Pliny Buried By Vesuvius

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While no one is sure when Pliny the Elder was born — it was sometime around 23 CE — we do know exactly when he died: it was August 25, 79 CE. How can we be so sure? Well, because the day before, August 24, Mount Vesuvius in the Gulf of Naples in southwest Italy, erupted, completely destroying the town of Pompeii. “Pompeii, along with Herculaneum and many villas in the surrounding area, was mostly destroyed and buried under 13 to 20 feet of ash and pumice in the eruption.” We know about this catastrophic event because of a letter by Pliny the Elder’s nephew, Pliny the Younger, “who saw the eruption from a distance and described the death of his uncle, an admiral of the Roman fleet, who tried to rescue citizens.” It’s sounds like it was a pretty awful event, here described on Wikipedia:

That eruption ejected a cloud of stones, ash and fumes to a height of 33 km (20.5 mi) [another source said 27 miles!], spewing molten rock and pulverized pumice at the rate of 1.5 million tons per second, ultimately releasing a hundred thousand times the thermal energy released by the Hiroshima bombing. An estimated 16,000 people died due to hydrothermal pyroclastic flows. The only surviving eyewitness account of the event consists of two letters by Pliny the Younger to the historian Tacitus.

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Although known as Pliny the Elder, he was born Gaius Plinius Secundus and studied law and worked as a naval and army commander during the early Roman Empire. But he’s known today more for his writing, specifically “his encyclopedic work, Naturalis Historia, which became a model for all other encyclopedias.” Apparently he spent most of his time off “studying, writing or investigating natural and geographic phenomena in the field,” and the Naturalis Historia was his last work, and ran to 37 volumes, essentially the accumulation of everything he studied over his lifetime.

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A page from a 1472 printing of Pliny’s Natural History.

This is the famous book where Pliny may have first mentioned wild hops, using his own term, “Lupus salictarius,” or “willow wolf,” to describe the plant. The brief mention of hops occurs in Book XXI, in Chapter 50.

Here’s the original Latin text of Pliny from the Teubner editions of the text:

secuntur herbae sponte nascentes, quibus pleraeque gentium utuntur in cibis maximeque Aegyptus, frugum quidem fertilissima, sed ut prope iis carere possit. tanta est ciborum ex herbis abundantia. in Italia paucissimas novimus, fraga, tamnum, ruscum, batim marinam, batim hortensiam, quas aliqui asparagum Gallicum vocant, praeter has pastinacam pratensem, lupum salictarium, eaque verius oblectamenta quam cibos.

This version is from the Second English translation, by John Bostock and Henry Thomas Riley, 1855:

CHAP. 50. (15.)—PLANTS WHICH GROW SPONTANEOUSLY: THE USE MADE OF THEM BY VARIOUS NATIONS, THEIR NATURE, AND REMARKABLE FACTS CONNECTED WITH THEM. THE STRAW- BERRY, THE TAMNUS, AND THE BUTCHER’S BROOM. THE BATIS, TWO VARIETIES OF IT. THE MEADOW PARSNIP. THE HOP.

We now come to the plants which grow spontaneously, and which are employed as an aliment by most nations, the people of Egypt in particular, where they abound in such vast quantities, that, extremely prolific as that country is in corn, it is perhaps the only one that could subsist without it: so abundant are its resources in the various kinds of food to be obtained from plants.
In Italy, however, we are acquainted with but very few of them; those few being the strawberry,1 the tamnus,2 the butcher’s broom,3 the sea4 batis, and the garden batis,5 known by some persons as Gallic asparagus; in addition to which we may mention the meadow parsnip6 and the hop,7 which may be rather termed amusements for the botanist than articles of food.

And here’s Note 7:

7 “Lupus salictarius,” the “willow wolf,” literally; the Humulus lupulus of Linnæus. It probably took its Latin name from the tenacity with which it clung to willows and osiers.

Here’s Book XXI, Chapter 50 translated from the 10 volume edition published by Harvard University Press, 1949-54.

L. There follow the plants that grow wild. Most peoples use these for food, especially the people of Egypt, a land very fruitful in crops, yet about the only one that could manage without them, so great an abundance of food does it get from plants. In Italy however we know few such, strawberries, wild vine, butcher’s broom, samphire, and garden fennel, which some call Gallic asparagus; besides these there are meadow parsnip and willow wolf, though these are delicacies rather than foods.

As you can see, what Pliny says is hardly definitive, and it seems not at all clear that what he’s mentioned in passing may or may not be the same thing as the hops used to make beer today. That’s been the conventional wisdom for a long time, but as we learn time and time again, that doesn’t make it true. Happily, Martyn Cornell looked at this question a few years ago, finding some of the answers to So what DID Pliny the Elder say about hops?

Here’s where the trouble begins:

The first person to identify Pliny’s lupus salictarius as the plant that Italians call lupulo, the Spanish lúpulo, Germans Hopfen and English-speakers hops seems to have been a 16th century Bavarian botanist called Leonhart Fuchs, in a book called De historia stirpium commentarii insignes, or Notable commentaries on the history of plants. But Fuchs (after whom, apparently, the fuchsia is named), had made a big effort to try to match up “modern” plants with those mentioned by classical authors, and may have made a mistake in deciding that lupulo was derived from, and identical with, Pliny’s lupus salictarius. At least one writer has suggested that the word lupulo, far from being derived from the earlier term, may simply be an Italian error for “l’upulo“, via the French for hop, houblon, and nothing to do with lupus salictarius.

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Humulus lupulus (Cannabaceae) by Leonhart Fuchs,
published in “De historia stirpium commentarii insignes”, 1542

A lot has been made of Pliny’s mention of lupus salictarius, some of it reasonable, and some of quite a stretch. “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story,” observed Mark Twain. But this one is a bit trickier than some. It’s certainly seems possible that Pliny was talking about wild hops, and for all one knows just as likely as unlikely. It’s one of those things that you want to be true, though of course wishing for something doesn’t make it so. We may never know. Cornell concludes his article with his opinion on the matter:

I think it’s somewhere between possible and probable that lupus salictarius WAS the wild hop plant: Pliny puts it among other wild plants from which the fresh shoots were harvested for cooking, like asparagus, and hop shoots are still cooked today, while “willow wolf” is a good description of what hops are capable of in the wild as they grow up trees for support. But that’s a long way from “definite”, and to write as if Pliny’s lupus salictarius was unequivocally the hop plant is wrong.

When the great Swedish botanist Carl von Linné attached a scientific name to the hop in 1753 he gave it the genus name Humulus, from the Swedish for “hop”, humle, and the species name lupulus from the medieval Latin word for “hop”. Even if lupus salictarius WERE the origin of lupulus, therefore, it would be wrong to say, as many websites do, that Pliny “is credited with inventing the botanical name for hops.” He didn’t: Linnaeus did.

It looks like this, and many other great Strange Tales of Ale will be contained in Martyn’s latest book, which will be published in a few weeks, on September 19, 2015. Pre-order a copy on Amazon before you forget.

Luckily, true or not true, the beer Pliny the Elder tastes just as good. But on the anniversary of Pliny’s death at Pompeii, it seems as good a day as any to pour of bottle of hoppy beer. Vive la Pliny.

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Patent No. 968001A: Machine For Picking Hops

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Today in 1910, US Patent 968001 A was issued, an invention of James Trowbridge, for his “Machine for Picking Hops.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes this summary:

This invention has for its object to provide simple and practically operating machinery or appliance for removing hops from the vines, and the invention consists in certain novel parts, and combination of parts as hereinafter set forth in the following description and pointed out in the claims, producing an improved machine for picking or stripping hops from the vine.

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Patent No. 2356545A: Method And Apparatus For Cropping Hops

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Today in 1944, US Patent 2356545 A was issued, an invention of Vladislav Sykora, for his “Method and Apparatus for Cropping Hops.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes this summary:

The present invention consists in a mechanical shearing of the hop and offers, in addition to a high yield, the further advantage that the very important short stalk pieces as above mentioned, are left undamaged on the strobiles. The method and the devices required therefor, being the subject-matter of the present invention, will be described hereinafter. The hop parts shorn apart may, as will also be disclosed, be separated from each other in a clean manner by known means and may then easily be treated for further use.

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Patent No. 20140234480A1: Enhancement Of Beer Flavor By A Combination Of Pichia Yeast And Different Hop Varieties

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Today in 2014, US Patent 20140234480 A1 was issued, an invention of Sofie Sarens and Jan Hendrik Swiegers, assigned to Chr. Hansen A/S, for their “Enhancement of Beer Flavor by a Combination of Pichia Yeast And Different Hop Varieties.” Here’s the Abstract:

In the beer fermentation process, Pichia spp. yeast strains can be combined with normal beer yeast strains and with different hop varieties to produce synergistic effects, including the increased production in the fermentation product of esters, e.g., increased levels of isoamyl acetate, isobutyl acetate, ethyl propionate, ethyl valerate, ethyl butyrate, ethyl decanoate, and ethyl octanoate. Additionally, the Pichia spp. strain interacts differently with different hop varieties, such that the flavor profile of beer can be tuned by employing different combinations of Pichia spp. strains and hops.

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Patent No. 57381A: Improvement In Hop-Vine Supports

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Today in 1866, US Patent 57381 A was issued, an invention of Norman C. Roberts and Ezra V. Badger, for their “Improvement in Hop-Vine Supports.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes this summary:

[We] have invented a new and Improved Mode of Constructing Hop-Rods, to be used in the culture of hops, which we call Portable Sectional Hop-Rods and we do hereby declare that the following is a full, clear, and exact description of the said invention, reference being had to the accompanying drawings, and to the letters of reference marked thereon, in which- Figure 1 is a perspective view of a hop-yard with the upper section or rods placed horizontal. Fig. 2 is a view of the same with the upper section or rods placed on an angle.

The nature of our invention consists in setting one rod in each hill of hops, and of having other rods or sections suitably connected and supported either horizontally or at any desired angle, by which we are enabled to save a great amount of expense in the raising of hops.

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Patent No. 7258887B2: Preparation Of Light Stable Hops

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Today in 2007, US Patent 7258887 B2 was issued, an invention of Patrick L. Ting, Henry Goldstein, Aki A. Murakami, Michael VanSanford, Jay R. Refling, John R. Seabrooks, and David S. Ryder, assigned to Miller Brewing Company, for their “Preparation of Light Stable Hops.” Here’s the Abstract:

Disclosed are methods for the production of light stable hops, useful for the brewing of beer or ale to be stored in clear or green glass containers, which beer or ale will not develop objectionable flavor as a result of exposure to light. Light stable hops are prepared by double extraction of liquid/supercritical CO2 extracted hop solids with ethanol to remove alpha/iso-alpha-acids. Such alpha/iso-alpha-acids may be further removed from the ethanol extraction liquor obtained in the double extraction process by subjecting such liquor to an ion exchange medium, or precipitation by a metal ion, heavy metal ion, or alkali metal ion, to provide an alpha/iso-alpha-acid is free extraction liquor which may be added to the light stable hops residue obtained in the initial double extraction process.

Wanting to continue using their distinctive clear bottle for Miller High Life, at least since 1962, Miller started coming with preparations to make certain hops less subject to becoming lightstruck. In 1962, they patented a Anactinic malt product and hop extract therefor and since then at least eight newer patents improves aspects of the same idea.
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Patent No. PP20227P3: Hop Plant Named ‘Super Galena’

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Today in 2009, US Patent PP20227 P3 was issued, an invention of Roger D. Jeske and Joe Brulotte, assigned to S.S. Steiner, Inc., for their “Hop Plant Named ‘Super Galena.'” Here’s the Abstract:

A novel variety of hop, Humulus lupulus L., named “Super Galena” is disclosed. “Super Galena” has relatively high contents of bitter acids, beta-acids, total oil, and humulene, and a moderate, pleasant aroma. “Super Galena” is comparable to Galena in its aroma and bitterness profile but offers a substantially higher yield and complete resistance to hop powdery mildew strains found in Washington, United States. The new variety was discovered among the progeny of a sexual cross made in 1998 in Yakima, Wash., United States and has been asexually reproduced and assessed in field plots in Prosser, Wash., United States.

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Patent No. 2447122A: Hop Picking Machine

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Today in 1948, US Patent 2447122 A was issued, an invention of Emil C. Horst Jr., for his “Hop Picking Machine.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes this summary:

There are two types of hop picking machines in general use at the present time, to wit, a stationary and a portable type. Where stationary machines are used, the hop vines are cut ofi in the fields and loaded on trucks or wagons and hauled into the stationary machine where they are removed and attached to grasper bars which pull the hop vines between revolving drums or traveling belts equipped with V-shaped wire fingers which comb the vines and strip or remove the hops and most of the leaves. The picked hops and leaves are then delivered to separator belts where the leaves and stems and other foreign material are separated from the hops, and clean hop-s are finally obtained.

The portable type of machine operates in substantially the same manner, the principal difference being that the portable machine travels in the fields where the hops grow, and as the machine advances, the hop vines are cut down and attached directly to grasper bars which pull the vines through the machine with the result that the hops and leaves are stripped on and then delivered to separators to finally obtain the clean hops.

From the foregoing, it will be noted that whether a portable or stationary machine is employed, the hop vines must be cut off and attached to grasper bars in order to feed or pull them through the machines where the stripping operation takes place.

The object of the present invention is to provide a new method and machine whereby hops can be picked directly from the vines in the field without the necessity of cutting the vines free from the plant or root from which they grow; to provide a portable machine which straddles and travels along a row of hop vines and as it travels, combs the hop vines in an upward direction thereby more efficiently removing the which can singly and in clusters generally beneath the leaves and arms of the hop Vines; and further, to provide a machine in which grasper bars together with associated mechanism is entirely eliminated and the machine proper very materially simplified, this being accomplished by providing a roller which rolls over the stalk the vine and with sufficient traction to pull the vine downwardly through the combing or picking fingers of the machine as the machine advances.

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Patent No. 2685966A: Apparatus For Separating Picked Hops From Leaves And Stems

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Today in 1954, US Patent 2685966 A was issued, an invention of Florian F. Dauenhauer of Santa Rosa, California, for his “Apparatus for Separating Picked Hops From Leaves and Stems.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes this summary:

An object of this invention, is, to provide. a conveyor, which is inclined laterally, or sidewise. The hops, leaves and stems to be separated are discharged upon the conveyor near the higher section thereof. The clean hops will roll to the lower section of the conveyor, while unclean hops, leaves and stems, will be moved along the higher section of the conveyor. The clean, hops are conveyed to a sacking device, While the unclean hops are moved from one conveyor to another until all of the leaves and other refuse are separated from the hops.

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Patent No. 2757785A: Vertical Hop Picker Having Endless Carrier Chain For Hop Vines, Moving In A Vertical Plane

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Today in 1956, US Patent 2757785 A was issued, an invention of Florian F. Dauenhauer, for his “Vertical Hop Picker Having Endless Carrier Chain for Hop Vines, Moving in a Vertical Plane.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes this summary:

An object of my invention is to provide a vertical hop picker having endless carrier chain for hop vines, moving in a vertical plane, which is an improvement over the vertical hop picking machine shown in my copending application, Serial No. 179,722, filed August 16, 1950, and now Patent No. 2,677,378. In the copending case, I show an endless hop-carrying chain conveyor that has a portion for conveying hop vines between pairs of vertically movable hop picking fingers. The return portion of the endless hop-carrying chain that extends along the hop picking fingers, lies in the same horizontal plane as the portion that carries the vines between the picking lingers, but the return portion is spaced laterally therefrom. Moreover, I also disclose in the copending case, the endless hop-carrying chain as having an inclined portion extending from a hop vine feeding ‘platform up to the hop picking finger part of the machine. Here again, the return chain part passing along the inclined portion is spaced laterally from the inclined hop vine carrying portion. This necessitated the use of cam rails at the feed and discharge ends of the machine for opening the jaws of vine grippers, carried by the chain, for permitting an operator to attach vines to the grippers at the feed end and for automatically releasing the vines at the discharge end of the machine.

In the present case, the endless hop-carrying chain conveyor has both of its reaches lying in the same vertical plane. This causes the jaws of the vine grippers to open automatically at the discharge end of the machine and release the vines that have had their hops removed. The jaws remain in open position as the vine grippers travel from the discharge endV of the machine to the feed end. No cam rails are necessary at the feed and discharge ends of the machine.

A further object of my invention is to provide a device of the type described in which a swingable elevator boom is placed at the feed end of the machine for supporting the feed end of the carrier chain for hop vines. The boom can be swung so that its free end can be positioned adjacent to a hop vine carrying truck and this will permit an operator to unload hop vines one at a time, directly from the truck and attach `them to the vine grippers at the feed end of the machine. After the truck has been emptied, the boom can be swung to another truck and the vine unloading and attaching process continued. The unloading platform at the feed end of the machine may be dispensed with if desired.

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