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Boilers and Brews – Food Science Hops on the Hops Industry

Drop by the Student Union and you may notice crowds huddling around the 1869 Tap Room. A bar on campus may seem unusual until you consider the science behind the initiative.

Brian Farkas portraitDr. Brian Farkas, head of the Department of Food Science, saw an opportunity to promote fermentation research by working with local brewers. Dr. Farkas originally started the program while he was at North Carolina State University. After joining the staff at Purdue, he identified a way to leverage the college’s fermentation science course, which takes students through the production of fermented food products like beer, wine, and sauerkraut. The initiative expanded through collaboration with the Department of Horticulture (Dr. Lori Hoagland) to understand the logistics of key, related issues such as soil conditions and pest control. With the past 3 years of research funding approved, Dr. Hoagland’s team partnered with hop growers to study plant growth and training of the binds, rate of growth, nutrient and soil analysis, humidity, rainfall, and more.

Dr. Farkas began gathering information and working with the Brewers of Indiana Guild, including Greg Emig, who is the owner of Lafayette Brewing Company and the current president of the Guild. With Lab Manager, Jean Jensen leading the analytical research effort, Dr. Farkas and his team are working with hop growers and brewers to serve analytical needs and understand hops, the malting of grains, brewing, and fermentation. “Our goal is to analyze and study hops from the farm to the glass,” said Jensen. 

woman working in a lab

To increase their hands-on experience in brewing science as well as provide opportunities for students to learn about the craft brewing industry, Jensen and Dr. Fernanda San Martin attended a week of hands-on training with Chris Johnson and his team at People’s Brewing Company. Dr. Bruce Applegate and Dr. Christian Butzke teach a fermentation class on commercial food and beverages. Dr. San Martin is leading the charge in developing a fermentation sciences program within the Food Science Department.

Interest in fermentation science continues to grow. The annual Fermentation Frenzy event, which puts fermentation science at the forefront of discussion, recently took place at Lafayette Brewing Company. Another proud success story is 2016 Outstanding Food Science Award winner Katie Rippel. The highly successful alumnus became Senior Brewmaster with Anheuser Busch at age 31 – a role typically not reached until a person has a few more decades of experience in the industry. Recently, Rippel received further promotion, now taking a global position with the company.

For now, fermentation science as a major is still being formulated for proposal to the university council. The work with brewers and hop growers continues to increase in lab analysis furthering research and development efforts. The hops industry is exploding as growers are putting in more acreage and adding investors, which is excellent news for researchers at Purdue.

In the meantime, those 21 and older can stop by the Union and grab an Indiana craft beer or wine at the 1869 Tap Room. Visitors can also check out the educational display highlighting Purdue’s growing research in fermentation science. 

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