Bringing Oregon Hops to Japan

OSU fermentation science student researcher weighs hops at the University's pilot brewery.

An international trade mission to bridge two beer cultures

By Heidi Happonen


hen Lindsey Rubottom set out on a trade mission to Japan to share the benefits of Oregon hops with the growing Japanese brewing industry, she was nearing the tail end of her PhD studies. Her role at this three-day event was to serve as the unbiased, scientific perspective to answer questions about best practices in brewing, hop processing, and the sensory characteristics of different hop varieties.

“It was my first time to Japan but in many ways, it felt like going back in time to when craft brewing was just starting in the US 20 years ago,” Rubottom said.

While Japan has several well-known beer brands such as Sapporo and Kirin, the craft brewing phenomenon that started in the US largely with the cultivation of Cascade hop developed at Oregon State University in 1971, is just now taking off there. Over the past few years, Japan’s craft breweries have grown to nearly 600. And while that growth is fast, it’s still far behind the scale in the U.S. which boasts over 10,000 craft breweries.

Recognizing US strengths in craft brewing, and Oregon’s specific roots in the development of the craft brewing phenomenon, a trade alliance was established between Oregon and Japan that includes each country hosting the other every year. This year, Hood to Fuji was in Tokyo. Next year, the event will take place in Portland.

One of the most popular activities Rubottom led was discussing with Japanese brewers how to evaluate hop aroma using a flavor wheel to aid brewers in lexicon development for describing the qualities of popular American aroma hop varieties like Cascade, which included high-level descriptors that detail the aromatic qualities of hops and beer varieties like fruity, resonance, herbal characteristics. From there, brewers can build subcategories within each to further define specific aromatic attributes.

“It was really cool to see how much people wanted to learn how to make better beer,” Rubottom added. “The nature and respect of raw materials going into it, as well as the impact of the flavors those materials have on the final product. The enthusiasm was really great.”

The trip was short but powerful. And within two weeks of her return, Rubottom successfully defended her PhD.

Dr. Rubottom will start the next chapter of her career at Hop Valley Brewing Company as its Quality Manager starting in July.

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