Hugh Malone was born in 1843 in the Northwest port town of Sligo, Ireland. His mother, Nancy, was of fair looks and countenance. She raised Hugh, her only child, while she spun the wool of the Malone’s estimated 700 sheep, which she sold to be made into wool clothes for the local sailors. The sheep were tended to by Hugh’s father, Donald. At Hugh’s birth, Donald was 62. He spent his younger life as a deckhand for a number of the fishing vessels that docked and traded in the Sligo Harbor. Many of the captains of these fishing vessels referred to Donald as a “superior deckhand” despite the fact that he had no hands. “He knows his knots and line riggings like a banshee knows the famine” one former captain said of Donald. Tragically, Donald lost both hands in the Battle of Vinegar Hill, 1798.
Hugh Malone, at the age of 7, began working in the coal mines of the nearby Ox Mountains. It was a point of pride for Donald Malone, that his only son was able to help augment the family income. He was often heard boasting of Hugh’s work ethic at one of the local pubs after church on Sundays. Seven year old Hugh, though shy, was glad of the praise and many believe that he was always trying to gain the praises of his father, even though his father’s praise was given liberally. “Look at his hands!” Donald would say.
In 1858 Hugh joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood. His mother refused to let her 15 year old son leave Sligo for the city of Dublin. She had concerns over the sin of city living and looming threat of another famine. She allowed him to purchase a falcon by which Hugh was able to correspond with the IRB. Hugh’s involvement with the IRB was almost immediately eclipsed by his interest in Queen Maeve, his falcon. The IRB often wrote to Hugh about great plans that he could institute in the port city of Sligo, but Hugh failed to implement any of the plans. His correspondence with the IRB was his most satisfying use for Queen Maeve and so, instead of carrying out any of the IRB plans, Hugh would think of questions to ask of the IRB in response. The delays that these questions would cause were the eventual reason for the closure of the Sligo branch of the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1861.
Hugh was upset that Queen Maeve no longer had a challenging flight or even areason to fly. He often sent her to visit his father out in the fields while he tended the sheep. He would write his father notes about what he should do next. On one fateful day, Hugh received a message back from his father that would change his life.
Hugh had, again, written about how he would like to find a meaningful job that would take him places and make the name Hugh Malone known the world over. His father wrote back: “Son, you have done amazing things in your life already. You have helped your mother and me through the famine and the constant threat of war. You have always shown interest in helping Ireland and your countrymen. We could be no prouder of you than we are. You have given us great joy. I have no doubt that you will be able to pick up any trade you choose, especially with those two fine hands you have. And, who knows? Sometimes your future just hops out at you.”
“Tell your mother that one of the sheep, I believe it was Adeline, and two lambs have run off into the woods and that she should not expect me home for supper at sundown.”
At least that is the message that historians expect Donald Malone wrote to his son. No one can be sure. The only scraps of paper left from the message read: pick hops. Queen Maeve, on her way back to Hugh, caught a rabbit and in the hunt decimated the note tied around her leg. While Hugh and his mother watched their dinner get cold, Hugh wondered at his father’s concise message: pick hops.
Two weeks later, Hugh and Queen Maeve made their way to Kent, England. Hugh, following his father’s advice, decided to become a hop picker. Hops were a valuable crop at this time. Many refer to the 19th century as the Golden Age for hops. In Kent there was a particularly large industry. Hugh had no trouble finding work. While many people believed that Donald Malone paid a strange amount of attention to Hugh’s hands due to the fact that he had no hands himself, it turned out that Hugh did have exceptional hands. His hands were quite large, and quite thin. He was able to grab a larger amount of hops than any other worker. He could also tie and untie smaller knots than any other worker. He was invaluable in the hop fields of Kent, stringing up over 500 hop plants in a half day, while the next best stringer could barely tie 200. He spent the second half of the day packing the picked hops into sacks, which would be sold for brewing beer. In the late 1900s, it was thecustom to be paid by the sack. Each sack of hops was to be stamped with the date and the picker’s name. Because of the size of Hugh’s hands his income was far greater than his coworkers’. Local breweries began calling hops “Hugh Malone” because the majority of the hops they received had that very name stamped on the bag.
Hugh worked in Kent until 1909, when the demand for hops slowed down considerably. Hugh was now 66 years old. His mother, father and Queen Maeve had all died years ago of old age. He had no reason to return to Sligo for good. He decided it was time to move to the US. It is said that his income had amassed to a small fortune by the time he was done in Kent. He returned to Sligo to find a ship to take him to the United States. The ship he chose would take a leisurely six months to cross the Atlantic, with stops in several island ports along the way. Hugh was pleased; it gave him an opportunity to learn a bit of the trade that had helped fund his former career. He would learn how to brew beer. Beer was still a good choice of beverage when the quality of water was questionable; the quality of water was highly questionable aboard many ships, and so it was common for ships and boats to have their own tiny brewery in the corner of the galley.
Hugh landed in the US city of Portland, Maine in early 1910. He was, by this time, an accomplished brewer. His love for “my fateful plant,” his term for hops, naturally prompted him to add a large amount of hops to his beers. Many historians speculate that his large hand size also played a role in his addition of so much hops; the majority of recipes in the early 20th century had vague approximations of measure. Often a “handful” of an ingredient was what a recipe called for. Hugh’s hands were remarkably large and so his handfuls would be bigger, making the portion of hops bigger. Either way, Hugh’s beers were highly hopped and people in Portland began to take an enjoyment in his beers. Soon, the trend of high hop beers caught on in the US. Although hops were used in beer as a natural preservative, it was not widely used for flavoring.
Hugh Malone was a pioneer of hop flavoring. He discovered the technique of adding hops into the boiling kettle, which results in the highly bitter taste that he sought. He experimented with dry hopping. He discovered that dry hopping did not add much in the way of a bitter taste, but did give his beers a notable hop aroma. He began to write books about using hops in brewing. His first book, “Using Hops in Brewing” was an instant best seller, giving rise to the still thriving home brewer community in the US.In 1920, things took a poor turn for Hugh. Prohibition was instated and Hugh’s livelihood was in jeopardy. He was also very old. He began writing a second book about prohibition, entitled “This Would Never Happen in Ireland”. This book sold few copies and was met with poor reviews. Historians attribute the poor sales to two things: people did not entirely like the Irish at that point and his views may have seemed unpatriotic at the time.
As Hugh Malone turned 80 years old, in 1923, he became less enjoyable to be around. Many who knew him laughed about how, perhaps, the hops not only added bitterness to his beer, but had made Hugh bitter as well. Indeed, Hugh Malone was bitter. His entire life was spent courting the leaves and cones that made brewing beer possible, perfecting the recipes for beers he liked to drink, and now it was taken away from him by what he referred to as “a group of idiots.”
In the fall of 1925, Hugh’s health declined dramatically. His house on Portland’s Munjoy Hill was very drafty and he suffered severe fevers and colds during the frigid winter months on Maine’s coast. As his health continued to fade, he wrote in a journal his final wishes. Believing that the state of prohibition would never end, many of his journal entries consist of never-mailed letters to younger people whom he believed would be willing to overthrow the government or, at least, begin an underground beer trade. He also wrote recipes for beers that he was sure would never be freely enjoyed: all beers with great portions of hops, and hop addition at all points in the brewing process. One particularly interesting recipe called for an addition of hops to the hot wort runoff, often called “the sparge”. This technique, which he called first wort hopping, is used today, though rarely. Hugh died of old age in January, 1926. He was buried with his parents, Nancy and Donald, and his falcon, Queen Maeve, back in his home town of Sligo, Ireland.
Hugh Malone’s contribution to the world can be felt in many ways today. His impact can be tasted in the hoppy ales that are pervasive in American and European cultures. The home brewer community, which he helped to found through his best selling book, has grown consistently larger since the book’s publication. Though it is rarely heard these days, many who know their hop history still refer to sacks of hop leaves and cones as sacks of “Hugh Malone”. Hugh was a brewing visionary, seeing well beyond the common use of hops in brewing, innovating new tastes and brewing techniques with hops in ways that no brewer had before and no brewer has since.