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Home Beer Fifth-floor secrets: Inside OSU’s hop archive

Fifth-floor secrets: Inside OSU’s hop archive

The project ensuring a future for Oregon's hop history.
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Tiah Edmunson-Morton working on the Oregon Hops & Brewing Archives // photo by Stuart Mullenberg for DRAFT

Tiah Edmunson-Morton working on the Oregon Hops & Brewing Archives // photo by Stuart Mullenberg for DRAFT

Some people collect beer cans. Tiah Edmunson-Morton collects beer history.

It’s stored at the Oregon Hops & Brewing Archives at Oregon State University in Corvallis, the first archives in the United States dedicated to preserving and telling the intertwined stories of hops and beer.

The archives are in their infancy, but the energy she brings to the project has attracted national attention. “The first three months I thought, ‘Is it really this easy?’” Edmunson-Morton says. She’s traveled throughout the state and quickly acquired the expertise to know when she comes across something special, like on an afternoon in December when she gathered records at the Oregon Hop Commission offices in Hubbard. “I put these in my car, and I’m driving here, and I’m thinking, ‘This is the history of our industry,’” she says.

The archives, which on July 1 will have been in operation for two years, are her brainchild. “Nobody said it was… crazy. It really was not a hard sell,” she says. “We had so much to build from.”

Corvallis is 60 miles south of Hubbard and outside the two counties, Marion and Polk, where most Oregon hops are grown, but it has been a center of hop activity since the 1930s. near the time Prohibition ended, the United States Department of Agriculture established a research and breeding program on the OSU campus, where it maintains a comprehensive library of hop varieties at the National Clonal Germplasm Repository. The university also conducts hop research (independently and in partnership with the USDA), has one of the few fermentation sciences programs in the country, and began its own aroma hop breeding program in 2010 with partial funding from a private hop dealer.

With the help of student assistants, Edmunson-Morton has tracked down a number of  documents on shelves throughout the OSU library system, though they’re not always where she expected to find them; for instance, they discovered a 1995 letter outlining plans to establish a pilot brewery and a separate brewing program erroneously filed amid study abroad documents.

While running her hands over folders filed in a plain, white, fireproof box, she admits: “To me, full document boxes are exciting, but not for a lot of people.”

So she’s added museumlike objects to the collection, including beer cans, an impressive wooden barrel from McMenamins breweries, plenty of advertising items, and even an unopened bottle from Cartwright Brewing, Oregon’s first microbrewery. But she doesn’t have a museum in which to display them.

Edmunson-Morton adds posters from Double Mountain Brewery to the archive s // photo by Stuart Mullenberg for DRAFT

Edmunson-Morton adds posters from Double Mountain Brewery to the archive s // photo by Stuart Mullenberg for DRAFT

Simply stored in boxes on the fifth floor of the Valley Library at OSU, her records include information that historians and academics crave, but she understands they are only part of bringing history to life. She envisions creating a portal that makes them accessible to a wider audience and serves OHBA’s mission of connecting with hop farmers, brewers, homebrewers and the general community to become part of the archiving process.

However it evolves, OHBA makes too much sense to be one of a kind. So much brewing history in the United States has been lost, in part because of Prohibition and in part because of 100 years of brewery consolidation. Now, thousands of breweries that have opened since New Albion Brewing launched in 1976, America’s first post-Prohibition craft brewery, are making new history ready to be collected.

Overseeing the archives is only part of Edmunson-Morton’s job; 75 percent of her time is reserved for teaching and outreach. Although she teaches classes in archival research, more often she does archival instruction for history classes. “Hops and brewing are a great way to talk to people about history,” she says. “They get it.”

She makes the point with a personal story. For years she had listened to her father talk about his great-grandfather’s hop yards in Goshen, several miles south of where she grew up in Eugene. “We grew hops. We grew hops. We grew hops,” she says, pausing to shrug like she would have when she was a teenager and he told the story one more time. “Whatever.”

She says she thought it was a tall tale until she found an article her father had written in 1984, when she was 10 years old, for the Lane County Historian about the farm. H.L. Edmunson first planted hops in 1908 and continued to harvest them until 1940, when downy mildew basically wiped out the crop. The family continued to operate the farm until 1960, when it was sold to become a mobile home park.

Outreach comes naturally for Edmunson-Morton. She has spoken at bars, breweries and beer festivals, but also at a planetarium and at senior centers. She is at the center of a video the library made about the project. When she travels to interview people or collect items for the archive, she documents it in a Tumblr blog, and when she digitizes information to make it available online, she adds a link.

Boxes of beer lore // photo by Stuart Mullenberg for DRAFT

Boxes of beer lore // photo by Stuart Mullenberg for DRAFT

“The ultimate irony is you can digitize it all, but how do you make sense out of it?” she says.

At Oregon State, which is a land-grant university, agriculture provides context and people help make the connections. “The legacy of agricultural history has such a human side to it,” she says. She has added oral histories conducted 30 years ago to the archives and begun collecting new ones. To date, those have been primarily with members of the hop industry, but she plans to focus more on brewers in the future.

“You are no longer dealing with people who have died and left their nice box of stuff,” she says. “You are working with a living community. The power is not just records, but people’s memories. One person fills in a blank here, another person there.”

In the video about OHBA funded by the OSU library, Gayle Goschie, one of Oregon’s better-known hop farmers, talks about the value of the archives, which include a 1982 taped interview with her father.

“As every generation goes along, we’re losing just a little more,” Goschie says. “It takes someone from outside our industry to be able to come and understand the importance and capture it for us.”

 

Author
Stan Hieronymus is a beer writer and author of “Brew Like a Monk,” “For the Love of Hops,” and more. Follow him at AppellationBeer.com.

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