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The Hophead

The Hophead

written by Joseph Bair

Charles E. Zimmermann–The Godfather of super-high alpha hops.

Some people’s importance is noticed after they are departed. Sometimes, it’s deliberate, the person wanted it that way–never seeking publicity while alive. Their names on patents are the only published information about them. You may know some of these private people out there who work behind the scenes. The perfect example is in craft beer.

Take a good look at the United States Hop Plant Patents of the late Charles E. Zimmermann. He is the patent holder or co-inventor of craft beers’ most celebrated hops.

CE Zimmermann’s cross breeds (about half of the US hops) are in high demand. His magnum opus – super-high alpha hop Columbus/Tomahawk/Zeus breed accounted for over 35% of all hops produced in Washington State last year. Other masterpieces include Simcoe and Warrior. His collaboration with ST Kenny brought the classics Centennial and Chinook. His name is on the registration of the prominent varieties of Willamette, Cascades and Galena. Other patents include Palisades, Satus and Ahtanum. He is also listed as a supporting reference in the patenting of Eroica, Olympic, Comet and Columbia.

Chuck was a breath of fresh hops. His protégé Jason Perrault discussed naming Chuck’s latest cross after him, but Chuck was not looking for public acknowledgement and so he named it Palisades, after an area in the Pacific Northwest, like most other hops.

Chuck had a passion for growing things. His garden and his kids were his hobby. Born in Wisconsin, he attended the University of Wisconsin. He never had a Ph.D., but got tired of correcting people when they referred to him as Dr. Zimmermann, so he let it slide. Stephen Kenny remarked that he really did not need any analytical chemistry training as his nose and cupped hands of freshly rubbed hop cones were better than any instrument or degree.

His place to talk hops was home on weekend mornings over breakfast. His friends and business associates Steve Carpenter, Jason Perrault and Stephen Kenny recall that all discussions were delayed by a garden tour. Chuck was a well-read person who constantly studied hop research publications when selecting hop plants for crossing and was a master teacher who enjoyed the company of people who shared his hop passion.

To get an idea of what it was like working with Chuck, I asked his fellow patent holder of Chinook and Centennial hops, Mr. Stephen Kenny to elaborate. He says,

“We had a number of breakfast meetings where he described his desire to create ‘dual-purpose’ hops–higher alpha acid production linked with desirable aroma aspects. Chinook and Centennial represent that breeding combination from his work in the late 70s for the USDA. My contribution was getting brewers to be interested in testing these hops and coordinating the trials on commercial farms, and gathering agronomic and chemical data. Some of the major brewers that tested these two selections have since gone out of business, but their acceptance of these two opened up markets for home brewers and small brewers. The smaller brewers truly appreciate the contribution of both Chinook and Centennial to beer flavor much more than the major brewers.”

So, in the middle of the 20th century the US Mega-Brewers brand pale lagers were commercialized as the “King of Beers” and “Tastes Great–Less Filling” and had this OCD for replicating foreign-grown aroma hops. The US variety Clusters hop was just not the same. The USDA wanted them to change their ways. A change was going to come with new hybrid hops meant for the Mega-Brewers. Yet, ironically it was those changes that would fuel the craft beer industry to take the market away from the Mega- Brewers. Besides, those US Mega-Brewers are not even US owned now anyway!

Chuck’s super high-alpha hops turned out to be the emphatic ingredient in the craft beer world. Like the ax of Rock & Roll– super-high alpha hops became the Tomahawk® in beer.

Looking at the United States Hops production, Chuck’s public hop Columbus is bred-in-efficiency. Its super-high alpha and high yield per acre made hop production numbers fall. Its history is not without drama. Steve Carpenter explains,

“Columbus, Tomahawk®, and Zeus are generally accepted to be the same genotype. Chuck made the crosses that resulted in this family of ‘super-alpha’ hops. A few years after he left the employment of Hopunion in 1988 (when it was owned by Johannes Raiser, a different company than Hopunion, LLC today, the premier craft brewer hop supply company) there were legal disputes over who owned the rights to the variety. Those disputes were settled, in part, with the agreement that “CTZ” would essentially become a public variety with Yakima Chief retaining trademark rights to the name “Tomahawk®.” Hop Steiner markets the variety as “Zeus” and Hopunion markets it as “Columbus.”

Here is a comparison: music went from acoustic to electric. Electric amplifiers and electric instruments were needed, the inventors of the electric guitar and amplifier made history with Rock & Roll. The invention of high and super high alpha hops amplified the craft brewing industry. And like Robert Zimmerman going electric, when craft brewers used these super-high alpha hops, some toes were stepped on.

The late Charles E. Zimmermann was the Godfather super-high alpha hops. Please, make it a point to toast to him when drinking beers made with his hops. This famous brewing scientist created the hop euphoria craze of craft beer you’re drinking.

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