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The Complex Case of Thiols

Thiols, also known as mercaptans, are sulfur-containing organic compounds with a sulfur atom bound to a hydrogen atom. Thiols make up less than 1% of the essential oils in a hops cone but might hold a key to the fashionable in-demand tropical flavors.

Stan Hieronymus Sep 19, 2018 - 9 min read

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“Here I am in the 21st century
I have to say it ain’t as cool as I hoped it would be
No man on the moon, nobody on Mars
Where the hell is my flying car?”
—From “21st Century Blues” by Steve Earle

Waiting for technology that turns brewing research into information useful to brewers can feel a little like waiting for a flying car. At the International Brewers Symposium on Hop Flavor and Aroma in Beer last summer at Oregon State University, five of the dozen presentations emphasized the role thiols play in creating the bold, often tropical, flavors currently fashionable in beer. Scientists in France, Belgium, Japan, the United States, and Germany are all involved in related research.

The potential seems so obvious that Nyséos, a specialty laboratory in France that focuses primarily on wine, has created a Thiol Potency (TP) indicator. Laurent Dagan, director at Nyséos, explains that discoveries about the role thiols play in developing flavor and the TP indicator are his “call” to brewers. “Hey, we have new information. It is complex, but we are trying to find indicators useful for you. What do you think about that?” he asks. The key word is complex because thiols make up less than 1 percent of the essential oils in a hops cone, and there are uncounted hundreds of compounds that contribute to hops odor that our brains convert into hops aroma.

What Are Thiols?

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