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American Pale Ale: Hops in Harmony

Our country’s signature flavor profile was not born in Burton, but in the hop fields of Oregon.

Jeff Alworth Aug 25, 2020 - 10 min read

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When you look at the history and evolution of a style, it is typical to follow the beer. The story of pale ale usually leads back to Burton upon Trent in the English Midlands. It involves colorful phrases such as “borehole,” “union system,” and “Burton snatch.” It’s a really good story. Yet for the evolution of American pale ale, it makes more sense to follow the hops.

That story starts in 1956 in Corvallis, Oregon, where a plant researcher working for the USDA had planted 7,000 seedlings of new hop crosses, hoping to find a variety resistant to downy mildew. Developing new varieties of hops is a slow business. Eventually, over the next 12 years, one of those little seedlings—No. 56013—worked its way through successive rounds of eliminations and field trials.

In 1968, the first commercial crop of the new hop—now called Cascade—came off two acres of Don Weathers’s farm near Salem, Oregon. Writing in Brewers Digest in 1972, the researchers noted that it was the first American hop with measurable farnesene—an aromatic compound found in classic Nobles such as Saaz and Tettnanger. They continued optimistically, “The aroma of Cascade is delicate, slightly spicy.... Aroma notes associated with Cluster, Brewers Gold, Bullion, and Talisman and described as ‘American aroma’ are absent or very subdued in Cascade.”

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