The ABCs of craft beer – Part 2

Craft beerImagine grabbing an ale, shandy or IPA after work with friends. One of your buddies asks, “How does your beer taste?” You reply, “Good.”

That answer may not be good enough.

Is it crisp? Smooth? Hoppy? Your friend wants to know details and whether or not to order it for himself – and not knowing the proper way to describe your beer can make the conversation take a bitter turn.

By knowing the correct terminology, however, you can have a complex conversation about brews.

In part one of our three-part blog series, we reviewed common terms used by beer drinkers. Now, we are ready to hop into a list of ingredients and attributes that will help you identify characteristics you like when ordering a brew off the menu, making selections at the store and recommending a beer to a pal.

  • Barley: Barley is a grain used in brewing and distilling. In the brewing process, after barley is germinated, it is kiln-dried to make a malt. Malts are one of the main ingredients in beer and account for the level and type of sweetness. In addition to flavor, malts add color to beer.
  • Bitter: Bitterness refers to the flavor or sensation that the beer hops create on the back of your tongue. Bitterness is measured by International Bitterness Units (IBUs); the higher the beer rates on the scale, the more hang, or lingering bitter taste, it tends to have. Bitter beers, such as Flat 12 Bierwerks Walkabout Pale Ale, are great complements to salty fried foods or rich steaks.
  • Complex: Some beers have simpler characteristics, while others are multidimensional. Complex beers have more flavors and sensations on the palate – perhaps due to brewers utilizing multiple varieties of hops or malts or adding ingredients like fruit, spices or even cacao nibs.
  • Crisp: Crisp is a common way to refer to a beer’s acidity and refreshing qualities. As the weather gets warmer, beer drinkers often opt for a crisper beverage – which are typically lighter and cleaner in flavor – to quench their thirst. Curious Traveler Shandy is a crisp wheat beer with a hint of citrus that is perfect for a barbecue or ball game.
  • Head: Have you noticed when you pour a beer, there often is a layer of foam that sits at the top? This is referred to as head. The head of a beer comprises a layer of gas bubbles produced by a combination of wort protein, yeast and hops residue. Beers with a higher malt base, such as Guinness or German brews, have a thicker, creamier layer of bubbles. However, depending on the type of beer, the foam does not always have a desirable taste. One way to eliminate unwanted froth is by pouring a small amount of olive oil onto a spoon and stirring it in the bubbles. The oil will burst the bubbles, resulting in reduced head.
  • Hops: Hops are herbs – flowers or seed cones of the hop plant – added to fermenting beer to instill aroma, flavor or bitterness. Hops are added at the beginning, middle and/or end of the boiling stage, depending on intended contribution. Brewers use a variety of hops, such as Cascade or Willamette, in different brews or even in a single beer to achieve different flavor profiles. For example, Leinenkugel’s Hoppin’ Helles is a “hop-forward” beverage that blends five different all-American hops, including Simcoe and Citra.
  • Mouthfeel: Both mouthfeel and body describe the thickness properties of a brew. Mouthfeel consists of textures derived from the consistency or viscosity of a beer that can be described as full- or thin-bodied or carbonated. Beers with thick mouthfeel are made for sipping, while thin-bodied beers are smoother.
  • Smooth: Smooth is a characteristic of beers with better mouthfeel that are considered easier to drink. It also is possible for a beer to start sharp or bitter and end smooth.

Now you know common beer terms and attributes and ingredients, so describing your favorite brew to friends will not seem so much like a mouthful.

Stay tuned for the last post of this three-part series where we will discuss different types of breweries and places to buy beer.

Until then, enjoy a hoppy ale, crisp shandy or bitter IPA. And remember, drink responsibility.  Cheers!