An Indie Hops Exclusive
The History Of CTZ: The Pursuit of Hop Patent Profit
By Al Haunold, Ph.D
The most widely grown private hop variety, or shall I say varieties -- "CTZ" (Columbia, Tomahawk and Zeus), which industry insiders believe are actually one and the same, and the trade often designates as CTZ, were developed by Charles E. (Chuck) Zimmermann, formerly a USDA hop research scientist stationed in Prosser, Washington.
When Zimmermann resigned his position in about 1979, there was nobody to run the USDA/Prosser hop program. The primary repository for hop germplasm is located at the USDA Hop Program in Corvallis, Oregon, but the USDA kept a back-up collection in Prosser.
Zimmermann, who once was an important part of our USDA team in Corvallis, lived on a small acreage outside of Prosser. In his own words:“ I feared that this valuable material would be lost when I resigned to join private industry, since nobody was there to look it over, except an entomologist, Dr. O'Bannon, who had just been transferred from Florida and knew nothing about hops.”
Because of this purported fear, Zimmermann moved a large part of what he considered the “most valuable breeding material” to his personal location, where of course only he had access. After 1979, Zimmermann quit the USDA and entered the private sector as a hop breeder.
From Zimmermann’s collection, some of the USDA breeding material found its way to a commercial location. USDA hop germplasm made its way to Humulus Hop Trade Corp, owned by Segal Hop Co., and later to Hop Union, where Zimmermann continued his private breeding efforts. I’m fairly certain that his private efforts involved the use of USDA hop germplasm which had not been publically released. I don’t have any knowledge that Chuck sought permission to use the USDA generated germplasm. Was it “borrowed”? Perhaps, but I don’t know for sure.
Zimmermann and I always remained friendly. But I asked Chuck repeatedly, when the topic of patenting Columbus and / or Tomahawk came up, to tell me the pedigree of this “new” hop. He always refused to tell me, which I thought was odd, since as USDA Hop Scientists we had a history of collaborating and sharing.
Patenting did not become the rage until the laws were changed in the mid-1980s which made it easier to obtain a patent on a plant. Prior to that, before there was any serious thought about patenting, Zimmermann had already left Hop Union to join another hop trading company. Zimmermann’s successor at Hop Union (Dr. Greg Lewis), to my knowledge, led the charge to apply for a patent for the hop now known as Columbus.
Zimmermann, who had done substantial work on Columbus as a USDA scientist and then later for Hop Union, but who was now working for a competitor, objected.
On one occasion, Dr. Lewis phoned me about their high-alpha hop strain [Columbus] that he inherited from Zimmermann. He was excited that this hop had superior yield potential and good alpha values, but its storage stability was a bit weak. He told me he wanted to patent it.
Since I had already released a public hop aroma variety called “Columbia” (the half-sister of Willamette), he wanted to know whether I objected to Hop Union naming the new super-alpha hop Columbus. I told him I did not object. He predicted it would be a very valuable and popular high alpha variety. Of course he was right about that.
I asked Dr. Lewis about the pedigree of Columbus. He refused to give it to me, just as Zimmermann did. Perhaps he did not even know it himself. I always found this disturbing. I worked for the people. I wasn’t a threat to his company’s lock on the variety. It drove home to me how the times were changing. What I did for the public, they wanted to do for themselves. What I tried to do for all hop farmers, they wanted to restrict to just a select few who were tied in to the merchant. And it’s always struck me as dangerous when a private breeder can get access to USDA germplasm before it’s been released to the public. That smacks of an insider job.
When the “new” super-alpha hop Zeus came along a few years later, propagated by S,S. Steiner Inc., I again asked about the pedigree. No information was provided, except that I was told it was similar to Columbus but with “even higher yield potential.” It is now widely believed that Zeus is very similar if not identical to Columbus/Tomahawk, the latter two having been publicly acknowledged as being identical.
When Zimmermann's health started to decline (Alzheimers, Parkinsons) I asked Ralph Olson, who originally had also worked at Hop Union, to contact Zimmermann about the Columbus/Tomahawk pedigree. He never got it or if he did, he never told me about it.
Hop Union was later bought out by Haas-Barth Inc, and Olson purchased the hop package trade (a Hop Union subsidiary) which Haas-Barth at the time had no interest in..
Sadly, Zimmermann passed away over a year ago and took the pedigree knowledge with him to his grave.
We have a pretty good idea of the genetic background of CTZ. It most likely came from a USDA hop germplasm line that had Brewer's Gold as one of its main components. Most likely it was not just Brewer's Gold, but one of the breeding lines that I had sent to Prosser for evaluation under local conditions while Zimmermann was still working there. I sent it up there for evaluation, not so it could be taken by a private breeder for use in obtaining a patent.
Sharing is supposed to be a two-way street. Everything changed when the patent laws made it easier for private breeders to corner the market on a new variety, even though the ‘new’ variety likely was built on a foundation of USDA created germplasm, in this case, germplasm which hadn’t even been publicly released.
So, there you have it.