Lots of craft beer enthusiasts have a thing for hops—flowers that, when added to the brewing process, yield a bitter taste and a distinctive floral aroma. But hop flowers are expensive, and producing them takes 100 billion liters of water a year in the United States alone. To get around those problems, scientists figured out how to brew “hoppy” beer without the use of hop plants.
They started with brewer’s yeast—the living ingredient in beer that converts sugars to alcohols—and they created genetically engineered strains by adding “hoppy” stretches of DNA. The new DNA carried the genetic blueprints for producing linalool and geraniol, molecules that are key parts of the hop flavor profile.
When the team brewed beer using the genetically engineered yeast, linalool and geraniol were in the final product—but they came from the yeast, not from hop plants. And beer enthusiasts could still detect the hoppy flavor: In a blind taste test, the new beer got “hoppier” ratings than a nonhopped American ale, the team reports today in Nature Communications.
If you’re thirsting for a taste of the new beer, you’re out of luck—for now. But if the technology someday works its way into commercial brewing, you might get lucky enough to do a taste test of your own.