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It’s beer, but not as we know it: scientists dispense with need for hops

Scientists in the US have created a more sustainable pint after discovering a way of getting the distinct hoppy taste into craft beer without the need for water-intensive hops.

Researchers say the technique could reduce the beer industry’s reliance on hops – a thirsty and expensive crop – and produce the consistent aroma and flavour loved by beer enthusiasts.

In a paper published by the journal Nature Communications this week, scientists from the University of California Berkeley showed how they used DNA-editing software to manipulate the genome of brewer’s yeast, splicing in genes from mint and basil plants as well as two from normal yeast.

This boosted the production of flavours normally provided by adding hops during the brewing process.

“We were able to use some of the tools [that] others and we developed to accurately control metabolism to produce the right amount of hops flavours,” said Jay Keasling, a professor of chemical and biomedical engineering at UC Berkeley.

The results were so convincing that in taste tests, employees of the nearby Lagunitas Brewing Company said the engineered beer tasted more hoppy than a conventionally-brewed alternative.

Scientists were told their genetically modified beer tasted of “fruit loops and orange blossom”, with no discernible “off-flavours”, said Charles Denby, one of the report’s authors.

Hops are extremely resource-intensive plants, with each pint (0.47l) of craft beer requiring around 50 pints of water just to grow the hops.

The recent wave of craft brewing, which typically uses far more hops per pint than commercially produced lagers and ales, has also led to a sharp decline in the availability of some hop strains.

“Further, lots of energy is required for processing, transporting and storing” hops, Denby added.

Synthesising hoppy flavours in beer, in other words, means significantly less water and fertiliser is needed to produce the perfect pint.

Source: The Guardian