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Oregon State researchers find regional differences in hops and resulting beer flavors, aromas

Researchers found the same variety of hops grown in Oregon and Washington produced different aromas and flavor profiles in beer.

CORVALLIS, Ore. — You may know that wine and coffee taste and smell differently based on where grapes and coffee beans are produced, but did you know it's the same for beer and hops?

Oregon State University researchers found that the same variety of hops grown in Oregon and Washington produced different aromas, chemical properties and flavor profiles.

Washington and Oregon produced 84% of the American hop harvest in 2021, with Washington accounting for 73% of that total, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

So the OSU professors set out to learn more about the differences in "regional hop identity," knowing that beer makers, beer drinkers, and hop producers would all be interested.

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"(We wanted to) see if there were chemical and sensory differences that were perceivable of the same variety (of hops) but just grown in different locations, and there were," said Tom Shellhammer, Oregon State University professor within the department of Food Science and Technology.

Shellhammer said the country and region have grown more in love with unique beers in recent years, creating a demand for more data on different types of hops.

"The past 15 or so years the craft brewing industry has created styles of beers that are very hop forward, very expressing of hop aroma, so the consumers are now becoming savvy enough to understand differences in cultivars — that is, different varieties of hops — much like they look at wine in that case," Shellhammer said.

Researchers tested hops grown at 39 different locations through the Willamette and Yakima Valleys.

After chemical analysis, a trainer panel analyzed aromas in hop samples and beers that were produced by the different varieties of hops.

The study found "significant between-state and within-state differences for both varieties."

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The panel characterized Cascade-grown hops by strong citrus, floral, fruity, herbal and resinous aromas. Cascade hops from Washington displayed more tropical and "sweaty" aromas.

Mosaic hops grown in Oregon were mostly characterized by strong citrus, floral, fruity and tropical aromas — while mosaic hops from Washington displayed stronger sweaty, vegetal and woody aromas.

Shellhammer said the study results will help growers and craft brewers throughout the Pacific Northwest, both with consistency and experimentation.

"It allows brewers then to create blends or to adjust to that inherent variation in those hops," he said.

Shellhammer added that heat and wildfire smoke negatively affected hop quality, and researchers could next look at more detailed environmental affects on hop harvests.

"Weather and climate have a significant impact on hop quality, as does soil, but what we don’t know yet is the magnitude of each of those," he said.

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