When it comes to beer, hoppy means happy for Dr Ron Beatson.

And he should know - decades of his research have flavoured the favourite drops of countless craft beer lovers.

Dr Beatson, a Plant & Food Research scientist, heads a research programme at New Zealand Hops in Nelson. His mission: to find new specialty cultivars that pack more taste and aroma into beers that use the hops developed and produced by the grower-owned co-operative.

Thanks to his research, NZ Hops has transformed a cottage industry supplying hops to Kiwi brewers to a sophisticated export product with more than 85 per cent of production now going to some of the world's leading beer-producing nations such as the US, Britain, Germany and Australia.


Today, he has been named as a finalist in the KiwiNet Research Commercialisation Awards, recognising researchers whose work has benefited the economy.

Dr Beatson said that when he began work in Nelson - its sunny weather making for perfect hop-growing conditions - the industry had already produced some world-leading selections with unique chemistry profiles. Since then, research advances have brought the country to a position where its exported hops target the premium end of the industry, even with New Zealand growing less than 1 per cent of the world's hop crop.

Dr Beatson described the Kiwi-grown cultivars as "quite fruity", with two aroma varieties - Motueka and Riwaka - proving "rock stars" in the craft-brewing scene.

"Some are more tasty than others. We have one called Nelson Sauvin, which got its name from its grape-like characteristics."

The co-operative was also working closely with New Zealand craft breweries and a government grant had been awarded to boost exports of the hops and the Kiwi brewers who used them towards an annual goal of $200 million by 2030.

Last year, Dr Beatson also helped open an on-site micro-brewery that can produce 50 litres of beer at a time from some of the 3000 different cultivars of hops grown at the station.

As for what he likes to drink at home, Dr Beatson rates a good Indian pale ale - particularly malty ones.

"Obviously, I like hoppy beers, but I'm not too touchy about it. There's now a whole range of great products, and really, I like nothing better than going into a supermarket and choosing a beer I've never tried before."


Other finalists in the awards, to be held in June, include Professors Andy Buchanan and Phil Butler of the University of Canterbury and Dr Stephen Sowerby of Otago University.