US Cascade - the hop that launched craft beer

I opened up a foil of Cascade this morning, and the aroma hit me. Whenever that happens it reminds you what craft beer is all about. This is the hop that launched the craft beer. We all know why it's so popular, but how did it come about?

Cascade has remained the most popular variety (by volume) in craft brewing since 2007!

Surprisingly Cascade was released way back in 1972, and it has a long history. It starts right back after the end of prohibition. In an attempt to reinvigorate the American beer industry after prohibition the US government reestablished the USDA hop breeding program at Oregon State University. We are all grateful that they did - the USDA hop breeding program has produced some incredible varieties, and Cascade is just one of them.

Not an easy task in the face of an ever-growing Downy Mildew blight that was ravaging the Cluster hop fields of Oregon (which made up 90% of the acreage at the time). Cluster hops seemed especially susceptible to this disease. To combat it the program wanted to develop a hop that could stand up to Downy Mildew.

They found it, when Dr. Stan Brooks allowed a hop variety of English Fuggle and Russian Serebrianker pedigree to be wind pollinated by an unknown male variety. This new variety was initially only known by its number designation USDA 56013.

Cascade hop pellets

Aromatic Cascade hop pellets - breathe these in!

The new variety showed promise. Along with its seemingly good resistance to Downy Mildew came a bonus similarity to the Hallertauer Mittlefrueh German aroma hop that was being so heavily imported by American breweries. In 1967, the USDA gave the go ahead to plant a small plot in Oregon.

The US market remained dominated by German varieties, until the late 1960’s when the noble hop fields of Germany were brought low by a disease of their own, Verticillium wilt. Import prices of noble hops shot up and American brewers took a look within their borders.

In 1972, USDA 56013, dubbed “Cascade” after the mountain range in Oregon, was released to the public. It found a suprising champion in the Coors Brewing Company.

Strange though it may be, craft brewers have a lot to thank Coors for. Doctor Haunold states in his article (which goes into fuller detail then I do here), just how close the breeding program came to scrapping the new hop;

“We were at the end of our rope. We had tried everything to get brewers to experiment with Cascade. We were just going to toss out those 30 bales and send 56013 over to the germplasm library, where who knows whether anyone would’ve ever picked it up.”

Cascade was bit much for Coors was brewing and they cut back on its use, but luckily America’s first craft brewers got their hands on Cascade; Fritz Maytag, owner of Anchor Steam, noticed the new hop. He decided it was a perfect match for a beer that would celebrate the bicentennial of Paul Revere’s ride. He called it Liberty Ale. It would become what is considered the first post-Prohibition IPA and the first single-hopped American ale. And craft beer launched with it!

Looking to brew with some Cascade? Check out our store: Buy Cascade

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