CORVALLIS, Ore. -- Picking a favorite beer isn't simply a matter of taste. It's a matter of smell.
So as Oregon State University researchers try to discover the next big thing in Oregon beer, they're following their noses.
The school recently received a $1 million grant from IndieHops, one of the state's largest private sellers of hops.
The money is to study the aroma of hops and come up with new flavors to propel the state's $2.25 billion a year industry.
"We've had varieties in the field that smell like buttered popcorn, chocolate and spearmint," said Shaun Townsend, an OSU hop breeding specialist. "Whole different varities and aromas."
Townsend says the Holy Grail of this line of research is finding the next Cascade Hop. OSU researchers created the variety in 1956. Over the past 15 years, its trademark, citrus-like flavor has played a major role in the rise of Oregon craft beers.
Tom Shellhammer, OSU's Nor'Wester Professor of Fermentation Science, handles the brewing end of the research.
He says our impressions of a beer's flavor have little to do with its taste.
"I'd say beer flavor is about 90 percent aroma, 10 percent taste. Your tongue only tastes sweet, sour, salty and bitter. Everything else that comes from food -- or beer -- is aromatic," he said.
That's why it's so important to devise a variety of hop that smells pleasant.
"Brewers often refer to hops as the spice of beer, so they're able to tweak flavors by changing the type and amount of hops used and when they use it," Shellhammer said.
Townsend said the researchers are working closely with Oregon brewers, sending them batches of OSU-brewed beer to see if they like the styles. He said it will be years before any of the new varities reach the market.