Most beer gets some of its flavor from a shaggy green flower called hops. The booming craft brewing industry uses lots of them. But growers say sight and smell aren’t enough to prove a hop crop’s quality. Instead, at Western Michigan University there’s a lab for that.
At Western’s Haenicke Hall, machines hum in an otherwise still room as chemist Andre Venter opens the door to a freezer (which sits upright like a fridge). He pulls out a baggie of whole hops flowers, one of the samples the lab has saved.
“We store the samples here so that we can come back and analyze them later if there are any questions,” he says.
Brewers need to know that they’re buying good-quality hops. But that’s hard to establish without a chemical analysis. This lab is one of just a few in the state that provides that service, according to the Michigan State University Extension.
At Western, the hops also become research subjects.
“We are looking at how hops in Michigan differ from the same strain or variety of hops that is grown in other parts of the country, for example,” he says.
The lab meets a need created by the rapidly-growing craft beer industry. But for Venter, analyzing hops is also fun.
“I’m a home brewer, so I’ve been brewing [beer] for a number of years and I just love hops,” he says.
Western’s degree in sustainable brewing launches this fall. Those students will take lots of chemistry – some of it from Venter.