CORVALLIS, Ore. – More than 140 scientists and master brewers representing 13 different countries will meet at Oregon State University Aug. 9-10 for what organizers say is the first international brewers’ symposium to focus on the unique role of hops in making beer.
A number of Northwest breweries will have representatives at the symposium, including Bridgeport and Hair of the Dog breweries in Portland; Red Hook and Elliott Bay breweries, Seattle; Deschutes, Bend; Full Sail, Hood River; Sierra Nevada, Chico, Calif.; and Granville Island, Vancouver, B.C.
Talks will focus on how the different flavor, stability and bitterness characteristics of hops influence the taste of beers crafted by breweries large and small. Participants also will tour OSU’s fermentation science program – one of only two such academic programs in the country – as well as research and commercial hop growing farms in the Willamette Valley.
And participating brewers will have ample opportunity to sample some of their own products.
“There are national and international societies of master brewers, brewing chemists and hop growers, but they’ve never gotten together for a symposium focusing on the unique characteristics of hops,” said Thomas Shellhammer, holder of the Nor’Wester Professorship in Fermentation Science in the College of Agricultural Sciences at OSU.
“There is a lot of interest among brewers in hops,” Shellhammer added. “Beer styles are, in a way, like fashion trends. We’ve seen clear beers, ice beers and red beers. The latest trend seems to be big robust beers, higher in alcohol and loaded with hops.”
Shellhammer said most Amercan lager beer sold commercially has between eight and 10 “bitterness units,” a standard of measurement that reflects the amount and types of hops used to flavor the beer. The recent popularity of more bitter IPAs – India pale ales – has increased the amount of hops brewers use, in many cases.
“Some commercial brewers creating craft beers are going crazy with it,” Shellhammer pointed out. “They started with 30 bitterness units, and some are getting up to 70, 80 and even 100 units.”
During the conference, the scientists, brewers and technicians will discuss the latest trends in hop usage, and explore hops’ different flavors, aromas and even health benefits. Speakers include university researchers as well as brewers working for regional, national and international breweries, including Anheuser-Busch, Coors Brewing, Asahi, Sierra Nevada and others.
Topical sessions begin on Thursday with a presentation by Denis Dekeukeleire, from the University of Ghent in Belgium, who is widely regarded as “the godfather of hops,” according to Shellhammer. Dekeukeleire will speak on light-struck reactions in bottled beer in his presentation, “Beer Lightstruck Flavor: The Full Story” – a discussion of the factors and chemical reactions leading to “skunky” flavors in your beer.
Most of the talks will be professional in nature and aimed at sharing information about hops that influence the chemistry of brewing.
This first conference of its kind in North America is timely in several ways, Shellhammer said. The hop season is in full swing, with the harvest only a month away. The Northwest produces about 30 percent of the world’s hops, with prime growing areas in the Yakima Valley in Washington, and Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
And newfound appreciation for hops has emerged in recent years – sparked partly by revelations about their health benefits, and partly from new research that is breaking down just how they work to influence the taste of beers.
“We’re learning more in our OSU laboratories about the chemical compounds within different hops that influence the taste of beers,” Shellhammer said. “And brewers are extraordinarily interested in that research and our work with consumer preferences. The use of certain hops, in certain ways, can produce tastes that are spicy or citrus, herbal or piney, resinous or bitter.
“They define the taste of beer,” he added, “and that’s the bottom line for the consumer.”