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edible Monterey Bay Summer 2016

EDIBLE HISTORY THE MCGRATH HOP A local heirloom revival story BY ELIZABETH HODGES PHOTOGRAPHY BY MICHELLE MAGDALENA AND MICHAEL SANTAELLA When I think of South Santa Cruz County and the Pajaro Valley, images of quaint apple orchards dotted with yellow mustard, picturesque vineyards terraced up south-facing hillsides and sprawling fields bursting with perfect rows of strawberries come to mind. But on a recent visit to Corralitos Brewing Co., smack-dab in the middle of said fields, I was surprised to learn that in the late 1800s, hops were actually one of the most prolific crops in the area. Peaking at a time when wheat was on the decline and apples and strawberries were on the rise, Pajaro Valley hops were transported via Freedom Boulevard to San Francisco for shipping around the world. A man named George McGrath was one of the most successful hop farmers around, growing a unique varietal that was the cream of the crop. But the plant, now referred to as the McGrath hop, all but disappeared when the last hop yard at the McGrath Ranch on Casserly Road was taken out in the early 1950s. Luckily, Luke Taylor of Corralitos Brewing Co. managed to locate some lingering rootstock and revive our local heirloom hop, now part of the Santa Cruz Heritage Food Project, making some tasty beer while he was at it. A BOTANICAL DISCOVERY In 2004, Taylor found some hop vines growing while working at a local ranch. He asked about them, and the owner of the property told him that they were the original hops grown on the McGrath Ranch. Taylor later found out that the owner’s great-grandfather had been a good friend of George McGrath. e owner asked if he was a brewer, and upon his eager affirmative gave Taylor permission to dig up some rhizomes. He was amazed at their size—they were as large as his forearm, much larger than the standard hop rhizome, which looks more like a 4- to 5-inch stick. “I was really excited about how old the variety was,” says Taylor, who naturally took some rhizomes home and started growing them. “Immediately, I noticed a difference in the first flush, which is the initial spring growth when they come out of dormancy.” Taylor set up a trellis for the McGrath hop, and the variety quickly outcompeted the Cascade, Centennial, Magnum and Chinook hops he was growing. According to Taylor, at the 36th parallel (which is where Santa Cruz is) the other hop varieties just don’t grow as well, as the McGrath hop has adapted over the years to the local climate. “I knew the hops were something special, and they were responsive to what I was giving them and the local weather,” he says. www.ediblemontereybay.com 31


edible Monterey Bay Summer 2016
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