A Hoppe, Skip and a Jump

17 March 2010
By Richard Pliny

Southern Tier Brewing Company Hoppe

Style: Imperial Extra Bitter Ale

Color: Yellow
ABV: 8.3%
Price Point: $9 for 22 oz bottle
Technical Notes:
From the Southern Tier Brewing website:  “The simplicity of Hoppe tests the skill and ability of the brewer to create something truly majestic. We craft this much like a sculptor who uses only a hammer and chisel to shape stone into a masterpiece. Hoppe is spawned of these few essentials: barley, wheat, hops, yeast and water. This limited palette is an exercise in minimalism, with refined elements which are deliberately selected. This simple combination creates a golden shimmering brew infused with delicate aromas. The artful nature of this beer is exposed with the first taste. As the malt and hops create a composition of flavors, an elegant finish leaves an impression that your tastes will not soon forget.”

Hedonic notes:

This beer is a medium yellow with a slight haze.  There is a somewhat high level of carbonation, but the slightly off-white foam dissipates fairly quickly.

The smell clearly classifies this beer as an American style pale ale.  Citrus and pine hop aromas constitute the bulk of the aroma, with some light malt scents mingling in the background.  The bottle notes that Amarillo hops were used for aroma and Columbus and Amarillo were used for dry-hopping and the aroma does a great job of highlighting the unique characteristics of these varieties.  In particular, the Amarillo hops contribute their characteristic citrus scent while the Columbus hops account for the pine.  As an aside, Columbus are often noted for their earthy flavor as well, but this typically does not come out in the aroma.

Complex caramel malt flavors begin to form the palate along with an almost woody flavor.  A slight bit of wheat malt softness follows along with the hop flavors.  As in the aroma, the hops are complex and clear.  A sweet grapefruit flavor from the Amarillo forms the beginning of the hop spectrum, followed by a spicy note from the Columbus and a lingering oily strong earthy hop tone.  Each characteristic bitterness is highlighted perfectly and forms a distinct part of the palate.  Slight malty sweetness lingers in the finish along with an oily earthy hop flavor.

Though it is extremely light in color, the beer has a fairly thick mouthfeel.  The lingering hop flavors provide an almost oily mouth-coating sensation that lingers for some time.  The carbonation is appropriate for the beer, with the effervescence adding a refreshing crispness to the texture.

Southern Tier’s Hoppe is simply amazing overall.  It is not very often that I encounter a beer that is this good from first sip to last.  The hop flavors are each distinct and perfectly highlighted, clearly representing the hops from which they came.  For the beer’s light color, one does not expect such a distinct caramel malt flavor.  Indeed, the surprises do not stop there.  It is rare indeed to find a beer that does such a good job at separating and highlighting the hop flavors.  Boil times for the hops were well informed and proportions were planned perfectly.   When the bottle was done I found myself wishing I had more.  It is a bit more bitter than some may enjoy, but extraordinarily palatable and approachable to those who do enjoy bitter beers.

Rating: 4 Corks!4 Corks!4 Corks!4 Corks!4 Corks! 5/5 Corks! Southern Tier’s Hoppe is effectively flawless, certainly one of the best examples of a American style pale ale that I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting.


Science!

For those trying to adhere strictly to style guidelines, beer color is a very important consideration.  Beer color formation can be broken into three distinct parts of the brewing process: malting, boiling and fermentation.  The malting process relies on caramelization to introduce color, while the Maillard reaction accounts for color change during boiling and polyphenol oxidase is typically credited for color change during fermentation.  Of the three, the enzymatic browning is very rarely an item of concern and will not be discussed here.

adapted from bradleypjohnson at Flickr

During the malting process, oxidation of sugars via caramelization reactions.  Caramelization occurs in complex sugars like maltose at temperatures around 180°C.  Roasting grains at high temperatures caramelizes sugars and darkens the malt.  The process results in cross-linking of sugar complexes to form larger sugar complexes.   It should be noted that this is done only for caramel, chocolate, black patent and other dark malts.  Base malts are not roasted in this way.

Larger and more complex sugar structures, particularly those with extensively branching chains, tend to be darker in color than simple sugars.  During caramelization, sugars are linked to one another stochastically, resulting in larger and more complex sugars than were initially present.  More generally, it is an example of pyrolysis—the breakdown of compounds at high temperature and in the absence of oxygen.  Caramelization is the same process that creates the golden brown crust on top of crème brûlée.

Louis-Camille Maillard was attempting to reproduce biological protein synthesis in 1912 when he discovered what is now known as the Maillard reaction.  He failed to reproduce protein synthesis (and indeed the same problem still exists today).  In the Maillard reaction, the carbonyl group on a reducing sugar reacts with free amino groups on the protein structures.

Complex nitrogen containing ring structures often result from the Maillard reaction.  These compounds are often associated with biscuit or cracker-like flavors and are detected at very low concentrations.  This process causes the wort to darken throughout the boil.  Homebrewers who use malt extract notice that their beer is often darker than intended because the spray dried malt sugars tend to brown more quickly than freshly extracted sugars.

In small-scale brewing, malt extract is added late in the boil to avoid making the beer too dark.  This results in different hop boil dynamics.  With less malt in the boil, the hop acids will be more stable and will not react with reducing sugars, making their flavor more noticeable.  Often, one may reduce the hop amounts by 20% to compensate for this.

Beer color is measured using the Lovibond scale (shown below, table from Wikipedia).  This scale was developed to measure the color of gasses, but has found application in beverage production.   The range effectively spans from 2.0°L (a very pale yellow as in an American light lager) to 25.0°L, a deep black.  Amber beers typically fall between 7°L and 9°L while red is about 12°L and brown is 15-18°L.

SRM/Lovibond Example Beer color EBC
2 Pale lager 4
3 German Pilsener 6
4 Pilsner Urquell 8
6 12
8 Weissbier 16
10 Bass pale ale 20
13 26
17 Dark lager 33
20 39
24 47
29 Porter 57
35 Stout 69
40 79
70 Imperial stout 138

Originally measured with the use of a series of glass slides, the Lovibond scale was notoriously imprecise.  It has since been replaced with the standard reference method (SRM) scale, which utilizes the same numerical values but is measured using a spectrophotometer.  The SRM correlates to 12.7 (a correction factor to scale SRM to the Lovibond scale) multiplied by the log of absorbance of 430nm light.  The European Brewing Convention (EBC), an alternate scale, uses a factor of 25 rather than 12.7.

SRM is also used to describe malt color.  One may estimate the color of beer from the malts used and adding a small correction for Maillard reaction.  Normal light base malts are in the range of 1.5-3.0°L, while caramel malts may range from 10 to 120°L.  Chocolate malts are around 350°L and black malts can be as dark as 500°L.  Very small amounts of specialty grains can have drastic consequences for a beer’s color, as may be seen in the drastic range of malt darkness.  As little as 1lb of chocolate malt in 15lbs of base grain can make a beer appear a medium colored brown.


Further Reading:

Daniels, Ray.  Designing Great Beers.  Brewer’s Publications: Boulder, CO.  2000.

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

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2 Responses to A Hoppe, Skip and a Jump

  1. Papa Jaxx on 3 April 2010 at 5:11 am

    Nice writeup of hoppe Imperial Pale Ale. I found it/your blog searching for the IBU; I have estimated at 85 IBUs.

    I am associated with Venti’s Cafe & Basement Bar in Salem, Ore. We hosted/posted/purveyed Southern Tier’s Unearthly Imperial IPA early last month. I was appreciated by the Pacific Northwest hop head; ie, it sold well.

  2. Malt Monday: Out of This World! | Ithacork on 10 May 2010 at 3:39 pm

    [...] after the celestial pairing. At Southern Tier, we have our own fraternal twins, Hoppe [reviewed here] & Unearthly. Blended together & placed in this vessel, the mission of our Gemini is to [...]

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