Malt Monday: X Marks the Spot

1 March 2010
By Richard Pliny

Middle Ages Brewing Co.  X Imperial India Pale Ale

Style: Double Pale Ale
Color: Amber to Red
ABV: 10%
Price Point: $10 for 22oz
Technical Notes:
From the Middle Ages Brewing Co. Website:  “Brewed in the style of an American Double IPA in celebration of our 10th anniversary. This beer is golden in color, has medium to full body, intense hop bitterness, flavor and aroma. Ten additions of American hops are made throughout the brewing process.”

Hedonic notes:

The beer pours a deep red with a slight orange hue.  A slightly off white head forms and persists for some time.

Citrus hop notes dominate the aroma and are joined by a faint pine/grass like hop scent.  Sweet malt smells are reminiscent of caramel and form the backbone of the aroma.

As in the aroma, citrus hop dominates the palate.  A slight earthy hop note is present, in addition to a slightly stronger pine flavor than is present in the smell.  Sweet malt flavors are largely caramel-like and balance the hops very well.

The beer is medium bodied and has an appropriate level of carbonation for a double IPA.  Despite the strong malt flavors, the mouthfeel is not too sweet.  There is very little hint of alcohol though the beer is 10%.

Overall, Middle Ages’ X IPA is a very well-balanced beer.  It is not as aggressively hopped as many other double IPAs, but the bitterness is rounded out very well with malty sweetness.  The hop notes are largely citrus and pine/grass, with less earthy notes.  This nearly single aspect of hop flavor makes the beer seem a bit one-dimensional, but the properly proportioned malt flavor works to compensate for this shortcoming.

Rating: corkcorkhalfcorknocorknocork2.5/5 Corks.  Though very well balanced and drinkable, the beer does little to set itself apart in a sea of American IPAs.

Hops are generally added to beer for two reasons: aroma and bitterness. These components come at different stages of the beer brewing process.

Isomerization reactions in the boil process 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 aromatic ring structure, which makes the compound more stable in solution with water.

Beer bitterness is measured using international bitterness units or IBUs.  One IBU corresponds to one part per million (microgram per liter) of isohumulone.  This figure is typically measured using spectrophotometry or liquid-liquid extraction.  The precise value of this measurement is often of little importance since a malty flavor easily mask the bitterness.

Typical bitterness levels for India Pale Ales is often in the range 40-60 IBUs.  Double or imperial IPAs represent a wide range from 60 to 120 IBUs.  Most wheat beers are under 20 and lagers tend to be in the range of 10 to 30 IBUs.  These figures are in accordance with Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) guidelines that define style parameters.

Breakdown of these compounds is often blamed for stale flavors in beer.  Decomposition of isohumulone in the presence of oxygen and sunlight results in the formation of 3-Methyl-2-butene-1-thiol.  This compound imparts a distinct stale taste and skunky odor.

Other soluble compounds from hop oils are responsible for a substantial portion of the beer’s flavor profile.  Efforts to characterize the precise flavor contributions and taste thresholds hold promise for further understanding of the fundamental mechanisms of the brewing process.  Additionally, such knowledge enables brewers to very accurately plan the precise flavor profiles of beers.  Characterization of these compounds also has applications in beer haze and foam stability.

Further Reading:

Fix, George.  Principles of Brewing Science.  Brewers Publications, Boulder CO: 1999.

Pozdrik, Richard, Roddick, Felicity A., Rogers, Peter J., Nguyen, Thang.  Spectrophotometric Method for Exploring 3-Methyl-2-butene-1-thiol (MBT) Formation in LagerJ. Agric. Food Chem. 53(17): 6123–6129. 2006.

Weiss, A., Schönberger, Ch., Mitter, W., Biendl, M., Krottenthaler, M., Back, W. Sensory and Analytical characteristation of reduced, isomerised hop extracts and their influence and use in beer. J. Inst. Brew. 108 (2) 236:242. 2002.

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4 Responses to Malt Monday: X Marks the Spot

  1. Malt Monday: Flower Power | Ithacork on 8 March 2010 at 5:39 pm

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  2. Cyclist on 12 March 2010 at 9:29 pm

    Interesting about the skunkiness resulting from breakdown of the isohumulone. Two comments: where does the sulfur in the thiol come from? And isn’t it interesting that some of the beers that seem to get skunky easily are low hop lagers (but maybe due to the tendency to use green/clear bottles?).

  3. Tom Mansell on 17 March 2010 at 4:29 pm


    The mechanism isn’t entirely clear, but…

    Long story short, UV light creates a free radical when it attacks isohumulone. That radical then attacks the sulfur-containing amino acid cysteine.

    You’re right that bottles are to blame, though Miller uses hops that are chemically treated to be less susceptible to damage by UV, thus the clear bottling of Miller High Life, etc.

    I’m sure Richard will expound on this in a future entry.


  4. Malt Monday: The Warrior | Ithacork on 18 May 2010 at 9:47 pm

    [...] but the malt is strong enough to balance it and make the beer drinkable despite the alleged 120+ IBUs.  The beer finishes quite clean with a nice lingering citrus [...]

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