Malt and hops

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Colorado State University (CSU) is leading the pack in innovation and research for the state’s beer, beverage, and food industries.

As one of the state’s fastest-growing industries, brewing contributes about $1.7 billion to Colorado’s economy, thanks to some of the nation’s biggest names in brewers and more than 350 craft breweries.

CSU researchers are helping brewers make beer even tastier with fresh hops grown indoors using LED lights. Hops, the flowers used to flavor beer, are best when they’re fresh, but they have only a small window after harvest before they start to deteriorate, so most breweries use dried hops. CSU uses LED lights in a greenhouse to simulate the sun, and a hydroponic growing method that doesn’t use soil. This could offer local breweries fresh hops year round. The technology produces three crops of hops per year rather than just one.

In 2013, the university began offering its Fermentation Science and Technology (FST) program. The program includes beer, but that’s not all, according to Jeff Callaway, associate director for the program.

“It encompasses the fermentation of foods and beverages, as well as the health side and the impact these foods have,” he says. “It includes many basic foods that people take for granted such as yogurt, cheese and pickles, plus some more obscure ones like tempeh and other soy products. You can ferment just about anything.”

The program focuses on teaching students about the entire process, or as Callaway says, from “field to foam,” including how ingredients are grown, the processing aspects, engineering and the technology used. “We want them to understand the entire supply chain,” Callaway says.


Malting barley. Photo by Jeff Adkins/Farm Flavor Media

Part of that understanding comes from working with the researchers at the CSU San Luis Valley Agricultural Experiment Station (AES). The station raises barley for MillerCoors, and they have several varieties of malting barley for growers to observe.

“We’re still trying to develop that relationship with the FST program, but Jeff and I both have an interest in beer,” says Tyler Thompson, manager of the AES. “It might be sending barley varieties so that students can see it and really understand the growing end of things.”

“Many people think of barley malted once it’s already in a bag, and we’re trying to get them to think of it in the field,” Callaway adds. “Again, it’s the field-to-foam concept we’re actively exploring.”

Graduates from the program have an advantage as they seek jobs in the fermentation industry.

“We have companies like Leprino (a major cheese manufacturer) interested in our students because this program isn’t just general science. We are teaching the students the hard and soft skills they need to work in the industry,” Callaway says. “We have great relationships within the industry to help students obtain jobs.”