By Tim Hunt
Talking historical hops with Otis NostrandUploaded: Nov 26, 2019
If you ever have the chance to hear Eric “Otis” Nostrand talk about the history of hops in Pleasanton, jump at the opportunity.
Otis spoke to the Pleasanton Men’s Club this fall and shared the fascinating and relatively short-lived history of hops in town. Hopyard Road, Otis pointed out, is aptly named because it was the center of the 1,900 acres of hop fields in town. He typically speaks each year at the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce’s economics day for its annual leadership class.
Many of you know Nostrand as the proprietor of the Hop Yard American Alehouse and Grill. He and his partner, Rob Hildebrand, just celebrated 25 years of their signature restaurant that has been in the same location in the Hopyard Village for that quarter of a century. They were far ahead of the curve by featuring draft craft beers and that remains the core of the business today. The current menu offers 31 different beers.
Over the years, Otis noted that beer remains a staple, but quality food is equally important. They established a second location in San Ramon that also is successful and never have found, despite trying, the right location in Livermore.
Otis grew up in Pleasanton on Second St. in a home his parents still live in. After earning a degree at Cal, he returned to town to establish the Hop Yard.
The name and the beer focus encouraged him to dig into the history of hops in Pleasanton—a period that spanned from the 1880s to World War I. Hops (you can find a few off Tesla Road in Livermore) grow vertically on wires that then are dropped when it’s time to harvest the fruit. Incidentally, he pointed out that hops are a cousin to marijuana so hops pickers typically would fill a pillowcase with their product and “sleep like a baby.”
He also pointed out that Pleasanton was ideal for hops because it has lots of sunshine and, in those days, plenty of water in swampy north Pleasanton. One of the major improvements that the developers of Hacienda Business Park put in was significantly improved drainage and flood control channels to eliminate the winter flooding that often occurred in the area. Back in the 1880s, the water table was very high at this end of the valley.
The huge hop kilns were located across the bridge where St. Mary’s turns into Hopyard as it leaves the downtown area. During the six-week harvest, workers came from all over the western states to pick hops and live in the temporary camps. They also enjoyed downtown Pleasanton as “a great place to party.”
The product was shipped around the world, including to Ireland where Guinness bought an entire harvest after the its normal supply of hops dried up because of a drought.
What ended the hops industry locally was the recovery of European crops plus the private Spring Valley Water Co. buying up property and with it water rights to supply San Francisco. In 1930, the city and county of San Francisco’s public utilities commission bought Spring Valley.