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Faculty Focus

Five Questions for Kaylyn Kirkpatrick

Kaylyn KirkpatrickKaylyn Kirkpatrick joined Cornell AgriTech in August 2018, when she began work as a brewing extension associate. In this role, she is building a new extension program to provide brewing science education, applied research, and analytical services to the local industry. Prior to coming here, Kaylyn was researching hop and beer quality in pursuit of her Master’s degree in Food Science at Oregon State University. Before furthering her education, Kaylyn worked in the beer industry as a quality assurance chemist at New Belgium Brewing Company in Fort Collins, Colorado. Her passion for brewing science has taken her to craft beer “hot spots” across the country, and she is excited to add New York to this list!  

What inspired you to work with beer?
As a college student living in Fort Collins, Colorado, a city now home to more than 20 craft breweries, I couldn’t not be a part of the craft beer culture. I was immediately drawn to the story behind each beer and how unique recipes could be crafted from the same basic ingredients. At the time, I was working in a research laboratory on campus that started to receive samples of beer and malted barley from the industry. It was then that I realized that beer is not just tradition and craftsmanship, but also the product of wonderfully complex and scientific processes. Shortly after, I met a team of scientists at New Belgium that inspired me to learn all that I could about the brewing process, the science of beer flavor, and how to make better, fresher beers. I haven’t looked back since!

What is your vision for your position within the Cornell craft beverage program?
The Cornell Brewing Extension program will be the number one resource for the burgeoning craft beer industry in New York State. We offer focused short courses catering to the specific needs of the local industry; this year we will see topics such as beer microbiology, sensory, and raw materials quality. These short courses will be very accessible for breweries in operation and well as for those who are just getting into the beer business. The Cornell Brewing Extension Lab is expanding to offer analytical testing services to hop growers, and soon to accommodate brewers, to determine the value and quality of their products. An automated ½ barrel pilot brewery will be commissioned later this spring, which will really open up endless possibilities for us to run controlled, small-scale tests on brewing raw ingredients and offer hands-on experience to new brewers. Most importantly, we maintain close relationships with New York brewers and trade organizations to make sure that the work we do directly impacts the local beer community.

What projects are going on in your lab right now, and how will your research benefit the craft beverage industry?
Our lab is currently working with local brewers to validate and improve hygiene plans by profiling the microbial ecosystem of their breweries. Other ongoing projects include evaluating the food safety of dry-hopped beer, investigating the terroir-based differences in hops, understanding food and beer flavor interactions, and developing new methods to evaluate hop aroma. We are actively collaborating with research happening on Cornell’s Ithaca campus and interested in applied research projects from the industry and outside institutions.

Most of our research is applied, meaning that it comes from a direct industry need. This allows us to think big picture and be more impactful. One example of this is when hop growers came to us with reports that the same hop varieties they grow in the Northeastern United States possess different qualities than those grown in the Pacific Northwest. If this is true, which research outside of our lab suggests, then all members of the beer supply chain will benefit from the ability to market a unique and potentially value-added commodity. Another example of research that benefits the industry would be a better understanding of beer-food flavor interactions, which can help restaurant owners to optimally pair beer with food to improve their customer’s dining experience. This type of retailer improvement will trickle down the supply chain, as better beer sales, and those of the raw materials used to produce it.

Coming from Oregon and Colorado, as anything about the craft beverage industry in New York surprised you?
The brewing community in New York is extremely diverse, with small, tightly knit communities scattered all across the state. In Oregon and Colorado, the brewing communities were heavily concentrated in the Willamette Valley and along the Front Range. Here in New York, we have the vastness of upstate with rural farm breweries as destination places. In contrast, New York City is home to an astounding number of walkable pubs and microbreweries, with boroughs serving as hubs for craft beer enthusiasts to frequent. There really is a brewery for everyone!

What was the best piece of research advice you have received?
The best piece of career-related advice I’ve been delivered is that, at the end of the day, it’s just beer. Our business is that of a long tradition that creates community and makes people happy, and I think that is a worthwhile pursuit!