Two former Corvallis residents donated $1 million to Oregon State University - $807,000 of which will fund a new aroma hop breeding program in the College of Agricultural Sciences.
Jim Solberg, 48, and Roger Worthington, 48, were childhood friends growing up in Corvallis. Solberg had a successful career at Nike; Worthington built a successful law practice in Texas.
In the fall of 2008, the two old friends and craft beer enthusiasts met over a drink in Portland and decided they wanted try something new. In May 2009, they launched Indie Hops, to set up hops processing in Oregon and create awareness that this is a premium aroma hops growing area.
"The craft beer industry is getting awfully big," Solberg said. "It warranted a program for hops specific to the craft industry."
Craft beers use aroma hops, not the bittering hops that most macro brewers use.
Indie Hops pledged $807,000 over four to five years to create an aroma hops breeding program at OSU, led by research associate Shaun Townsend. The remaining $200,000 of their gift funds four years of research in fermentation, led by Thomas Shellhammer, an associate professor in food science and technology.
"I work on the hops side," Townsend said. "He (Shellhammer) works on the beer side."
The funding also will create a new partnership between the scientists and a new business model, according to Russ Karow, head of the Department of Crop and Soil Science.
"They've (Indie Hops) already got ties to a number of microbrewers," Karow said. "They've identified brewers who will work with them on testing panels."
In the old model, researchers would develop new varieties and push them on the market, Karow said. He used the example of the potato. More than 25 varieties have been developed over the years - perhaps only half a dozen were accepted by end-users, such as McDonald's Corp.
The new approach will be a market pull model, Karow said. With the new program, they'll ask the end-users, the microbrewers, " ‘Do you like this?' rather than ‘Here's something we've developed; do you want this?' " Karow said.
"They'll (craft brewers) be involved very early in the breeding process to help us identify the kinds of hops that they would be interested in," Townsend said. "We'll get input early from the end-users so they can help us guide the direction the breeding process takes."
Indie Hops has funded the new program and targeted craft brewers to support the research. They're bringing Oregon growers, craft brewers and scientists together.
"They're kind of the glue, if you want, that's bringing it all together, Townsend said. "I'm excited about it."