Alphalpha dog

4 February 2010
By Tom Mansell

Note: This is the inaugural article from our beer writer, Richard Pliny!

Ithaca Beer Company Excelsior! Alphalpha

Style: Double Honey Bitter
Color: Amber
ABV: 8.5%
Price Point: $11

Technical Notes: Brewed with local alfalfa honey and Cascade hops. Like the other Excelsior! Beers, this is bottle conditioned and the last pour includes a bit of yeast.

Hedonic Notes:
The first pour is very frothy and carbonated, a thick and stable head develops instantly. A slight cloudiness makes the honey amber beer a bit opaque.

Citrus-hoppiness pervades the aroma with a Belgian ester/clove scent forming the backbone. The scent is clearly Cascade hops. Orange and lemon scents make the bulk of the citrus sensation. The hoppy aroma is not as dominating as one might expect from a double IPA, or “double honey bitter,” but the citrus dominance of the Cascade hops is appropriate for the style.

As expected, the beer has a good deal of hoppy bitterness. Surprisingly, the brewers were able to get an earthy bitterness that is almost uncharacteristic of Cascade hops. A citrus and grass/hay-like flavor lingers on the palate. The earthy and citrus characters balance one another creating a well-rounded bitterness. A good amount of roasted and caramel malts were used, imparting a sweetness to the finish. Honey, too, adds a bit of sweetness in the finish, but is noticeable far more in the texture than flavor.

Somewhat sweet texture with a bit of maltiness constitutes the bulk of the mouthfeel. Initially the carbonation is very high, but it subsides quite quickly leaving a nearly flat texture within almost 20 minutes when served at the proper temperature. A honey softness is present in the finish, but it is a bit difficult to notice.
The beer is more palatable than most double IPAs, though if it’s overwhelming bitterness you are expecting then this beer may not be for you. For having used only Cascade hops, the beer has a remarkable range of hoppy bitterness, including not only the expected citrus notes, but also a refreshing earthy hop flavor in the finish. The bitterness is backed up by a wonderful fruity ester and clove flavor reminiscent of a Belgian Enkel, providing a wonderful balance. The alcohol content is listed at 8.5%, but the malt character balances it quite well and hides the solvent like character. Exceptional balance and a well-defined hop character make this beer a pleasure to drink.

Rating: corkcorkcorkhalfcorknocork 3.5 out of 5 corks .


Hops are used to create a bitter flavor in beer. From their early adoption as a means to curtail bacteria growth as an alternative to expensive spices, hops have become a flavor additive in modern beer. Current trends in brewing have seen the pursuit of extraordinarily bitter beers. New hop strains and even some techniques to increase hop oil solubility have created beers that reach the limits of not only the hops but also the human palate.

R group Compound Solubility Flavor
Humulone CH2CH(CH3)2 Lower Soft bitterness
Cohumulone CH(CH3)2 Moderate Harsh bitterness
Adhumulone CH(CH3)CH2CH3 Lowest Not understood

Alpha acids provide the bitterness in hops.
On the right is the generic structure for an alpha-acid.  Depending on the structure of R, the compound has a number of different properties.  Solubility is directly related to the size of the hydrophobic group in the domain represented with the R.  Cohumulone is often considered to impart an unpleasant bitterness.  Noble hops (the four original varieties native to Europe that tend to have high aroma and low bitterness) tend to have high cohumulone levels relative to total alpha acid concentration.  This is often perceived as an astringency in the beer.  Traditional Czech pilsners often feature this particular attribute quite well.  By contrast, humulone is the commonly recognized bittering agent in hops.  Adhumulone’s role in bittering is not fully understood.

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One Response to Alphalpha dog

  1. Malt Monday: X Marks the Spot | Ithacork on 1 March 2010 at 1:47 pm

    [...] make hop oils soluble and have profound consequences for beer flavor.  During the boil process, humulone reacts to form isohumulone, which is far more soluble.  One key difference is the absence of the [...]

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