Terpenes (general)

The Life-Changing Doorway at Odd 13: An Homage to Terpenes like Alpha-Humulene

Well, it’s been awhile since we had a Terpenes and Testing article about hops, beer, and cannabis. And while we’ll always focus on cannabis and hemp, hops are family, terpenes are obviously a necessity of life, regardless of which type of flora you consume, and this one is essentially a love story.

My first India Pale Ale was Modus Hoperandi from Ska Brewing, probably circa 2010. Then the so-called “West Coast IPAs”, the likes of Stone, Russian River, and Mission followed, with their palate-cleansing, crisp emphasis on bitterness from hops, and not necessarily dry-hopping until the beer is drenched with all of those wonderfully fragrant terpenes. (Dry-hopping is when hops are added into the fermenting beer to impart flavor and aroma, as opposed to being added in to the boil to emphasize bitterness.)

But as so happens in life, sometimes the door you walk through can alter your life. Which brings us to Odd 13 Brewing. Yeah…it’s just beer. I know that. But I’ll tell you, beer has been a constant of every society, since the earliest civilizations like the Sumerians and Egyptians. And so, partaking in a perpetual tribute to Ninkasi and Osiris, I entered into another world filled with hazy, hop-laden, funky, and sour beer. So, yeah. This is a love story.

I had the opportunity to tap into the brains of Kristin and Ryan Scott, masterminds behind Odd 13 Brewing, in Lafayette, Colorado. And let’s face it. Colorado is celebrated for several phytochemicals integral to what many would call “respectable living”: great ethanol, tetrahydrocannabinol, and lots and lots of terpenes. I was interested to see how Kristin and Ryan viewed the relationship between cannabis and beer, as well as how terpenes factor in to the beers Odd 13 creates.

T&T: How do you view the interplay between cannabis and beer? What similarities do you see? Do you think cannabis consumers migrate to a specific type of beer?

Odd 13: There are tons of parallels between cannabis and beer. They both have fairly broad general consumer cultures with pockets that take more of a connoisseur approach. Even among the connoisseurs, there’s a huge variation in preference. Hops and cannabis are in the same family, and they have a lot of the same aromatics. I think the folks who identify specific hop aromatics in beer are the same type of people who name cannabis cultivars things like “lemon skunk” or “orange diesel”. Anecdotally, I’d say cannabis enthusiasts are likely to appreciate the hop aromatics in IPAs.

Since hops and cannabis are close relatives of one another, I’d say that every IPA we make recreates cannabis in some way. I’m no connoisseur, but I like the smell of cannabis plants that are more citrus- or pine-forward as opposed to skunky, cheesy, or oniony. Interestingly, I hate the hop varieties that kick off those aromatics as well.

T&T: What roles do terpenes play in your beers? Do you optimize specific hop profiles to impart desired flavors? How do you meld the flavors of your hop additions with the funk imparted by the yeast strains that you use?

Odd 13: Terpenes provide a huge part of the aromatics in our beers. We try to tailor our hop blends to create beers that have cohesive, rounded flavor and aroma profiles. As an example, in our hazy pale ale, n00b, we use Mosaic and El Dorado to create tons of candied orange. We have enough experience with most hops at this point that we can craft a one-off that hits most of the marks we are looking for. If we are looking to introduce a beer that will be a regular part of the rotation, we’ll typically refine some things over the first few batches.

Brett yeast contributes funk and in many cases a bunch of fruit character. Certain hops work better with it. Some hops, like Columbus or Summit, trend more toward heavy pine when they are in good shape, or onion/garlic when not so good. Those don’t pair well with Brett. Mosaic on the other hand, is a bit of a wonder hop with Brett. It has some fruit and a little bit of funk on its own, so it tends to accentuate some of the things that many Brett strains kick off naturally.

T&T: What’s the most dry-hopping you’ve endeavored? I’ve got this funky notion that dry-hopping in the fermentation could impart beneficial qualities, given the published medicinal properties of terpenes like myrcene, alpha-humulene, pinene, and beta-caryophyllene. As brewers go from double dry-hopping to more hop additions, do you think there is anecdotal credence to this, or is this just wishful thinking?

Odd 13: (Ryan) The biggest dry hopping we’ve ever done was when we attempted to double the dry hop in Codename: Superfan but ended up quadrupling it because the brewer who was doing the math looked at the wrong spreadsheet. I don’t want to speculate on the medicinal properties of hops, but I definitely drink more hoppy beers than my wife and she gets more colds than I do!

(End of Interview)

It’s not far-fetched to conclude that beer has some medicinal properties. [1] Many of the molecules extracted from hops that impart a beer’s aroma are indeed terpenes, such as humulene, beta-caryophyllene, myrcene, linalool, geraniol, limonene, alpha-pinene, caryophyllene oxide, and citronellol. [2] Spicier hops typically have humulene and beta-caryophyllene, and their derivatives. American hops are known for their citrusy aromas and flavors. But, beyond their organoleptic (sensory) characteristics, the terpenes in beer have been the subject of scientific research for beneficial, medicinal properties.

And as a case in point, consider alpha-humulene, a sesquiterpene that gets its name from hops, or Humulus lupulus. This terpene has demonstrated anti-oxidant and anticancer properties, including activity against human lung, cervical, breast, and colorectal cancer cells. [3,4] α-Humulene also led to increased reactive oxygen species (ROS), which are simply reactive molecules that contain oxygen, like peroxide. Low levels of ROS have aided in cancer cell survival [5] whereas high levels of ROS can provide anti-proliferative properties that limit tumor growth [6]. What’s more, alpha-humulene can offer relief from inflammation [7], and thus, presents an interesting molecule for further study in neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s disease.

Beer might not be related to cannabis, but hops are. Skilled brewers, like those at Odd 13, elegantly pluck and showcase phytochemicals like terpenes and other aromatics native to the chosen hop varieties, creating fragrant, delicious beer. And as you well know, these extracted molecules have known beneficial and medicinal properties. With the swell of consumer interest in terpenes and in hop-drenched beer, how long might it be before research turns anecdotal, and perhaps wishful theories into scientific fact?


[1] Karabín, M. et al. “Biologically Active Compounds from Hops and Prospects for Their Use”, Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, 2016, Volume 15: Pages 542-567. [journal impact factor = 7.028; cited by 46] [2] Wolfe, P. “A Study of Factors Affecting the Extraction of Flavor When Dry Hopping Beer”, Master’s Thesis, Oregon State University, 2013. [journal impact factor = N/A; cited by 26] [3] Silva S. et al. “Cytotoxic evaluation of essential oil from Casearia sylvestris Sw on human cancer cells and erythrocytes”, Acta Amaz, 2008, Volume 38(1): Pages 107–12. [journal impact factor = 0.837; cited by 89] [4] el Hadri, A. et al. “Cytotoxic activity of α-humulene and trans-caryophyllene from Salvia officinalis in animal and human tumor cells”, An. R. Acad. Nac. Farm., 2010, Volume 76 (3): Pages 343-356. [journal impact factor = N/A; cited by 3] [5] Irani K. et al. “Mitogenic signaling mediated by oxidants in Ras-transformed fibroblasts”, Science, 1997, Volume 275 (5306): Pages 1649–1652. [journal impact factor = 37.205; cited by 1655] [6] Ramsey M. and Sharpless N. “ROS as a tumour suppressor?”, Nature Cell Biology, 2006, Volume 8 (11): Pages 1213–1215. [journal impact factor = 20.060; cited by 179] [7] Fernandes, E. et al. “Anti-inflammatory effects of compounds alpha-humulene and (−)-trans-caryophyllene isolated from the essential oil of Cordia verbenacea”, European Journal of Pharmacology, 2007, Volume 569(3): Pages 228-236. [journal impact factor = 2.896; cited by 384]

Photo Credits: @hopeternal, The Coloradist, https://www.modernhops.com/

About the author

Jason S. Lupoi, Ph.D.

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