It took German beer crafters 600 years to combine barley, hops, yeast, and water into the classic definition of modern beer. But Oregon bubbled to the top of the microbrewing industry in one generation.
Throughout most of the first half of the 20th century, Oregon was the nation’s largest producer of hops, the pine cone-shape flowers that give beer its flavor and aroma. By the early 1950s, AES researchers developed the now classic hop varieties, Willamette and Cascade, that became industry standards during the 1970s and ’80s.
Today, 1,500 hop vines spiral skyward where AES hops breeder Shaun Townsend works to create varieties that will wow microbrewers who are in search of unique-smelling hops beyond the classic citrus. Out of 4,000 seedlings in the greenhouse each year, Townsend will end up with less than five that would interest this skyrocketing 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.