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The iconic mass-produced lager in Queensland, Australia, is XXXX (pronounced FourEx). On their label, they tell a story about how historically beers were marked with a number of Xs to indicate their quality, with three Xs being the best.

According to XXXX, the original brewer found that his beer was so good that he added a fourth X.

So what's the real story with the 'X' mark? I know there are other beers, such as Dos Equis, which incorporate an X in their name and branding. I have also heard of a number of Xs being used with whisky as a crude ABV indicator.

  • I know it's not an answer because I don't know the answer. But on Cognac (a French liquor) there are also marks that are related to the age of the liquor. Maybe it has something to do with the time it fermented or something? Or maybe it simply has to do whether it's a double, tripel or quadrupel beer. – Valentin Grégoire May 8 '14 at 8:47
  • Ah that's an interesting idea! So the barrels would be marked with an X to give a visual guide as to how long the liquid had been in there. – Anthony May 8 '14 at 8:49
  • It's a guess though. In Belgium, we don't have those X's :P. – Valentin Grégoire May 8 '14 at 8:51
  • Perhaps they were awarded four crosses for producing such a poor beer. I'm Australian, and let me tell you, it is terrible. It has a reduced alcohol level, so it can be sold cheaper and more can be drunk under the hot Queensland sun. – user1485 Nov 15 '14 at 12:26
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X's and K's actually derive from turn of the last century British brewing practices where the letters and how often they were repeated denoted the basic style and relative strength of the beer. See more here.

The more in depth answer is that back then malting and kilning practices weren't as good so you generally just ended up with "Malt", which was kindof brownish but varied wildly. So you just sort of made "Beer" out of it. X Ales were table beer, made to be consumed relatively fresh, and K Ales were keeping beer made to be kept. Hopping rates likely differed as well as starting strength.

I think at some point later X came to denote "mild" ale, which referred to a lower hopping rate and K/AK/etc came to refer to "bitter", but the blogger I linked to above knows more about that progression than I ever will so I may be totally wrong.

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There's a good explanation of the 'X' as it pertains to whiskey over at MoonshineHeritage. Essentially, the number of X's indicates the number of times the whiskey was run through the still back when very simple pot stills were commonly used. The correlation to quality is probably based on the notion that the purer the alcohol the better the quality of the whiskey.

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