YAKIMA, Wash. — A lot of people might envy Virgil McDonald’s job. He is the brewer in the research brewery at the new Haas Innovations Center in Yakima.
His goal is to brew and taste beer from 100 new hop varieties this year. The hops are from the breeding program of John I. Haas Inc. and Select Botanicals Group. He’s looking for new varieties that might produce the next best brew.
The multi-million-dollar, 23,500-square-foot center opened in June for research into developing new hop products and varieties and with the research brewery to test the company’s own hop varieties and contract testing for breweries.
The center is the first private LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certified building in Yakima, built to use 30 percent less energy and 40 percent less water than codes require.
John I. Haas Inc., founded in 1914, is a member of the Barth-Haas Group of Nuremberg, Germany. John I. Haas claims to be the leader in research and development of processed hop products for the brewing industry and other industries in the U.S.
Barth-Haas Group is the world’s largest provider of hop-related products and services with companies in Germany, Great Britain, the United States, Australia and China.
“The hop products we are developing are for brewing and non-brewing applications,” said Pete Mahony, director of supply chain management and purchasing at John I. Haas.
Hops contain natural anti-microbial compounds that can be used as a natural product to control bacterial growth in other products like sugar and fuel ethanol, Mahony said.
“We have a fairly new hop product to control varroa mites in bees. It’s working. The challenge is how to apply it to bee hives,” he said.
There are other projects for non-brewing applications underway, he said.
But the heart of the center, Mahony said, is the research brewery.
It’s a small but highly sophisticated and automated German brewery used for the company’s internal testing and for others.
“A lot of breweries and many in the craft industry don’t have a lot of pilot equipment to do their own research,” Mahony explained. “They can contract for us to do that.”
Niche, high-end craft brewers are highly creative and constantly experimenting and launching new beers and flavors, he said.
Small craft brewers make up only 7 to 8 percent of the entire brewing industry but have a 15 percent annual growth rate, Mahony said. Large breweries make up the bulk of the industry but have relatively flat growth of 1 to 2 percent a year, he said.
Barth-Hass has a similar small research brewery in Germany, McDonald said. Hops have to pass production criteria for consistency, reliability, disease resistance and other factors before being accepted in the research breweries, McDonald said.
Major companies are busy fine-tuning their flagship brands and it’s not cost effective for them to interrupt large production lines for small-scale testing, Mahony said. This facility, he said, gives them an option.