OSU Fermentation Science Outdoes Itself Again

Didst thee know that OSU has one of the oldest food science departments in the United States? Indeed, within their venerable department is one of the nation’s few fermentation science programs—a hands-on amalgam of science, engineering, and pure love-inspired artistry. Though be it olde, it showeth no signs of slowing down.

Tom Shellhammer, a professor of fermentation science, was drawn to this marriage of art and science at a time when the current boom of home brewing and craft breweries was still in its infancy.

“I was going to fermentation science as an undergrad [at UC Davis], this would have been like from ’84 to ’87, and so this is before the craft brewing industry had taken off—even gotten started,” said Shellhammer. “You think of the oldest craft breweries in Portland, at least that are still around—Bridgeport and Widmer—both started in ’85, so very few craft breweries and home brewing wasn’t a real big deal.”

“I kind of stumbled into brewing because it was a series of courses I could take—I had no idea how beer was made,” he continued. “I remember taking that course and having my mind blown, like, ‘Wow, this is how it works.’”

Admittedly, Shellhammer was not drawn to fermentation science because of an overwhelming love for alcohol, rather a vested interest in doing science in an applied setting. After graduate school, a brief stint at General Mills and Ohio State University—the other OSU—Shellhammer found his way to our OSU in 2001 when they opened a position in brewing.

“The research that I do involves flavor; the measurement of flavor instrumentally using different types of chemical techniques and instrumental techniques to measure bitterness and mouth feel, but then also aromas,” he said. “And then we do a lot of sensory analysis, which sounds fun, but it’s probably less fun than you think. It’s like using humans as instruments—it’s less about sitting around drinking beer and going, ‘Oh, I like that’ and more about having humans respond like instruments to different changes that you make during the process.”

Shellhammer explained that over the last 150 to 200 years, lager like Budweiser and Heineken has become the world’s most popular beer on the larger scale, but hop-laden IPAs have come to dominate the craft brew industry—an Oregon forte.

“Consumers are really taken with hoppy flavors, and I am not exactly sure why that is. One aspect is there is so much variation that comes from these type of beers,” he said. “The craft brewers who are making these very hoppy beers are now able to make them without making them overly bitter.”

“The USDA has, over 80 years, bred new public hop varieties, such as Cascade and Willamette, and is known for hops breeding and pathology—they are co-located on the OSU campus,” said Shellhammer. “The research going on in my lab lines up nicely with their efforts and brings the brewery-brewing science-consumer face to hops research.”

Because of fruitful relationships both in Oregon and across the globe, OSU’s fermentation program has grown rapidly and continues to break boundaries.

“We hired a brewing microbiologist and yeast geneticist last fall and his program is getting started up,” said Shellhammer. “This is adding tremendous horsepower to our program and sets us apart from all other programs in North America. Thanks to a $1 million gift from Carlos Alvarez, owner of Gambrinus Brewing Co. which owns Bridgeport Brewery, we will be building a new state-of-the-art pilot brewery. Again, this will set us apart from nearly all other programs and all research facilities in North America.”

If that is not a mic dropper, than check out the second International Brewers Symposium on Hop Flavor and Aroma in Beer this July. Shellhammer was the organizer of the first symposium in 2007, and he will be organizing this year’s as well.

“This conference is recognition that Corvallis is the global leader for hops research,” said Shellhammer.

“Boometh,” added I for emphasis.

The second International Brewers Symposium can be checkethed out from July 25 to 28. Find out more here: http://hopsflavor2017.com/.

By Anthony Vitale