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The Orthoepy of PNW Humulus (HU-mu-lus)



NoCoast Brewer’s Blog

by Chuck “Heisenberg” Crabtree

Iowa is a place full of surprises, not the least of which is how they pronounce the names of many of their towns.


Des Moines (DEH-moyn)                                      Churdan (shur-DAAN)

Nevada (neh-VAY-duh)                                          What Cheer (What CHEER)

Madrid (MAA-drid)                                                 Amish (AY-mish)

Peoria (PEER-ree)                                                Chariton (SHARE-ih-ton)

East Peru (East PEE_roo)                                    Loess Hills (Luss Hills)


Since moving to Iowa from the Pacific Northwest in 1998, I have had to retool my pronunciation toolbox.  Do I dig my heals into the fertile Iowa soil and declare to Iowans that they are butchering the English language (which would be funny because many of these names are not English), or do I relent, and acknowledge that I am the outsider, and learn to speak Iowan?  I chose the latter. After all, having lived in Spokane (SPO-can), Washington, I know that no one knows the proper pronunciation for a town better than the residents.  Now, after years of phonetic recalibration, I can proudly declare that I now speak fluent Iowan (although Peoria still doesn’t sit well with me).

So, what does this have to do with beer?  Actually nothing, and yet, everything.  The brewing industry is ancient and full of words from the old countries (primarily northern Europe).  The “proper” pronunciation of many of these words is not always immediately obvious. But, since I am not from those countries, nor have I visited them, I am at the mercy of others who know how these words are to be pronounced, so I am not going to speak of these ancient words.  I am, admittedly, utterly dependent on guidance in this area.

That being said, I recently sat through a series of talks about hop varietals presented by a researcher from an esteemed Iowa institute of higher education.  Great content! Unfortunately, I had a hard time focusing on the talk as the names of the hops were constantly being butchered.  Now, you might say, “Who are you to say these names are being mispronounced?”, or “That is how I have always heard them pronounced so it must be right”.  That’s fine.  You can dig your heals into the fertile hop soils of the Yakima (YAK-i-maw, not YOK-i-muh) Valley and declare that I, a product of the Pacific Northwest with family roots in both Washington and Oregon, am butchering the English language. Or, you can acknowledge that when it comes to these names, you (the Midwestern brew fan) are now the outsider.

So Here I go.  The first one, which I already mentioned is Yakima (YAK-i-maw, not Yok-i-muh) Valley.  Known for its fruit, wine, and of course, hops, the Yakima Valley is located about 60 miles southeast of Mt. Rainer in Washington state.  As of 2011, this valley produces 77% of all hops grown in the United States so it may behoove you (brewers and craft beer aficionados) to learn how to pronounce it correctly.






Next is Chinook (SHIN-ook, not CHIN-ook).  In know, there is very little difference between the two pronunciations, but it is significant for those of us in the know.  I live in Chariton, IA, which has the same phonetic distinctions and everyone in Iowa seems to pronounce it correctly so it shouldn’t be that much of a stretch.  I am 100% confident of this pronunciation since I used to live at Fort Columbia, an abandoned military fort turned historic state park just off highway 101 in southwest Washington on a spit of land that juts into the Columbia River called …. wait for it ….. Chinook (SHIN-ook) Point, which was about a mile from ….. wait for it ….. Chinook (SHIN-ook), Washington.  While we are on “Ch” words, another hop variety with a similar phonetic characteristic is Chelan (sheh-LAN, not CHEH-lun).  This is a resort town on Lake Chelan just north of Wenatchee (weh-NAT-chee), Washington.

The last name is the one that drives me the craziest.  Willamette.  The pronunciation always seemed clear to me for obvious reasons.  But if I look closely at it, and completely separate myself from my own reality (which I can’t really do) I can see how some might see WIL-eh-met, rather than the correct pronunciation, wi-LAM-it.  Not only is Willamette an awesome hop variety, but the fertile Willamette Valley, that stretches 150 miles through western Oregon from Portland south, also produces berries, vegetables, grass seed, Christmas trees, hazelnuts, wine, and, of course, hops.  Having been born in Portland with family in Salem and Eugene (all of which are in the Willamette Valley), I am also very confident in this pronunciation.

The rest of the American hops with Pacific Northwest names are relatively straightforward and are not often mispronounced, such as Cascade (range of mountains running through Washington and Oregon), Mt. Hood (mountain in the Oregon Cascades), Mt. Rainier (mountain in the Washington Cascades), Santiam (town in the Willamette Valley), so I will end my rant here.

Brewers are indeed a unique breed.  We project an air of relaxed, carefree disregard for detail. But in our craft, we are all about the details, because we know that the details produce subtleties that elevate good beer to great beer.  I am still on this endless road that leads to great beer, and I know I have not travelled as far as many others. But I like to think that I have arrived at the pronunciation crossroads and have chosen, not the road most or least traveled, but the road that leads to greater lingual (LING-gwuhl) precision.



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