12 Oct 2018

Take a sip: tasting beer with Dr Roger Harker from Plant and Food Research

From Country Life, 8:24 pm on 12 October 2018

There are some jobs that you just wouldn't mind having – Dr Roger Harker's is one. Part of his job is finding out what people like to eat and drink... and why.

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Photo: RNZ/Carol Stiles

As head of the Consumer & Product Insights team at Plant and Food Research, Roger's work focuses on flavours – and more recently, emotions – associated with new products.

Today he has me blind-tasting beer, but not to describe flavours I can identify. He wants to know whether I would drink that beer to impress someone.

Not likely...

Would I drink it at a sports event?

Does it make me feel active and alert or tense and bothered?

Stock photo.

Stock photo. Photo: 123rf.com

If this was a proper test and not one mocked up for a visiting reporter, Roger would feed the results back to Plant and Food's hops-breeding team and marketers.

"The problem we are increasingly starting to face as we become better and better at developing new products is they all tend to be liked quite highly so actually you need to understand in more detail where they fit in a spectrum of when  people will be eating or using those products and of course from there you can start to estimate the volume that you would likely grow before you would saturate a market."

New Zealand hops have distinctive flavours, he says.

"(So) we have been using this area of research to really think, in a lot more detail, about what represents distinctiveness, what is novelty, what is the value of novel...because you can have something that is so novel it's not liked by anyone."

Hop cones

Hop cones Photo: aaron007/123RF

New Zealand's horticulture exports are currently worth $5 billion a year, Roger says.

"A lot of that is based around our ability to create very unique flavours that actually are valued around the world."

This week, a new hop-breeding programme has been launched which aims to develop unique hops for New Zealand's top-tier craft beers.

The $13.25 million, seven-year programme Hāpi - Brewing Success is a collaboration between Hāpi Research Ltd and the Ministry for Primary Industries.

Hāpi Research is a joint venture between Wellington craft brewer Garage Project and Freestyle Farms, a Nelson hop farm.