The Evolution of Beer

Fermentation Sciences. (Photo by Karl Maasdam.)

The world’s second-oldest beverage keeps on bubbling along.

The other day Patrick Hayes invited a visitor to join him and two colleagues for a wide-ranging chat about….beer. In their professional guises, Hayes, Tom Shellhammer, and Shaun Townsend represent a sizable chunk of Oregon State University’s renowned research and teaching programs in fermentation sciencewhich covers not just beer but bread, cheese, wine, and distilled spirits. What emerged was an afternoon’s pleasant meditation on the history, current status, and future prospects of the world’s most venerable, and arguably most popular, beverage.

Heather, juniper, other herbs were used in gruit mixtures. Some of them may have been hallucinogenic.”

– Pat Hayes


Early Britons gathered wild hop-like plants and ate them raw as salad. The plants were thought to have originated in Egypt.

European varieties of hops came over with the immigrants. These probably crossed with indigenous varieties to produce new strains.”

– Shaun Townsend

Oregon, 1867

Oregon’s first hop farm is planted by William Wells on the bottomlands of the Willamette River. The nearby town of Independence will gain renown as the “Hop Center of the World.”


India pale ale, invented in the 1780s, was brewed with high-alpha hops that made the beer extra bitter and kept it from spoiling during its passage to India.

With the advent of craft brewing, the downward trend in barley production started to flatten and, optimistically, reverse in the last 10 to 20 years. These brewers like exotic hops, and they are using straight barley malt with no adjuncts. This is transforming the beer industry.”

– Pat Hayes


Hulled barley has a tight, fibrous coat that has to be ground off, removing some of the nutritive value of the grain. Naked barley doesn’t have to be processed in this way.

Oregon’s Willamette Valley, with its milder, moister climate, is a perfect place to grow aroma hops.”

– Tom Shellhammer

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Oregon 2050. What’s ahead?

Craft beer, once a trendy niche product, continues its mainstreaming.

  • Craft beer, once a trendy niche product, continues its mainstreaming.
  • Industry consolidates, again.
  • Barley and hops continue to be developed for subtle flavors.
  • “Terroir” continues to be prized, and some brewers search out locally sourced ingredients.
  • Climate change will pose challenges on the farm.
  • Technology will continue to be crucial in both research and application.

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