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Brewing up new flavors in beer

June 05, 2019

While water with its minerals and malt impart flavor to beer, yeast starter cultures are responsible for about 70% of the flavor compounds in beer, noted Dallas Hoover with the University of Delaware at a session on Wednesday morning on “Current Issues and Innovations in Commercial Brewing.”

Oatmeal Raisin stout smAs a backdrop for his talk, Hoover provided a brief history of brewing in the United States. Due to company mergers, industry consolidation, and mass marketing of beer and light beers, the number of brewers in the United States dropped to around 90 in the 1970s. The 1980s saw the emergence of specialty and craft breweries, which have grown substantially over the past decades. By 2022, the United States is expected to be home to more than 8,200 breweries, many of which are craft brewers. Craft beer represents about 13% of volume and 24% of sales ($27 billion) of the total beer market. Unique flavor profiles are an important differentiator for craft beers.

Saccharomyces cerevisiae or brewer’s yeast is a standard yeast for making beer, explained Hoover. Close attention needs to be paid to the quality of yeast, sanitation, and temperature control during the brewing process. Brewer’s yeasts can produce about 500 different flavor and aroma compounds, including esters, fuse alcohols, sulfur-containing components, and carbonyl compounds.

Yeast breeding can used to create specialized yeasts but the process is not precise and is time intensive, stated Hoover. Bioengineering of yeasts can produce precise, new, and beneficial traits but consumer perceptions of genetically modified organisms are hindering the commercial application of these new yeasts. Yeasts have been bioengineered to produce lactic acid for sour beers and a banana flavor for Hefeweizen or wheat beers.

Bioengineering of yeasts, including self-cloning or cisgenic, offers great potential for improving sensory quality and other desirable properties in beer. But consumers’ negative perceptions about genetic modification and regulatory approvals have made brewers very wary about utilizing the technology, concluded Hoover. Thus, there are no commercial applications to date.

Sheila Harte with Bell Flavors and Fragrances discussed flavor applications and trends in the brewing industry. The addition of flavors to beer create novelty and product innovation. Some flavors like vanilla can add sweetness. Lactose can impart sour notes to beer. Many ingredients such as blood orange juice or honey are expensive and may lose their potency during the brewing process, so the addition of flavors at the end of the process may be more cost effective, stated Harte.

About 17% of beer drinkers have consumed a flavored beer in the past three months, declared Harte. And 46% of consumers drink more beer because of the variety of craft beer. Harte categorizes the flavored beers as hybrids (sweet and savory) and bold. Bud Light Blends with grapefruit and beer with tea are an example of hybrids. Sweet beers include Oatmeal Raisin Cookie from Cigar City Brewing Co. Some savory beers are adding lactobacillus to provide a sour taste. Bold-flavored beers include pairings of chicken and waffles, oysters and stout, porter with pho soup, habanero and mango, and Thai peanut.

Harte noted that flavors are available that can mimic the taste of cannabis and hemp without the use of CBD or THC.