Ever wonder how Oregon – and by extension, the Pacific Northwest – wound up at the center of the craft beer revolution? As Peter Kopp tells it in his recent historical reflection, “Hoptopia: A World of Agriculture and Beer in Oregon’s Willamette Valley,” the region’s climb to beer capital status is no coincidence. It all started when Oregon’s ideal combo of growing conditions, sense of place and culture earned the state a spot at the center of a hop-breeding program in the early 20th century – and from there, the resulting beer took national and worldwide hold.
Kopp, a former Portland native turned assistant history professor at New Mexico State University, documents the farmer, brewer, entrepreneur, and beer drinker tales responsible for the notoriety. He took a break from his current project, a book about the “Father of the New Mexico Chile,” Fabián García, to spill “Hoptopia” details in this special installment of 4 Questions.
1) Who should add this book to their reading list (and why)?
Everyone who loves craft beer and history! We live in an era when consumers want to know more about the foods and drinks we put in our bodies — and this book offers, in great detail, the backstory on the hops we consume in our beers today.
2) What sparked your interest in Willamette Valley beers and in telling this story, specifically?
Around 10 years ago, I found out that the Pacific Northwest produces a third of the world’s hops. If you think about it, that means approximately one in three beers across the world contains an essential ingredient from Washington, Oregon or Idaho.
As an historian and lover of craft beer, I decided that I needed to research and write that story. My research took me across the West Coast and to England in an effort to best understand what is an intimately local Pacific Northwest story that has always had deep global connections.
3) What is one thing you were surprised to learn while researching and writing the book?
One of the more interesting tidbits is that in the first decade of the 20th century, Guinness Brewery signed an exclusive deal for a time with Oregon hop growers. So here you have the quintessential Irish beer, but one of its key ingredients coming from the Pacific Northwest. Because hops are a global commodity, there are many instances like this in the book, and I think they help us understand the history of food and beer production as a local and global phenomenon.
4) How has researching and writing this book influenced the way you drink beer?
After spending the past decade with hop growers and brewers, I realize that every beer not only has unique flavor and aroma, but also a unique story. So I’ve become really interested in the stories behind the brew. Where did the malt come from? Who grew the hops and where? How big was the farm? Who devised the beer recipe? And so on.
Bonus round: What is your favorite beer of the moment? What is your favorite way to enjoy it and where?
Well, I’ve been living in New Mexico for the past five years — and it’s hot here. So, I’d say my go-to beer right now is the Bosque lager, based in Albuquerque. That said, whenever I head home to Portland, I’m just overwhelmed with what’s going on in craft beer today. It’s hard to stay on top of it all. But I always look forward to getting lost in the beer aisle!