I believe these hops belong to the Cluster family. Since they’ve been growing wild for so long, it’s possible that they’ve cross pollinated with some other wild strain, but the flavor they produced in the beer I made had the flavor components I associate with American Cluster. I used to brew with Cluster quite often and grew familiar with the hop. I find its aroma fruity and floral. Its flavor is hard to pinpoint, but I always think of it as earthy. They can be a little on the rough side, but in a good way. To me, it’s the flavor of how beer used to taste in the 1970s. Many of the beers I’ve brewed with Cluster have reminded me of the beers I would sneak off and drink when I was too young to drink legally. It’s a taste memory that’s embedded in my palate.
If the Allenville hops are, in fact, Cluster it would come as no surprise. Cluster is as close to a native hop as America has. When Silas Allen arrived in our area from New York in 1846, he was said to have brought a barrel of hop roots with him. Since Cluster was coming to dominate the hop growing regions of New York during this period, it’s very likely that the hops Allen transported were of this variety. During the 1860s and 1870s – the period when the Allenville hop farms were at their peak – Cluster was the primary hop grown in Wisconsin and becoming synonymous with American hop production in general. By the turn of the century, 80% of all hops grown in the U.S. were Cluster.
A note about the beer: I used these hops in a strong (7.9% ABV) lager brewed along the lines of a Bière de Garde. I served it at last week’s Casks & Caskets tasting and it went over pretty well. I was happy with it. I had enough of the Allenville hops to brew a second beer, so I recently made an American-style Steam Beer or California Common with what was left of the September pickings. That beer is fermenting away nicely.
When I picked these hops I also took a healthy root from the Allenville site. It looks to be in good shape and I’m hoping that next spring it will take root and produce a decent amount of growth. If all goes well, I should be able to start sharing cuttings from this plant in the spring of 2015. I'd love to see Silas Allen’s old hops revived in Oshkosh.