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.

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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."

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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.