How Craft Brewers Advance Science

Not long ago, I found myself in a beer-tasting room in upstate New York, looking out on a field of hops and sampling the craft brews of a company called Indian Ladder Farmstead. Among the list of beers chalked on a blackboard was one particularly hoppy creation named “Dr. Paul Matthews I.P.A.” Naturally I felt obliged to inquire about the eponymous doctor. The owner, Dietrich Gehring, told me that the name was an homage. He said his passion for wild hops had led him to Matthews, to whom he referred as the Lord of the Hops.

“I’m not an expert in beer,” Matthews cautioned when I reached him, by phone. “I’m a plant engineer and evolutionary biologist.” Matthews, a past president of the Hop Research Council, is the senior research scientist at Hopsteiner, a major hops trader and processor, founded in 1845, in Washington State’s Yakima Valley.

The hop flower has been used in beer-making at least since the eighth century. Traditionally it was a preservative, but it also imparts flavor. To some, the taste is bitter and unpalatable, and thus many brewers use only minimal amounts.

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