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Good Beer Hunting

May 16, 2020

I’m Evan Rail, and you’re listening to the Good Beer Hunting podcast.

Today we’re doing things a little differently: I’m taking you along with me on a reporting trip to Germany’s Hop Research Center, where I am trying to find out more about what the institute does—and especially, to find out more about the exciting new hops, like Mandarina Bavaria and Hallertau Blanc, that have recently been developed here. How do scientists develop new hops? How long does that take? Who decides which hop varieties are going to be released?

The Hop Research Center is located in Hüll: a small village in Bavaria, in Germany’s south. It’s right in the middle of one of the Old World’s most celebrated hop-growing regions, the Hallertau. All around it are commercial hop farms, with tall trellises of heavy, dark green hop bines climbing up 20 feet off the ground, as far as the eye can see. It was originally founded in 1926 to help combat hop diseases, like downy mildew.

Although many industry professionals have heard about the Hop Research Center, it makes sense that the name isn’t well-recognized by most of us. It’s not exactly open to the public: there’s no visitor’s center, you can’t buy a T-shirt or really do anything here. Its goal is to help German hop farmers, many of whom are located in the surrounding region. No joke: in harvest season, the most popular vehicle on the narrow road here is a tractor.

It might be hidden behind the curtain, but the work done at the Hop Research Center is truly important for the future of beer. The best-known reference to the place is probably the new flavor hop Hüll Melon, which was developed here along with other new cultivars. In addition to new flavors, the institute is doing important work on major issues for the hop industry, including climate change, saving traditional “landrace” or “land variety” hops, and developing new high-alpha varieties.

In this episode, we tour the center with research director Dr. Elisabeth Seigner. Along the way, Dr. Seigner explains the lengthy, 10- to 20-year process of developing a new hop cultivar, and talks about some of the issues facing the hop industry today. It’s an insider’s view from a place most of us will probably never get to visit, let alone hear about—even if its work benefits all of us.

We’re going inside the Hop Research Center in Hüll, Germany with Dr. Elisabeth Seigner. Listen in.