Two WSU scientists spent three days in March learning brewing techniques from Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in Chico, Calif., one of the early craft breweries to discover hops in central Washington's agricultural Yakima Valley.
Washington state produces 80 percent of all U.S. hops, largely in the Yakima Valley east of the Cascade Range, and ranks second globally behind Germany.
WSU researchers already study how irrigation levels and pests, such as spider mites and aphids, can affect the hops that give beer its flavor. At the brewery, they learned how to prevent oxidation in beer to control bitterness.
Better understanding the brewing process will help the WSU scientists with other areas of research, according to Ruth Henderson, a post-doctoral researcher at the university's research station in Prosser, southeast of Yakima.
"It was good advice for what we could do with the equipment we have here, because we obviously don't have the money to operate on their scale," she said. "We're just a little pilot brewery."
The researchers will apply what they've learned to brew beers for sensory analysis trials by a WSU food scientist and by members of the American Craft Brewers Association, a key stakeholder in WSU's hop research program.
The beer will not be sold.
Henderson said she plans to use what she's learned in her new recipe for Cougar Crimson Ale, an IPA with natural red coloration from grains.
Hops and their varied flavors are particularly important to craft brewers that are more likely to tinker with new recipes than big brewers.
On its website, Sierra Nevada credits the region's Cascade hop for its intense, citrus-pine flavors.
"For craft brewers, the quality element is extremely important, since their customers truly appreciate the vital flavors that hops contribute to their brews," said Douglas Walsh, of WSU's Prosser Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center. "Craft brewers use hops in new and innovative ways."