Tracing the roots of this perennial plant

Hops have been a part of the landscape for centuries. Whether they are a wild species, or descendants of plants brought into the fields by European settlers, they can be found across PEI.

Chris Long, head brewer at the PEI Brewing Company said there are definitely local hops out there in the wild.

“Hops are a wild plant that were only ‘domesticated’ a few hundred years ago, so they’re still remarkably wild,” he said. “One of the earliest commercial varieties was Canada Redvine which people still grow ornamentally and commercially. They’re believed to be of North American origin. Because hops were used more for bittering than aroma back then; they don’t have the beautiful aromatics that hops have these days. They’re a bit resinous and pine-y with a more coarse bitterness.

“You can still see wild hops growing around PEI usually near old mill sites. I think they were used in bread making. Hops are naturally antibacterial, so people would place their dough starters in an orchard to collect the wild yeast, and use hops to reduce the number of bacteria to keep the bread from being too sour. I’m not sure exactly how it was done, but there’s a link between the mills where flour was ground, the orchards that harboured wild yeasts, and the hops that helped favour yeasts over bacteria.”

Spencer Gallant, a graduate student with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada as well as Innovation Brewer at PEI Brewing Company (PEIBC), has confirmed that there are wild/indigenous hops on PEI.

“That’s the focus on my master’s program,” he said. “We currently have about 50 wild accessions from around the Maritimes that stretches from Tignish PEI, to Whycocomagh in Cape Breton. Some of these hops have been thriving in the wild for hundreds of years and have seemed to develop a resistance to environmental pressures (disease and pests) and our hope is to evaluate their resistance and brewing value.

He said some of these “wild varieties” can be grown as is, or it may be possible to use them in a breeding program. “Part of this project is to assess whether or not the hops have are in fact wild (Humulus lupulus v. lupuloides) or old European varieties (Humulus lupulus v. lupulus) which were brought here by settlers and used for making beer or yeast starters for bread since hops have antimicrobial properties. We can assess the hops to see whether or not they are native to the area by taxonomy properties and chemically, by extracting compounds the plant produces and assessing their profiles.

“There is no doubt in my mind that some of the hops in our [Agriculture Canada] collection can be used for brewing, and be grown here on PEI or sent to a breeding program.”

“Hops were originally transplanted here to eastern Canada and the eastern US in late 1800s,” Wade Beaton of My Father’s Farm said. “They quickly moved the growing operations west once they realized how prolific Downey Mildew is here.”

Long said that like any perennial, hops are practically a weed, so they’re tenacious, but he reiterated the need to guard against mildew.

“Hops are susceptible to common problems like mildews, so some of the commercial varieties are not really suited to humid island summers. They’ll grow, but they take a lot of inputs like pest control and irrigation. That said, there’s an incredible diversity of hop varieties and morphologies, so it’s probably just a matter of time until we find the varieties that are suited to life here.”


Hops are a remarkable plant. They grow incredibly fast, smell amazing in August, and make beer what we all know and love. Some other things folks don’t generally know:

  1. Hops are part of the same family as marijuana.
  2. The initial sprouts in the spring are called hop shoots. They are often considered the most expensive vegetable in the world. They are only available for two weeks in May and are sought after by chefs in Europe… But not here.
  3. Once a hop vine is “trained”, it will grow very quickly. It’s common for a hop vine to grow 21 feet in 21 days in July if the conditions are right.
  4. Hops are a preservative. They were used in bread to preserve yeast cultures. They were originally included in beer to make it last longer.
  5. The hop yards in Kent England provided some of the inspiration for the book and movie “Day of the Triffids”.
  6. Hops are used for two purposes in beer: a. Aroma and bittering. Some varieties are able to do both. This is determined by the oil content (aroma) and Alpha acids (bittering).

Hop facts courtesy of hop grower Wade Beaton



About Rod Weatherbie

Rod Weatherbie is a writer working in the hospitality industry. He spent a number of years in Toronto as a member of the financial press before returning to PEI. Rod has published one piece of short fiction, one book of poetry, and has had work published in Red Shift, the Antigonish Review, Mitre, and the Toronto Quarterly. He has also recently co-produced, co-directed, and acted in a stage production of old television shows.

He also likes writing about food. Go figure.

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