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  • Writer's pictureCheryl Anne Stapp

500 Acres of Beer Makings

Hundreds of Sacramento seniors still remember the acres of hop fields that stood tall along Fair Oaks Boulevard when they were kids. Viewed from a passing car, the fields looked like a giant, green-painted spider web: mile after mile of vines spiraling upward on crisscrossed twine, attached to 20 foot-high poles with a network of sparkling wires.

The E. Clemens Horst Company, headquartered in San Francisco, owned those hop fields. Emil Clemens Horst (1867-1940), once owned the largest hop acreage in the world, but he wasn’t the first to plant hops in Sacramento. Hops, the primary ingredient in beer brewing, were introduced in 1857 by brothers Daniel and Wilson Flint, who started with a 16-acre parcel a mile and a half south of the city. Over time other farmers began cultivating hops in the rich soil south of today’s Sacramento State University campus. By 1894, Sacramento County was the largest producer of hops in the United States. Emil Horst purchased the Sacramento property known locally as the Horst hop ranch around 1913.

Sacramento Valley hop growers survived Prohibition because European breweries wanted their crops, said to be the finest in the world. In 1922, there was heavier production of hops per acre around Sacramento than in any other hop growing district in America. Prices rose. Twenty years later, however, a downward trend in hop prices prompted Horst Company management to plant more profitable crops. In 1961-62, 300-plus acres of vines and trellises were removed along Fair Oaks Boulevard to accommodate safflower, barley, sugar beets and tomatoes, although 150 acres of hops remained at the rear of the property.

In 1964, a group of Sacramento real estate investors obtained an option to purchase Horst Company’s 550-acre tract directly across the river from the college. That acreage, combined with the adjoining 126-acre Haas ranch, was slated for development estimated to cost $6 million. Today, the homes and businesses of Campus Commons occupy the land once filled with eye-catching rows of green vines that reached for the sky.

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