Successes at the 2023 Hopsource Sensory Event

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At the end of September, Brewers Association (BA) staff conducted its sixth successful Hopsource sensory event in Yakima, Washington. Hopsource is an event created to gauge brewer interest in experimental public hop varieties by harnessing the power of many noses. Hopsource is one small part of an industry wide effort to support and inform the two United States Department of Agriculture’s, Agriculture Research Service (USDA-ARS) public hop breeding programs. Sensory data from this event helps bridge the gap between brewers and breeders to create a two-way communication channel where hop breeders work towards releasing varieties of interest to brewers, and brewers have an impact on which new public hop varieties become available to the whole brewing industry.

Once again, the BA collaborated with Yakima Valley Hops to host Hopsource over the three-day event. Brewers and industry members in town that week could drop in and put their noses to the test. Sensory data was collected using the SampleOx phone application, a consumer-facing product from DraughtLab. The assessment was designed to be short yet thorough, which provides convenience for brewers during their busy hop selection days in Yakima. Participants completed three questions; “check all that apply” (CATA) from a list of eight aroma attributes (citrus, herbal/grassy, floral, pine, stone fruit, tropical, woody/earthy, and onion/garlic), hedonic liking score from one to ten, and an additional comments space.

During this year’s event, 30 experimental lines at the advanced and elite stages in the hop breeding process were assessed. Participants independently evaluated up to two flights per day, where each flight contained six hop distinct samples. Samples were prepared using the American Society of Brewing Chemists (ASBC) Hop Grind Sensory Evaluation Method and packaged into two-gram packets for standardization and hygiene purposes. Thanks to all the individuals who stopped by, each unique hop variety was evaluated by at least 30 participants, totaling over 900 individual assessments, exceeding the target needed to achieve statistical strength for crowdsourcing.

Detailed results from the event will be presented at the Hop Research Council’s (HRC) winter meeting and through BA channels in the future. The data collected, including the Net Liking Score (NLS), averages and a distribution graph of the hedonic scores, and highly selected attributes, provides breeders the sensory information about each experimental hop variety so they can make necessary choices within their programs to determine which varieties move forward towards commercialization.

The two USDA-ARS public hop breeding programs are under the direction of Dr. John Henning in Corvallis, Oregon and Dr. Kayla Altendorf in Prosser, Washington. During the event, many BA members and industry partners often commented on the importance of public hops as a complement to the commercial hop landscape. The collective efforts among collaborators work to build upon last year’s lessons so that improvements are made in each step towards release. One notable newer effort is the availability of pelletized experimental public hops currently in the elite program to brewers through the support of the HRC. Getting brewer feedback on hop experience in the brewhouse and beer sensory is the logical next step in supporting public hop breeding efforts.

Thanks to all the individuals who stopped by Yakima Valley Hops for Hopsource this year. The BA looks forward to seeing new and returning folks in Yakima for next year’s event.