The State of Oregon has passed a law limiting the amount of hops allowed in beer. The decision came as a result of a study that determined that the amount of certain chemical compounds contributed by hops could reach a “medicinal level,” according to researchers. Oregon brewers have expressed concern that the decision may negatively their livelihood, and are quick to dismiss the study’s findings.
“We do not make this decision lightly,” said Oregon Surgeon General Greg Clerk. “We understand the economic impact the beer and hop growing industry have in Oregon, and we have worked closely with the Oregon Brewers Guild and the Brewers Association to circumlocate these numbers.”
Beer was prescribed as medicine until as recently as the 1800s; gruit beer brewed with foraged herbs was used to treat a range of ailments in Europe. The extraction of certain chemical compounds in a sugar solution is more effective than a simple water decoction, and fermentation produces a sterile, more stable environment for the delivery of the healing compounds to the body. Hops have been used as a sedative in herbal medicine for centuries.
Hops contain a vast range of aromatic molecules well known by brewers. The terpenes myrcene, caryophyllene, and humulene not only influence the aroma and flavor of beer, but, at high concentrations, can induce notable physiological reactions. Research is underway to determine if these compounds may reduce the risk of cancer and other diseases, but there has been no conclusive evidence yet. University research on marijuana–which contains many of the same terpenes as hops–tipped off Oregon’s lawmakers, who took a closer look at the ubiquitous brewing herb.
“Some of the beers brewed today, like the popular hazy IPA, use upwards of ten pounds of hops per barrel of beer,” said Clerk in a meeting with the Oregon General Assembly. “The concentration of some of these compounds at that rate gives cause for concern that beer drinkers are inadvertently being given what is essentially a dose of medicine.”
In a press release from the Surgeon General’s office, beer drinkers were advised to limit the intake of known highly-hopped beers until the beer supply reflects the newly imposed law. “We are not trying to limit production of beer, or beer consumption,” the release stated, “but to ensure public safety and awareness as innovation in the beer industry continues.”
After a study of the transfer of hop compounds to beer, via the boil and late- and dry-hopping, the office put forth the following guidelines:
“Hops may be used in any quantity, provided they are boiled for no fewer than 15 minutes. For hops added closer to the end of the boil, the limitations are:
- Hops added to the wort within 15 minutes of the end of the boil shall not exceed two (2) pounds of leaf hops, or the equivalent measure of pellet or processed hop product per barrel
- Hops added to the wort after applied heat, before wort reaches 185 degrees Fahrenheit shall not exceed one (1) pound of leaf hops, or the equivalent measure of pellet or processed hop product per barrel
- Hops added to the wort at any temperature below 185 degrees Fahrenheit shall not exceed one-half (.5) pound of leaf hops, or the equivalent measure of pellet or processed hop product per barrel, and shall not contact wort or beer for more than three days.”
“The study in question was produced by first-year students at Reed College,” said Great Notion brewer James Dugan. Great Notion has built its reputation on beers that regularly exceed the new regulations. “We are forming a coalition of brewers to appeal to suspend the law and demand a more substantial study.” The coalition’s website, takebackthehops.com, crashed shortly after going live due to a high volume of international traffic.
“We have to be prepared for the worst,” said Breakside head brewer Ben Edmunds, “and we have to think ahead.” Edmunds said the brewery is already researching options that may reproduce the flavor and aroma of hops. A genetically modified yeast garnered publicity recently, as it produces two distinct hop aromas during fermentation: mint and basil. “If we can use that technology along with other herbal or fruit additions, and work within the stringent constraints of the new law, IPA lovers may not be too disappointed. But really, this law is stupid.”
At Beermongers, a fervor has already begun to ferment. “I swear to god, those fuckers in Congress can have my guns, my voting rights… hell, they can take my wife if they want to,” exclaimed one bearded patron, who chose to remain anonymous, “but I’ll be damned if they can take away the bitter, juicy goodness of this IPA.” He clutched a pint of Fort George’s Beta 16.2, his knuckles white.
A calmer patron, Joe Fish, made the argument that any food could be considered medicine. “Life magazine used to run ads touting pure white sugar as medicine, as a low-calorie pick-me-up. Beer is a high-calorie put-me-down and that’s how I like it.”
The law is set to take effect on August 2. Ironically, that is the same day as National IPA Day this year.