Craft beer is all the rage these days. But for those concerned about the environmental footprint of their consumer choices, they may be alarmed to learn that a single pint of craft beer can require 50 pints of water merely to grow the hops, which are the dried flowers of a climbing plant.
Fortunately, there may be a more environmentally friendly process in the works. Former UC Berkeley postdoctoral fellow Charles Denby recently launched a startup called Berkeley Brewing Science with Rachel Li, a UC Berkeley doctoral candidate. As Denby explained to Berkeley News:
“I started home brewing out of curiosity with a group of friends while I was starting out in Jay’s [Keasling, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering] lab, in part because I enjoy beer and in part because I was interested in fermentation processes,” he said. “I found out that the molecules that give hops their hoppy flavor are terpene molecules, and it wouldn’t be too big of a stretch to think we could develop strains that make terpenes at the same concentrations that you get when you make beer and add hops to them.”
The final hook was that a hoppy strain of yeast would make the brewing process more sustainable than using agriculturally produced hops, which is a very natural resource-intensive product, he said.
If the product is successful, it could greatly reduce water and other agricultural resource consumption, all through sophisticated gene editing technologies.
It’s another example of the potential innovation in food (and beverage) that could help reduce our environmental and carbon footprint while still meeting the appetites of a growing population.