IH OSU Hop Breeding Program Update: Slow and Steady Wins the Race

We’re kicking off the second year of our Indie Hops Breeding Program at Oregon State Univeristy and looking forward to another great year. Here’s a snapshot of what our friends at OSU have been up to:


In 2010, Dr Townsend succeeded in developing 14 crosses selected from parents which we believe hold out promise for their aroma and oil content, as well as mildew resistance and yield. We collected 12, 385 seeds and they have been planted in the greenhouses for screening.

We want to thank our farm partners at Goschie Farms and Coleman Farms for allowing a few of Dr. Townsend’s studs to bunk down with the nubile females, under adult supervision of course. We’ve got some tasty treats baking in the oven.

Hop Maturity Study:

There’s never been a study in Oregon on the relationship between hop maturity and oil content and composition – until now. The goal is help farmers manage their harvest to maximize hop oil quality for craft brewing. We’re looking at Willamette and Cascade for starters.

So far so good. We’ll be validating findings this season but the working thesis is that total essential oil does increase with cone maturity. Details to follow as OSU completes its GC-MS analysis (drilling down to 30 key oils).

Oil Extraction Study:

Ever wonder how much hop oil actually makes it into your pint? We do, all day long it seems. We took the question to our friends at OSU’s fermentation department. How much oil is extracted from whole cones and pellets during dry hopping?

Using Cascade hop pellets samples from different sources, we first assayed for their physical characteristics such as particle size, pellet diameter and density. The pellets were then analyzed by GC (gas chromatography) to determine the aroma oil composition. The same was done on Cascade whole hop cones.

The various pellet types and whole hops were then used in simulated dry hop trials with samples taken and analyzed every few days to determine how much aroma oil was extracted. We think what will be of special practical interest to brewers will be seeing how soon oils are extracted and when each different oil reaches its maximum extraction.

There are many variations in the practice of dry hopping among craft brewers; hopefully, these studies will shed some light on how best to use it to achieve the result a brewer is looking for.

Future work in this area may look at the effect of the presence of yeast on dry hopping. Yeast can remove hop oils through absorption but also possibly add to the effect of dry hopping by liberating aroma compounds from glycosides present in the hops.

We also want to relate the GC results to actual flavor perception through the use of sensory panels.

Open Pollinated Oregon Perle:

In 2009, Dr. Townsend collected open pollinated seed from a Perle yard. In 2010, he strung some of the open pollinated Perle progeny on an experimental short trellis system. Selected progeny from the short-trellis have now been transplanted to a standard trellis. He will compare the vigor of progeny transplanted from the short trellis against those planted directly to a conventional 18.0 ft trellis to see if the technique is useful for the breeding program.

So far, he’s not convinced that the benefits of using the short trellis technique to evaluate more plants per unit area is worth the myriad labor costs and headaches. We remain hopeful that these open pollinated Oregon Perle will be lush, plump, minty-fresh and tasty! We hope to be able to hand pluck and home brew a few of these “Oregon Perle” this fall.

Hop Oil Library:

Surprisingly a readily available, detailed library for hop oil content is hard to come by. OSU has begun to fill this void with a hop chemical database. The data will serve as a foundation for future breeding efforts, and future research projects. As an example of how the information might be used, if OSU receives a request to create a cultivar with geraniol, scientists could consult the database to see what cultivars in the arsenal have high geraniol content and use those as parents for crossing. The hope is that in time OSU will have progeny data in addition to help scientists refine parent choice for crosses for a given trait.

Dr. Townsend enjoys his role as one of the go-to guys for hop breeding in Oregon. “My vision,” he says confidently, “is to set OSU up as THE place to go if you are interested in aroma hops. We are focused on developing new aroma cultivars suitable for the craft beer industry that are adapted for western Oregon growing conditions.”

“Also, “ he adds, “we’re using the new technology available to us in an effort to better understand how essential oil quantity and composition affect beer flavor and aroma, and how we can influence that through breeding and crop management.”

Breed on Hop Doc! As the lab and field results pour in, we’ll keep you posted. If you’d like a tour, give us a ring.

February 4, 2011





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