OSU breeds new hops for craft brewers

OSU's hop yard
In 2013, Oregon farmers grew $31 million of hops, 12 percent of U.S. production. (Photo by Lynn Ketchum.)

The pine cone-looking flowers give beer its flavor, aroma and bitter bite

Oregon's microbrewers are in search of unique-smelling hops beyond the classic citrus so they can wow consumers with novel tastes.

OSU is working to create new varieties for them. At its hop yard in Corvallis, almost 1,800 hop plants spiral skyward. OSU's hops breeder, Shaun Townsend, sprinkles their young flowers with pollen, nurtures their offspring, then keeps the ones that resist diseases, boast high yields and have desirable fragrances.

Out of 4,000 or more seedlings in the greenhouse each year, OSU ends up with maybe a dozen it would brew beer with and less than five that would interest the market. But the market is going to have to wait. OSU's hops breeding program started in 2010, and it'll take a decade or more of testing before one of its hops ends up in a pint glass.

Besides breeding hops, OSU works with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on research to address disease and insect problems, the genetic basis for certain traits, and the relationship between hop chemistry and beer quality.

Oregon is home to 22 family-run hop farms spread over nearly 5,000 acres. It ranks second in U.S. hops production.

Sources: Shaun Townsend; the USDA's National Hop Report; Oregon Hop Commission; National Agricultural Statistics Service.

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