OSU breeds new hops for craft brewers

OSU's hop yard
Oregon ranks second in United States in hops production. (Photo by Lynn Ketchum.)

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

Oregon ranks second in United States in hops production, with nearly 25 family-run hop farms spread over 7,700 acres – a 43 percent increase from 2014. The value of production in 2016 stood at $65 million - nearly doubling 2015's production value. The state’s microbrewers are in search of unique-smelling hops to create new tastes for consumers beyond the classic citrus, floral, and herbal notes, and Oregon State University is working to create new varieties for them.

At its hop yard in Corvallis, almost 1,500 hop plants spiral skyward. Oregon State’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 aromas.

Out of 4,000 or more seedlings in the greenhouse each year, Oregon State ends up with maybe a dozen it would brew beer with, and less than five that would interest the market. A collaboration between OSU’s hop-breeding program has already resulted in the new hop Strata, which expresses many of the oils associated with mango, oranges, and other fruits and herbs.

Besides breeding hops, Oregon State 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.

Sources: Shaun Townsend; Oregon Department of Agriculture

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