The beginning of serious hop farming in B.C. dates back to 1892 when Englishman Henry Hulbert purchased 50 acres of farmland in Sardis and planted the first successful hop-growing field in the province.
U.S. prohibition between 1920 and 1933 pushed Canadian brewing and hop growing to ever greater heights in order to supply the vast American market through illegal channels.
“By the 1940s, the Fraser Valley communities of Agassiz, near Chilliwack, and Sardis were the largest hop producing regions in the British Commonwealth,” according to Brewer’s Gold.
In the 1990s two factors contributing to B.C. hop farming’s collapse included; market focus of fewer and bigger multinational brewing companies and competition from lower cost producers in Europe, Australia and the north-west states of the U.S. China is also a growing player.
Given the demise of the industry, how is it that hop growing is undergoing a revival in B.C. and the rest of Canada? Basically, it is the rise of craft breweries.
“There are now over 65 craft breweries in 33 communities across B.C. that use local ingredients and traditional practices in their beer-making processes,” says Ken Beattie, the executive director of the B.C. Craft Brewers Guild. “With 10 crafts opened in 2013 and the trend continuing in 2014, craft beer is on the rise in B.C,” he adds.“Crafts now account for 19% of domestic beer sales and that number will continue to increase…We are also seeing positive spin-offs through increased construction, skills training, technological production, agri-tourism and, as we look to local producers to source our ingredients, the revival of the agricultural sector.”
To “level the playing field” for “B.C. Made” beer, Beattie looks to the VQA model and stronger government support. “Working with government, we would like to replicate what was done in Oregon…where craft beer is now a $2 billion dollar industry,” he says. A leading beer expert, Beattie knows something about hops, having “worked at the last hop farm in B.C. when it closed in 1997.” The best hops in the world, he maintains, “grow in the vicinity of the 49th parallel.” It is part of the reason for the growth in hop farms in B.C. which went from zero to a dozen or more currently. –
by Michael Botn