OSU breeds new hops for craft brewers

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In 2012, Oregon farmers grew $34 million of hops, 17 percent of U.S. production. (Photo by Lynn Ketchum.)
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The pine cone-looking flowers give beer its flavor, aroma and bitter bite

Almost 1,500 hops are spiraling skyward at Oregon State University's hop yard. It's here that OSU's hops breeder is working to create varieties that will wow microbrewers who are in search of unique-smelling hops beyond the classic citrus. He 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 seedlings in the greenhouse each year, OSU ends up with maybe a dozen it'd 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 more than a decade 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 and ranks second in U.S. production.

Sources: Shaun Townsend, OSU's hops breeder; the USDA's National Hop Report; Oregon Hop Commission.

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