The Future Is Hopless

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Something is brewing in Charles Denby's biochemistry lab at UC Berkeley. And while his discoveries are not quite ready for their reveal in your pint of extra hoppy IPA, you can be sure industrial brewers are paying very close attention. Denby, in collaboration with Californian Lagunitas Brewing, has found a way to eliminate hops in the brewing process by genetically modifying yeast to produce hop flavors, Cascade hops to be precise, during fermentation. Hops, and especially the craft-favorite Cascade, are a limited commodity. Farmers have a hard time keeping up with demand. In addition flavor and intensity can vary considerably making consistent brew results one of the challenges separating good brewers from mere wannabes. Denby bypassed the fickle plant by manipulating the DNA of yeast and mint and basil, two plants producing flavor terpenes that are very similar to hops. There were misfires of course. Yeast is not completely understood to begin with, and coaxing it into producing specific flavor components without affecting its fermentation capacities posed some challenges. However, in the end the engineered yeast produced "beers that are hoppier than traditionally hopped beers", so Denby's team in their article published this week in Nature after a double-blind tasting at Lagunitas. Good news for fans of dry-hopped brews who have concerns about sustainability: they can now combine meatless burgers with hopless beer.