The brewery culture in NoCo is diverse and welcoming; if you love the craft, you can join a niche club, you can drink at a Belgian brewery or a German brewery or a brewery with a distillery attached, you can even bring your kids and pets to breweries. Too many, craft beer is part of what makes this community a community.
But being surrounded by so many people who love the same thing means the knowledge base is higher, sometimes making it harder for the novice to follow along in conversation. This article is for you, boo. Boost your craft beer confidence and impress your beer-bellied friends, but more importantly, impress yourself.
Alcohol by Volume
The higher the percentage, the more alcohol. 5% ABV is the average.
Ale vs. Lager
There are only two main types of beer: ales and lagers. The difference is the yeast.
Ales are fermented at higher temperatures, for a shorter period of time. Hence why you see more of them, they are quicker to produce. They are fruiter and more hoppy/bitter.
Lagers are fermented at lower temperatures, for longer; think “L,” lager, lower, longer. They are clearer, drier and not very bitter; we often describe them as clean or crisp.
When a beertender asks you what kind of beer you like, please, please don’t answer “ales.” At a brewery, every beer might be an ale or a lager, while at a taproom, 80% of the beers might be ales.
Brettanomyces is a strain of yeast used most often in Belgian-style and barrel-aged beers and produces a horse blanket flavor. Yup, as in “This beer tastes like I’m suckling a blanket previously worn by a horse.” It is one of those flavors you either love or hate.
They can also produce any array of fruity characters in beers such as cherry and pineapple. One common misconception is that Brett beers are sour. Although Brett is commonly used in producing sour beers (especially those soured in wood), when used alone, it rarely produces acidity.
Brewing vs. Fermentation
These might seem like silly things to compare, but it comes up often when casually describing the brewing process.
Brewing consists of steeping crushed malt in hot water to convert the starches into a sugary liquid called wort. After the wort is collected and the spent grains have been removed, the wort is boiled with hops before being cooled. Once yeast is added, fermentation begins.
Fermentation is the process in which yeast consumes sugar, creating alcohol, CO2 and specific flavors/aroma.
So, brewers create wort, while yeast creates beer.
This is more subjective, but basically, the brewery is small (has brewed six million barrels of beer or less per year) and independent (at least 75% of the brewery is owned by the brewery). Beer from one of these breweries is craft beer.
A large barrel.
Foeders are very popular in Belgium for aging sour beers and are becoming more popular in the U.S. Most beers aged in foeders are sour, but just like smaller barrels they start neutral and it’s up to the brewer to decide how they are used.
International Bittering Unit
Usually ranging from 5-80 IBU’s, this measurement does not mean how “bitter” the beer is. If a beer is perfectly balanced, the bitterness should not overwhelm the sweetness. There may be tons of hops, but also tons of malty goodness; balancing the two tastes. Remember, it does not measure the hop aroma or flavor.
Think “amped up” in ABV and flavor by using more malt and likely more hops to balance the bigger beer.
A brewery that produces less than 15,000 barrels of beer per year, with 75% or more of its beer sold off-site.
Milkshake *insert beer style here*
Be it a milkshake IPA or milkshake/smoothie sour, these beers contain lactose (milk sugar). Lactose is not fermentable by brewers yeast and adds a sweetness, but most importantly, body to a beer. Lactose is also used in milk stouts.
This is essentially the texture of the beer in your mouth. Think “Is it heavy?” “Is it highly carbonated?” “Is it dry?”
New England IPA
A NEIPA is not too bitter, has a cloudy appearance, heavier mouthfeel and tropical, citrusy notes. Often referred to as a hazy or juicy IPA.
Most beer is carbonated, giving the beer it’s bubbles and carbonic “bite.” Nitrogenated beer has a mix of nitrogen gas and carbon dioxide gas, which creates much smaller bubbles and a creamier mouthfeel, with longer-lasting head.
Just like it sounds, a sour beer is acidic and tart. BUT, there are two types of sours:
Kettle/Quick sours are produced much quicker, hence the name, soured during the brewing process and tend to have a lighter mouthfeel.
Barrel-Aged/Traditional sours sit for months or even years in oak barrels, slowly continuing to ferment with lactic acid producing bacteria and tend to have a heavier mouthfeel.
People often confuse saisons with sours, or at least believe they are the same thing. A saison is a very dry, Belgian-style ale with an element of spice, fruit and usually have a distinct FUNK, but they should not be SOUR (unless it’s a sour saison, because you can make anything now). I like to describe funk as earthy, often barn-yardy, whereas sour is acidic and tart. Saison Dupont is the classic example of a straight-up saison.
Basically anything less than 5% ABV, but more than 3.5%.
West Coast IPA
With a more traditional IPA bitterness, the full focus is on the hops, with a clear appearance and resinous (piney) flavor
A general term for any beer that’s made with yeast and/or bacteria beyond just ale or lager yeast. Wild ales include beers that are made with wild yeast such as brettanomyces and/or lactic acid producing bacteria. May also be called a mixed-fermentation beer.
Here’s one you didn’t know you wanted to know:
The hole in the top of a barrel, used to fill the barrel with beer and where the bung goes! When a beer is barrel-aging, live yeast remain in the beer. Which means CO2 is still being produced and needs to be released from the barrel, or else pressure builds up and the barrel will go boom. So, the bung hole is plugged with a bung. Go ahead and giggle, I freakin’ love this. The bung has small, covered holes that when pushed on from the pressure of the CO2, ever so slightly opens and allows the gas to escape.