I Heard They Recently Decided to Add More Hops To It!
The Revival of Hops Farms in the Greater Clinton Area

By Sophie Hays

          What if I told you beer was up for sale in Commons? Or once was at least—in an underground haunt that was known as the “Buttery,” tucked in a basement room in the Hall of Commons, now Commons Dining Hall. It was in this retreat that students could purchase items such as raisins, nuts, apples, cheese, stationary, cigars, and even beer and hard cider after their evening meal. Founding president Azel Backus, who was taught how to steal hops poles while growing up on a farm, fully supported the Buttery. The treasure was short-lived, however, and despite being the only profitable operation on campus at the time, the Buttery was shut down in 1818 by the nefarious President Davis.
          But New York State, and its students, would continue to love their beer, returning all the way back to its humble hop beginnings. The first commercial hop farm recorded in history was in nearby Madison, NY. By the beginning of the 19th century, hops were one of the most ubiquitous crops in the state, and by the 1850s, New York was growing 90 percent of the nations supply. Much of that production came from central New York. Only interrupted by a spurt of disease and mold growth that tainted the crops and later prohibition laws, today around seventy different brews hail from New York State. Our neighbors at Utica Club still boast being the first beer served after prohibition.
          After the detrimental disease hit hop farms across New York State, many hops were then imported to uphold the state’s beer industry. And so followed the decline of hop farms in the state.
However, today a few noteworthy farmers in the greater Clinton area are pursuing the perennial crop that once played such a large role during the initial Hamilton years (the labor-intensive process turned into a grand social event during 19th century days).
          Jim Wrobel is the owner and operator of Wrobel Farms in Bridgewater, NY. He has not only pursued a revival of the hop crop on his land, but also grows the same heirloom varieties that were once planted on his farm 100 years ago. And in Munnsville, NY, Larry Fisher, also the current president of the Northeastern Hops Alliance, owns the only hop farm in Madison County, Foothill Farms. He provides organic Cascade hops to Empire Brewing Company Bar and Restaurant in Syracuse for a production of their own beer—Empire Hop Harvest (Pale Ale).
          And two of those hop farmers today are Hamilton’s own. Seniors Mike Manwaring and Will Thoreson-Green have begun a brewing adventure of their own. For Professor Sciacca’s Food For Thought Seminar Class, these two students will be brewing a beer from the hops that are currently growing in the 1812 garden. Mike and Will have always wanted to craft their own brew, and opportunity hit them one day in the garden when learning about the 1812 beer.
          “This is our first time brewing, and unfortunately we won’t be able to produce too much of it,” said Mike, “But we are excited to learn about the brewing process as we go along, through research and discussions with other biology professors with brewing experience.”
More importantly, who will get to taste this winning science experiment?
“We'll definitely have to organize a tasting session for the people who are involved in the Bicentennial celebrations and will appreciate the beer,” they said.
          Between the founding students of 1812 and Hamilton students of today, not too much seems to have changed in our tastes. The spirit of the man who once encouraged stealing hops poles and selling beer in the Commons is sorely missed. Yet something about the hops-filled, keystone-scented air around Clinton just feels right this year, coinciding with Hamilton’s Bicentennial celebrations. Maybe we’re living in a hoppier time after all. 

Special thanks to David Gapp and Sharon Williams for assisting with research this article.