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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Linalool - Not Angelina Jolie's Newest Child

That's a fine word, isn't it?--linalool. Rolls around luxuriously in the mouth, as you naturally draw out the final syllable: linaloooooool. You could imagine it's a trendy name among self-involved Hollywood stars.

Actually, it's a naturally-occurring chemical compound found in many flowers and spices. Including, as it happens, hops. (In fact, it's a terpene alcohol, whatever that means.) If you've looked into hop chemistry much, you've seen discussions of the acids and essential oils, but these are just broad categories; hops contain hundreds of chemical elements. According to research I've seen, linalool, which is a constituent of the oil myrcene, is chief among these little-discussed other compounds.

In short, linalool is a source of both flavor and aroma in hops, and apparently has a specific character that runs on a continuum from citrusy to flowery/fruity. (Hops produce a dazzling range of flavors, but these two are among the most common.) What's more, higher concentrations of linalool contribute to what researchers describe as a "harmonious" hop flavor. Fascinatingly, it also appears that linalool is produced during fermentation, particularly the first 2-4 days. As with everything, the act of brewing creates very complex chemical activity, and there are a lot of moving parts here.

I've recently been looking more deeply into the science of hops, but research is woefully scant. Most of the interesting types of research I'd like to see simply hasn't been done. (Craft brewers don't seem to be funding research into hops.) That work on linalool has been done at all is surprising, though it doesn't seem to have had a huge effect on brewing--hop producers don't list the amount of linalool by hop type. (Whether you could estimate based on myrcene levels is not clear--but it might not be a bad place to start.)

Anyway, you can go impress your friends with your new-found knowledge of that underrated, but beautifully-named terpene alcohol, linalool.

Sources: among the fragments I found online, here are a couple interesting scientific papers on the subject (both pdfs): Hanke (2009), and Kaltner (2006).

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