Kiyoshi Takoi, a member of the “Value Creation Department” of Sapporo Breweries in Japan, has a doctorate in agricultural chemistry. And his study focused on “biotransformation of hop-derived monoterpene alcohols” might sound like an academic exercise, but Perrault uses a single word about the importance of understanding the interaction between hop compounds and yeast in creating aroma: “huge.”
Using a grant funded primarily by Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin horticulturist James Altwies is building a database of varieties grown in Wisconsin. A half-dozen years ago, Altwies helped found Gorst Valley Hops, a company that provides support, processing and sales for farmers interested in growing hops. U.S. hop production remains concentrated in the Northwest, but since 2008 farmers in more than a dozen other states have put in hop yards. Altwies makes it clear that these farmers cannot compete based on price. “We have to look for what we can do on process that adds value, that creates differences apparent in the final beer,” he says.
Firestone Walker brewmaster Matt Brynildson’s relationship with hops doesn’t begin or end with Union Jack IPA and other hop-centric beers. Before he was a brewer, he worked as a technician in the hops lab at Kalsec in Kalamazoo, MI. He’s given presentations on hops, primarily hop aroma and flavor, in about a dozen countries, sometimes on behalf of the Hop Growers of America but just as often at the invitation of brewing associations and beer educators. At the same time he’s dispensed information on American hops, he’s discovered other varieties with intriguing aromas. For instance, the recipe for summer seasonal Easy Jack includes a blend of New Zealand hops and two German hops released only in 2012—Mandarina Bavaria and Hüll Melon.
German hop breeders long ago began cross-pollinating European stock with American cultivars, but only for agronomic purposes. They had no interest in creating varieties with “American aromas” described as bold in polite company and in less complimentary terms elsewhere. Anton Lutz changed that in 2006 when he crossed German breeding stock with American Cascade, the result being Mandarina Bavaria and Hüll Melon, among others.
“We don’t want to change German beer (tradition),” said Lutz, appropriately wearing lederhosen at the Craft Brewers Conference in Denver earlier this year. “The big brewers (in Germany) want to be everybody’s darling,” he said. However, there are German brewers who, for instance, have seen Brynildson speak in Berlin or at Weihenstephan’s school of brewing, and tasted the beers he brought. They want to use German-grown hops to brew something similar. The varieties he’s bred give them the opportunity.
Few of them understand the combination of art and science involved. Perrault does. He and Lutz spent the latter part of an evening at the conference talking about the nuts and bolts of breeding. They’ve created something unique, but it’s up to farmers to grow the hops and brewers to use them. By the time they end up in beer, few drinkers will consider the process.
“If the hops can speak for themselves, I’m happy,” Perrault said.
This article appears in the November 2014 issue of All About Beer Magazine. Click here for a free trial of our next issue.