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Hoppiness is brewing better beer.

Hoppiness Is Brewing Better Beer

The refreshing, bitter, yet slightly sweet flavor in a foam-capped glass of beer comes mainly from the extracts of two plants: hops and barley. New varieties of these crops, bred by ARS scientists, have given brewers hops with old-world beer flavor and barley with superior malting qualities.

The newest hop, Liberty, was released this spring by geneticist Alfred Haunold, in Corvallis, Oregon. Liberty boasts the desirable aroma qualities found in its parent, a popular German hop called Hallertauer mittelfruh. Yet Liberty isn't troubled by the disease problems and poor yields that have all but wiped out plantings of Hallertauer bred in Europe.

Like Mount Hood, a similar hop released in 1989 at the USDA-ARS Forage and Cereal Seed Research Unit by Haunold, Liberty thrives in the temperate Pacific Northwest, producing double the yields of the Old-World variety.

Lush, leafy-green hop vines can grow up to 18 feet or higher, climbing a trellis of wires and poles. Hops are dioecious, which means plants are either male or female. The female plants develop flowers that resemble pale-green miniature pine cones, each of which holds tiny resin glands at the base of each petal. The resins are rich in alpha acids, the chemical compounds that give beer its characteristic bitter flavor.

"Large-scale brewers want a hoppy flavor that blends well with the other flavor components in their beers. Mount Hood and Liberty can fill that role," Haunold says.

The United States is second only to Germany in hop production, growing about 58 million pounds a year, all in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.

American breweries currently import about 16 million pounds each year, but that amount will likely decrease when Mount Hood and Liberty became available to brewers in sufficient quantities, says Haunold. The new, European-style hops also hold promise for increased markets overseas.

Six major breweries - three in the United States, two in Canada and one in the Far East - are interested in Mount Hood.

The small but growing microbrewery business, known for its distinct, strongly flavored brews, is another market for new hops. Microbrewery beer typically contains up to five times the hop content of regular beer.

Haunold is currently busy working on several new selections that also stem from the old European hops Tettnanger and Saazer. "Already, local brewers are knocking on my door, asking for samples!" says Haunold.

While hops contribute a quenching, bitter bite, it's the malted barley that gives beer a mellow smoothness. The malting process, which dates back to Egyptian times, starts by steeping barley in water, where it begins to sprout, or germinate. During germination, natural enzymes in the grain convert the starches into sugars. The barley is then dried to make the crunchy malt grains that are sold to brewers.

Good malting barley has a relatively low protein content and yields a high extract, or "wort" - the sugary liquid that comes from mashed malt and water. Those characteristics made Klages barley an industry favorite.

Klages was cooperatively released in 1972 by ARS and the Idaho and Oregon Experiment Stations under the direction of Darrell Wesenberg, of the ARS Small Grains and Potato Germplasm Research Unit.

Today, nearly 20 years later, Klages remains the industry standard to which all other two-rowed malting barleys are compared. (Barley kernels grow in either two or six rows on each stem.) The ARS Cereal Crops Research Unit in Madison, Wisconsin, along with malting and brewing industry collaborators, played a key role in selecting and testing Klages.

Recent offshoots from the germplasm enhancement and breeding program at Aberdeen, Idaho, include Crystal and Russell. Crystal, a two-rowed barley that resulted from a cross between Klages and the German variety Columba has plumper kernels and sturdier straw - so it isn't easily felled in the field - compared to Klages.

Russell, a six-row barley, also forms strong field stands and has lower protein levels and higher malt extract levels, compared to other commonly planted varieties. Both cultivars have been recommended for malting and brewing by the American Malting Barley Association, headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

About half of the 8.2 million acres of barley planted in the United States are malting varieties. However, notes Wesenberg, "quality malting barley and good feed barley share many favorable characteristics, including disease resistance and high yields. So our breeding work benefits all barley farmers and ranchers who feed barley to their livestock."

Plant breeders will often name their new varieties to reflect the region where the plant was bred, be it a famous historical figure or a geological feature. For instance, Klages was named in honor of the late Karl Klages, former head of the University of Idaho's Agronomy Department. Russell comes from Osborne Russell, a 19th century Rocky Mountain fur trapper who travelled in southern Idaho. Mount Hood is named after Oregon's highest peak, located in the state's northwest region.

Why the name Liberty? "At the time," says Haunold, "things were hopping in Kuwait, and there was a lot of talk about freedom, and one of the brewers I work with suggested Liberty."

PHOTO : Barley harvest in Washington's Palouse Hills.

PHOTO : Plant geneticist Alfred Haunold takes notes on developing hops. The light green cones take about 4 weeks to reach 1 inch in size.
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Author:Corliss, Julie
Publication:Agricultural Research
Date:Sep 1, 1991
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