Saturday, March 26, 2011

Humphreys 1880 Lager

This past fall I harvested a little less than two pounds of my certified 'heirloom' Humphrey Seedling hops, a variety that was once grown across upstate New York during the mid to late 1800's. While it isn't as well remembered as Cluster, Humphreys once made up a good percentage of the New York hop crop as it was a fast grower and noted to be of "fine flavour and aroma." (For those of you who don't know, Central New York produced most of America's hops for much of the nineteenth century, generating huge fortunes following the failure of the English crop in the late 1870's). A few sources note that the Humphrey Seedling variety originated in Wisconsin but was bred for the Waterville hop trade - which by 1860 was one of the largest hop processing centers in the world and noted as the "Kent of America."

Anyways, I had originally intended to brew a batch of CAP (classic American pilsner) with my hops over the winter though I never got around to it. I was a bit leery of ruining a batch of beer with untested hops; I have brewed with cluster hops in the past and didn't enjoy the results very much - the hops imparted an extreme grapefruit flavor to the beer that overpowered the malt and made the beer hard to drink. However, I recently came across an old 1880 recipe from a defunct local brewery that lists "waterville hops" as an ingredient. Let's just say I found my recipe to test these hops on. The thought of re-brewing a local, 131 year old recipe that quite possibly could have used the same hops as I have now, is pretty cool if you ask me!

The recipe is incomplete and makes no mention of percentages, pounds, or mash temperatures but does include a few important bits. First, I can assume the recipe is for a lager, as the name "Wurtzburger" appears in the margin, (Wurtzburg is a city in lower Franconia that was once noted for it's pale and dark lagers) and secondly it seems some ingredients may be German in origin or inspired by German ones. With that said, the recipe calls for "bavaria malt" and "barley malt". I have no idea what bavaria malt is, but I suspect it was some form of pale malt used in lager brewing - possibly 2-row, maybe something like a light Munich? The barley malt I assume would be a domestic six-row, pale malt. No crystal malts are noted, so I assume this beer would be somewhat similar to a Munich helles in color. The recipe also makes no mention of how much hops to use or when to use them.

I am thinking something like this would make for a pretty close representation of the original recipe;

O.G: 1.044
F.G: 1.010
25 IBU

60% Light Munich malt
40% Pale malt, six-row

1.25 oz homegrown hops @ 60
0.5 oz homegrown hops @ flameout
Fermented with California lager yeast at 50-55F for two weeks, lager one month at 45F.

Sounds pretty good? I'll probably will get around to brewing this sometime this week, so long as the brew store has the yeast in stock.


  1. Something called Bavaria malt in 1880? I'd suspect it was something like dark Munich. They got into brewing pale Lagers pretty late in Bavaria. In Franconia there are still breweries that only brew dark beers.

  2. I suspected as much though I had never come across the term Bavaria malt before. I did a bit more research and found some references to "Munich/Bavarian Lager" in a few turn of the century American brewing manuals, in which they described the beer as "dark color, malt flavor, and sweetish taste, not with pronounced aroma and flavor of hops, usually sparkling and lively or bubbling with carbon dioxid gas."

    I'll be sure to brew it with dark Munich. Thanks.

  3. Can I ask where you got the Humphrey's rhizome? I would love to plant that hop.


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