I hate that I have to write this, but someone on the internet is wrong, and wrong about something I’m passionate about. There’s little in life that irks my inner pedant as much as the lassiez faire spreading of misinformation.
An article from “Visit Tri-Valley” (a promotional website for a location but 45 miles from the iconic Anchor Steam Brewery) bounces around the intertubes as we speak, claiming to be packed with information to improve your fermented vernacular.
Great! Education is paramount, and I’ll always support it…
…except when it’s grossly misleading and full of information that might make someone look foolish.
Look, I get it. Beer. Beer!
It’s tasty and accessible to everyone and you wanna get in on this trend. No one wants to feel bad when they order a pint in the pursuit of enjoyment, and I want the beer world to be inclusive and friendly, which means demystifying the jargon and industry talk. Admirable goal, if done correctly.
So do yourself a favor; don’t read the bizarre made up crap and clearly not fact-checked mistakes in that other article. Read (and share) this one instead. I put my beer nerd reputation on the line to vouch for its accuracy:
1. ABV – This acronym stands for Alcohol By Volume. As might be obvious, it denotes the relative amount of alcohol in the beer. Listed as a percentage, this number is the result of a simple calculation between the amount of sugar in the liquid before fermentation (Original Gravity or OG) and the amount of sugar in the liquid after fermentation (Final Gravity or FG). The range of ABV can swing wildly based on style; Berliner Weisse for example can clock in at ~3%, while barleywines can finish at 12% or higher. The ABV is dependent on the amount of sugar in the beer (more sugar = higher ABV). The current trends show that Americans prefer (or at least highly rate) higher alcohol beers.
2. Ale – Ale is one of the two overall types of beer. An ale is brewed “warm” (around 65-75°F) using yeast that typically remains on the top of the beer while it ferments. Ales brew quickly, and can be ready to drink in only a few weeks. Many popular styles fall under the ale category, including pale ale, IPA, porter, and stout. Not all ales are dark, pale ales and IPAs for example, can be as pale as pilsner.
3. Lager – Lager is the other of the two types of beer. Unlike ale, lager is brewed “cold” (45 to 55 °F), using a yeast that tends to remain in the middle or on the bottom of the beer during fermentation. The word lager means “storage” in German, and after fermentation, this beer is held in cold storage for several weeks to allow it to settle and clarify. Lagers require more time and equipment to brew, which is why many new breweries stick to ales. Most well-known American beers are lagers, including Bud Light, Miller High Life, and Coors. Styles of lager include pilsner, bock, helles, and dunkel. Like ales, lagers aren’t typecast as a single color either; many are very dark, like the delicious German Schwartzbier (black beer).
4. Hops – These pungent, sticky, green cones are the flowers of female hop plants (a horticultural cousin to marijuana). They produce lupulin (and other compounds), and grow on tall, broad-leafed bines (not vines) that spiral around trellises or other supports. They can grow very tall; upwards of 20 feet by the end of the season. They’re used for two main things in beer: bitterness and aroma. They also serve to balance out the sweetness of the malt.
5. Malt – “To malt” is a verb that describes the process of germinating and roasting a starch like barley or wheat. When a brewer says malt, they are referring to malted barley. Most modern beers are brewed with “base malts” that provide most of the sugar for the yeast to eat, which are then supplemented by specialty malts (like roasted barley or black malt, which gives porters and stouts their dark color). Malt has been called the “soul of beer,” and it provides many of the flavors and all of the color. The phrase “malt” is also used in relation to whiskey: “single malt” is a type of scotch whiskey that is made from malted barley, so don’t order a single malt and expect to receive a beer 🙂
6. IBUs – This acronym stands for International Bitterness Units. The scale goes from 0 (no bitterness) to 100 (intensely bitter). While technically a beer could be calculated higher than 100 IBUs during brewing, 100 remains the soluble maximum (and probably the most a human tongue could discern). Many brewers list IBUs so that the drinker will have a sense of how bitter the beer is. For example: a 35 IBU IPA might be more balanced with a touch of sweetness, while an 85 IBU IPA would be sharp and very bitter.
7. IPA – This acronym stands for “India Pale Ale.” A long-standing myth encircles the lore of this style, but it turns out it wasn’t a beer specifically brewed (or hopped) to survive a trip to India, a brewer named Hodgson just got lucky, which started a trend. IPA is currently the sweetheart of American “craft” beer, making up a very large percentage of sales across the entire country. They can be brewed multiple ways (high ABV double IPAs or low ABV session IPAs) but all retain one singular characteristic: an abundance of hops. American IPAs lean heavily on hop aromas as part of their flavor profile, and stand in sharp juxtaposition to the traditional American light lagers.
8. Notes – This was in the original article but it’s not an important beer term. You might hear someone say “this has citrus notes” but all they’re saying is “I smell or taste mild citrus in the hops of this beer.” Notes can also mean the scribbles some people write down while tasting a beer, which they then typically post to Beer Advocate or Rate Beer without editing.
9. Pilsner – This is a type of crisp, pale lager that originates from the city of Plzeň in the Czech Republic. The style tends to be very refreshing, and lowish in alcohol (4.5-5%). Many large scale American breweries brew “pilsner-style” beers, which while spiritually similar, are not quite the same as their European brethren. Two well known, large scale pilsners are Pilsner Urquell and Stella Artois, but modern American examples include Victory Prima Pils, Great Divide Nomad, or Sam Adams Noble Pils.
10. Stout – Almost antithetical to the pilsner is the stout, a dark (sometimes entirely black and opaque) ale that originates from Northern Europe (probably the British isles). Originally, stout was a stronger and more robust version of a porter (a dark beer consumed enmass by sailors in port at London in the 1700s). Now, it is a broad style that can range from traditional lower ABV dry Irish stout (think Guinness), to decadent high ABV Russian Imperial Stouts (like North Coast’s Old Rasputin). Contrary to popular belief, stouts are no “heavier” than any other beer, and the dark color has nothing to do with their perceived weight.
(For the record, l think the vast majority of listicles are parasitic depravities gorging on the fat underbelly of the internet, but here I am writing one, so whatever don’t judge me I’m trying to help)