Bob Brewer answers your questions about the world of beer & brewing.
Chris Wright (via Facebook): Hello Bob, a big issue for me and many others is GMO crops. Can you tell me if you use GMO Hops?
Bob: Hi, Chris. The debate over GMOs is heated and emotional and fraught with a staggering amount of misinformation which clouds the issue.
The biggest obstacle to any reasonable discussion is the fact that there are differing ideas as to just what constitutes a “genetically modified organism.” By definition, a GMO is a plant (or animal or micro-organism) that has been altered by the introduction of DNA from an unrelated outside source, either plant or animal based. In the case of plants, the reason behind this is to produce a plant that either has a greater yield, is herbicide resistant, pest resistant, drought tolerant, or any combination thereof, among other things.
However, many crops that have been labeled as GMO are merely ‘selectively pollinated’. Selectively pollinated plants produce hybrids and are not truly ‘modified’. Rather, they are a product of selective breeding within the same species with the aim of producing desirable characteristics and eliminating undesirable ones. For further information and a more in-depth look at the differences, I recommend checking out the Wikipedia article on GMO.
In the case of hops, as well as apples, grapes, and others, the seed does not plant true. In other words, a new plant grown from the seed does not produce the same fruit as the mother plant. Apples and grapes must be grafted to produce the same crop. Hops generate from a root stock, or rhizome, that is perennial and new plantings are made with cuttings from these.
Early season hop growth at a hop yard in Washington’s Yakima Valley. Photo by Williamborg via Wikipedia Commons.
There is a constant search for new varieties of hops which is carried out scientifically by growers in laboratory conditions. Different strains are selectively cross-pollinated and new plants grown from the resulting seeds. If the hybrid strain is deemed to have desirable qualities for brewing, it is propagated from the rhizome and test brewing is conducted. Mankind has been hybridizing plants since the dawn of agriculture, over 10,000 years ago.
The specter of Dr. Frankenstein extracting octopus DNA and inserting into a hop plant makes a good scary story but the reality is a botanist toiling away in a greenhouse somewhere in Washington State looking for minor varietal variations in a sea of potted plants.
I have not heard of any GMO hops being used by anyone in the industry. Virtually all North American hops and most others have, however, been hybridized somewhere along the way. As such, the hops we use at Anchor are hybrids as well.
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