hops.” Just surmising, of course.

    This info might help, as it gives some description:

    First from Ezra Meeker, Hop Culture in the United States: Being a Practical Treatise on Hop Growing (1883 ), p. 68: “The “Canada” Hop, from roots brought in here from Canada, is perhaps a week later than the English Cluster, at least it will “stand” a week later before picking, and on this account, added to the fact, that it is a fine hop of excellent flavor and a good bearer, the roots are sought after; but care has to be taken to get the “True Canada,” as there has been a “bogus” Canada sold which has proved a complete failure here.”

    And this from Herbert Myrick, The Hop; Its Culture and Cure, Marketing and Manufacture (1899), pp. 41-42:

    “The Canada hop or Canada Red, so-called because the roots come from Canada, is known by its red vines, fruit rather below medium size; the strobile is firm, of golden color, and mild, agreeable flavor. It is perhaps the hardiest of all hops, and seldom winterkills in New York State, when other kings may be ruined. It is a fair bearer under indifferent culture, and a good bearer under good culture. The hops are leafy and rather difficult to pick clean, which probably accounts for the dispute as to the flavor and quality of the Canada hop. “It is of rank flavor and disliked by brewers and dealers” when moldy, unripe or overripe, or when mixed with leaves, etc; but picked clean in its prime and properly cured, the true Canada hop is of fine flavor and color, though perhaps not as good as English Cluster. The popularity of Canada is due mainly to the fact that it ripens nearly a week later than Cluster and can stand on the vines fully a w\eek after the date that Cluster must be picked. The roots are also cheaper.

    “A false Canada, or root of an inferior quality, has been spuriously sold. It is such hops that are usually “so rank in flavor and disliked by the trade” as to be a commercial failure. The term “false Canadian hops” is not recognized in Canada. It is a fact, however, that Canadian hops are so disliked in England that they cannot be sold there. John A. Morton says Canada produces mainly three kinds: “A hop that grades very similar to the best grown in Franklin county, New York, another akin to English Cluster, but with a slight Bavarian flavor, and a third variety very similar to Pacific Coast hops.”

  3. First, to Martyn’s comment. Some of the plants in Tettnang are at least 75 years old and for the most part true to type. But I generally agree that 100-year-old plants seem unlikely. And therefore we are talking about plants that have propagated in the wild. Because hops do not grow true to seed they will be different than their parents, but not necessarily *that* different.

    Second, to your idea that people would have taken their favorite hops with them when the moved west. Without a doubt. Or they simply imported what they thought would work. Wilson Flint imported roots from France to California in 1854. And when those failed plants from Rochester, N.Y. , and Vermont. Stock from New York was used to start the first hop ranch in the Russian River Valley (Sonoma, California). By the 1870s and 1880s hops known as “Russian Rivers” were said to be as rich in lupulin as German hops and in great demand back East (from whence they came?).

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