• People may be drinking less – but they are not losing their enthusiasm for beer. (Digital Vision/Getty Images)Source: Digital Vision/Getty Images
Beer-lovers: you might need a hoppy craft brew to steady your reaction to this news.
Yasmin Noone

27 Mar 2018 - 12:20 PM  UPDATED 27 Mar 2018 - 3:43 PM

US scientists with a passion for craft beer have ventured where no other hipster brewers have ever gone before. They've engineered a new brew in their lab: a hop-free beer that apparently tastes hoppy.

No, this is not a joke. And yes, researchers do understand that hops are an essential ingredient in the traditional yeast-grain-hops-water beer recipe.

A study, published in Nature Communications this month, reports that scientists successfully engineered brewer's yeast to produce two molecules that are partly responsible for the hoppy flavour in beer.

“Ultimately, sensory analysis performed with beer brewed in pilot industrial fermentations demonstrates that engineered strains confer hoppy flavor to finished beer.”

The researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, USA, achieved this by incorporating DNA from mint and basil into strains of brewer's yeast.

“In this work, we create[d] drop-in brewer’s yeast strains capable of biosynthesizing monoterpenes that give rise to hoppy flavour in finished beer, without the addition of flavour hops,” the study reads.

“Ultimately, sensory analysis performed with beer brewed in pilot industrial fermentations demonstrates that engineered strains confer hoppy flavour to finished beer.”

According to the study’s taste-testing participants, the hop-free beer tasted even more authentic than regular beer containing hops.

“Beers produced using these strains are perceived as hoppier than traditionally hopped beers by a sensory panel in a double-blind tasting,” the study reads.

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So why are researchers-cum-brewers messing with the hoppy tastes of perfection?

“Flowers of the hop plant provide both bitterness and “hoppy” flavour to beer,” the study says.  

“Hops are, however, both a water and energy intensive crop and vary considerably in essential oil content, making it challenging to achieve a consistent hoppy taste in beer.”

Hop flowers are expensive to produce and they can only be grown at certain latitudes throughout the world (38º to 51º latitude). The researchers believe that a hops-free beer variety could reduce the cost of brewing beer by reducing the beer-industry’s dependence on hop flowers.

Hope for hop allergy sufferers

The news also offers hope to people suffering from a ‘beer allergy’, typically caused by a reaction to beer’s ingredients: yeast, barley, wheat or hops (not the beer in and of itself).

Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy explains that hop allergies are caused by hop pollen and symptoms set in after drinking beer. These may include a skin rash or a sinus problem, a runny nose, swelling or pain, sneezing or congestion. People can also experience hops intolerance or sensitivity.

...hop allergies are caused by hop pollen and symptoms set in after drinking beer. 

Of course, this newly developed hop-free beer remains within the confines of the researchers’ test laboratory. But the good news is that the study’s findings mark the start of further work exploring how to replicate the molecules responsible for various beer flavours.

“We provide evidence that incorporating linalool and geraniol biosynthesis confers hop flavor to beer,” the authors say in the paper.

“We note that the full flavor imparted by traditional hopping is likely to rely on a more diverse bouquet of molecules.

“The methodologies described herein provide a foundation for generating more complex yeast-derived hop flavours, and broaden the possibilities of yeast-biosynthesized flavour molecules to those throughout the plant kingdom.”

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