Locals know the secret of wild hops growing in Monitor Canyon – modern-day left-overs from an old brewery that quenched the thirst of silver miners in the 1870s.
But how did those hops plants find their way here in the first place? Ah, meet brewer Nicholas Piequet!
Piequet arrived in the bustling mining town of Monitor in 1868. The following October (1869), he managed to purchase “the old Beasley property” at a tax sale for just $19.01. This 160-foot-wide parcel sat on the west end of town, sandwiched between the Schenectady (Colorado No. 2) tunnel to the west and the Schenectady mill on the east. And there Piequet launched his brewery.
This wasn’t Piequet’s first experience making beer. Born November 25, 1813 in the Alsace region of France, Piequet was already trained as a brewer when he and son Joseph emigrated to the United States about 1851. And though we don’t know for certain, it’s quite possible that Piequet brought some hops rhizomes with him.
By 1861, Nicholas Piequet was living at Hornitos (near Mariposa, California), and operating a brewery making both “lager beer” and “French patent cider.”
In 1866 Piequet acquired a new location on the road through Hunters Valley and built another small brewery — perhaps as a stepping-stone to launch his son into business; son Joseph Piequet hosted a Fourth of July Ball there in July, 1868.
By late 1868, Nicholas Piequet had settled in Alpine County, registering there to vote that October. (Piequet had become a citizen in September, 1857.) His new brewery was no doubt a welcome addition to the rough mining town of Monitor, and Piequet invested a fair sum in supplies and equipment. Assessment records for 1871 show him owning not only hops worth $40 and barley of $60, but also brewing fixtures valued at $300, and $50 worth of “Lager Beer.”
Piequet tried to sell his brewery property to young William H. Cadby in the spring of 1874. But that transaction evidently didn’t go well; by that September, Piequet was officially the brewery owner again. He seems to have expanded into the saloon business as well; his assessment for 1874-75 now included “saloon fixtures” among his property.
Four years later, Piequet was still making beer. Assessment records for 1878-79 show him taxed on “brewing fixtures” worth $150, and in possession of 120 gallons of beer, valued at $36.
But somewhere along the way, Piequet had picked up consumption (tuberculosis), and his health began to fail. By April, 1879 the Carson Valley newspaper reported that Piequet was hoping to move to a warmer, dryer climate, and eager to sell his brewery. “Sickness compells [sic] me to sell or lease,” his advertisement read.
Sadly, another move was not to be. Piequet spent his final days in Carson City, lovingly tended by his daughter, Catherine Baldeck. Despite the best efforts of attending physician W.J. Kearney, Piequet — the “Good Samaritan of Monitor” — died in Carson City on May 23, 1879.
“No more shall we be greeted by his familiar ‘Happy New Year’ from the little brewery on Monitor creek,” mourned the Carson Valley newspaper as it shared the news of Piequet’s death. “But we will ever cherish in grateful remembrance the name of Monsieur Piequet. He was one of those generous, noble-minded men that one so seldom finds now-a-days, and whose good deeds shine out all the brighter for the contrast.” Piequet was just 65 years old.
His funeral was held at the Catholic Church in Carson City. Although we don’t know for sure where he was buried, it is possible Piequet was laid to rest in the Catholic section at Lone Mountain Cemetery.
Unfortunately, Piequet hadn’t bothered to leave a will. After his death, his Monitor brewery sat idle while formal probate proceedings ground on. His personal property was quickly auctioned off – assets that included some 2,280 pounds of barley and 21 ten-gallon beer kegs. But the personal property value was small compared to at least $700 he owed in debt, and Piequet’s real estate proved difficult to sell.
An initial probate sale of his real property was scheduled for April 2, 1881, but attracted no buyers. Subsequent winters weren’t kind to the buildings. Almost five years later, in December, 1886, the administrator of Piequet’s estate grudgingly advised the probate court that heavy snow had “broken in” the buildings and it would be impossible to sell the properties until a “revival in business matters in Alpine County.”
Five more years crept by. In 1891 the probate court was informed that there was still no market for the property, and that an “immense” winter snow the previous winter had further damaged all the buildings.
The town of Monitor slowly disappeared. But the old Monitor brewery didn’t quite die with Nicholas Piequet. Look carefully, and you can still spot hops plants growing near the old roadway.
According to writer Sara Calvosa Olson, hops afficionado Dan Beveridge noticed the plants and sent samples of the wild hops off for testing. The result: the plants resemble a “Strisselspalt” strain from the Alsace region of France, known for its “intense aromatic qualities.” One difference: the hops at Monitor have a lower oil content than their ancestors, perhaps due to the short local growing window. (Find that fascinating 2015 story from Edible Shasta-Butte here!)
Amazingly, even without human hands to tend them, these wild off-shoots from the old hops plants have managed to thrive. And in them, the legacy of brewer Nicholas Piequet lives on.