Hopping mad at bitter untruths

Actually, I’m not mad so much as grumpy and depressed, after reading an article by a beer writer I know and admire that contained this piece of nonsense about the hop:

In 1079, the Abbess Hildegarde of St Ruprechtsberg in Baden referred to the use if [sic] hops in beer.

No she blahdy didn’t, because as the American writer John P Arnold pointed out in 1911, when this error was already being repeated, the Abbess was not yet alive in 1079: she was born in 1098 and died in 1179, something that is very easy to check. And actually, as I wrote in Beer: The Story of the Pint six years ago, the Abbess didn’t talk about hops in beer, she talked about using hops “in potibus“, “in drinks”, to prevent putrefaction. And while there are several variants of the name of her religious settlement near Bingen, in Germany, the usual German version is Rupertsberg.

Unfortunately the internet is the most efficient method of disseminating bollocks ever invented, and what depresses me is that my attempts to stem the tide of inaccuracies are wrecked by people like the writer referred to above, and like Laurie Gilchrist of Crush, “Southwest Florida’s leading food and wine magazine” (fill in your own sarcastic comment here). Earlier this year Laurie wrote an article about hops now up on the net and ironically headlined “The Bitter Truth”, which is full of untruths about hops, picked up by Laurie out of whichever book or article he (?) plagiarised to write his piece and now stuck on the net for the next plagiariser to come along and steal and repeat. Laurie’s regurgitated errors include the following completely mistaken statements:

“The first recorded instance of hops being used in the making of beer was documented by Jewish slaves in Babylon around 400 B.C., who believed that the resulting drink was a cure for leprosy.”

No – this is a misunderstanding of something actually written in the 11th century AD, and the original plant referred to was not the hop, which would be at the very limit of its growing range in Babylon anyway.

” Hop plants have been cultivated since at least the 8th century.”

There’s no evidence for this at all, despite this claim being made frequently.

“The Germans began using hops to replace other beer additives in 1079 A.D.”

See above. Note how the original claim that something was talked about in a particular year has now become a claim that something actually began in a particular year. Why is Laurie Gilchrist so unthinking, or ignorant of history, to believe that we could possibly know exactly which year something like using hops began, especially since we’re talking about events that supposedly took place over a millennium ago?

“Medieval brewers in other European countries were skeptical about the hop plant, calling it a ‘wicked and pernicious weed’.”

I tried to kick this myth to death here, which is actually the top hit if you bother to Google “wicked and pernicious weed”.

“The English … deemed [beer] a ‘saucy intruder’ and the plant was even banned for use in brewing in some parts of that country.”

Another long-standing myth that I tried to squash here, which is the number two hit on Google for the words hops ban England. (I’m kept out of the number one searchslot by a commentary piece on the possible ending of the ban on liquids in containers over 100ml in aircraft passengers’ hand luggage, which uses “hop” as a verb.)

Anyway, to try to make myself feel better, I’ve stuck up Six More Myths About Hops in the “FAQ – False Ale Quotes” section of this blog, in the hope that future Laurie Gilchrists will Google first and write later. Some time in the next few hours I’ll also be putting up a short history of hops, which should give the plagiarisers something more accurate than most sources on the net to nick from.

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6 thoughts on “Hopping mad at bitter untruths

  1. The other day I read in a Spanish beer blog the Hildegarde thing, together with a few more “theories” about how hops got into beer. At least the author had the decency of calling them possibilities without reaching any conclusion.

    Sometime ago I read, and I think it was from Micheal Jackson, but I could be wrong, that it is believed it was the Slavs that settled in Bohemia or thereabouts who first used hops in beer. The reason given was that they knew the herb well, they used it in medicine and in their mead. I wonder how true that is.

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    • I’ve seen that theory, PF, it’s supposed to be corroborated, I believe, by etyological evidence showing “hop” words like “humli” to be derived from “Ural-Altaic” languages (eg Hungarian komló “hop” from Turkic qumlaq), and Linnaeus himself apparently believed that the hop had come from Russia originally: there’s some interesting stuff on that theory here, in a book called Cultivated plants and domesticated animals in their migration from Asia to Europe (which incidentally throws some doubt on the “Pliny talked about hops” theory). However, personally I’d need to see some real evidence before I accepted the idea that the Slavs were first to put hops in beer.

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  2. “Abbess Hildegarde of St Ruprechtsberg in Baden” – as you say, St Hildegarde’s convent or abbey, was near Bingen, at the confluence of the Nahe and the Rhine. This is quite a long way (especially given 11th Century roads and transport options) from Baden. I have never heard her referred to in Germany as anything other than St Hildegarde of Bingen.
    I know how pedantic this sounds…..

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    • No, no, we like pedants around here, and you’re absolutely correct to point it out – I was so unhappy at the “1079″ error being repeated again, I didn’t notice until now the writer’s confusion over places in west Germany beginning with B.

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  3. (Warning: non-beer content coming) The euphemistically named “content industry” has for the past 50 years or so rewarded the distributor far more richly than the content creator. (This is may be true in the beer industry as well.)

    I suspect that people writing articles (particularly for web publications) are paid nothing or a multiple thereof. That they don’t do research or that they rely on the great “library” called Google, should be no surprise since it doesn’t cost anything and takes virtually no time.

    Forecast: increased plagiarism with frequent flurries of inaccuracy, mythology and complete bollocks. Long-term forecast: the future looks cloudy.

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