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UC Berkeley scientists discover way to create hoppy beer without hops

DBR Staff Writer Published 22 March 2018

Scientists at The University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) have found a way to create the flavors and aromas of hoppy beers without hops.

Instead of using hops, scientists have created strains of brewer’s yeast that not only ferment the beer but also provide two flavour notes offered by hops.

The engineered yeast strains were changed using CRISPR-Cas9, a gene-editing tool invented at UC Berkeley. 

Four new genes and the promoters that regulate the genes were inserted into industrial brewer’s yeast.

This includes linalool synthase and geraniol synthase, which the scientists took from mint and basil, and code for enzymes that produce flavor components.

The two other genes were from yeast and increased the production of precursor molecules required to make linalool and geraniol, the hoppy flavor components.

Charles Denby, one of two first authors of a paper appearing this week in the journal Nature Communications, said growing hops uses lots of water, which could be avoided by using yeast to make a hop-forward brew. 

A pint of craft beer needs 50 pints of water to grow the hops.

Denby has launched a startup named Berkeley Brewing Science with Rachel Li, the second first author and a UC Berkeley doctoral candidate.

Denby and Li plan to market hoppy yeasts to brewers, including strains that feature more of the natural hop flavor components.

They also intend to create other strains that incorporate plant flavors not usually in beer from the canonical ingredients of water, barley, hops and yeast.

In double-blind taste tests, employees of Lagunitas Brewing Company in Petaluma, California, said beer made from the engineered strains were more hoppy than a control beer made with regular yeast and Cascade hops.

Denby said: “My hope is that if we can use the technology to make great beer that is produced with a more sustainable process, people will embrace that."

Image: The scientists plan to market the yeast to beer producers. Photo: Courtesy of UC Regents.