What's my beer?
Have you ever walked into a bar or restaurant with your friends and sat down to look at the drink menu and got lost in the foreign looking names of endless choices of beer? So, you ask your friend and they say, “oh you’ll like this, it’s ‘hoppy’”, but this means nothing to you? You’re not alone. Finding the right beer can be an intimidating experience if you don’t know anything about beer.
So let’s get some basic understanding of what beer is. The three most common ingredients in beer are yeast, hops and grains. Yeast is responsible for fruity, spicy, and funky flavors during the fermentation process. Hops are probably the term you hear the most when someone is talking about beer. Hops are a flower that is added to the beer to produce citrus, earthy, tropical, floral, herbal and piney like flavors. Hops affect the bitterness, aroma, mouthfeel and foam of the beer. Lastly you’ve got grains. There are tons of different styles of grains that all produce different flavors and add certain aspects to a beer. The most common grain used is barley, which can also be called malt. Grains can commonly contribute flavors such as bread, caramel, dark chocolate or coffee.
Next there are some common beer terms you might encounter while browsing a beer list. These include ABV, Imperial and IBU. ABV stands for alcohol by volume. It’s usually listed as a percentage and shows how much alcohol is in the beer. Imperial means that the beer has an ABV higher than 7.5% and will likely have you feeling pretty great after a pint. Lastly there’s IBU, which stands for International Bittering Units. IBU measures the bitterness of the beer on a scale from 0-100.
Now let’s get into the different styles of beer. A pale ale is a predominantly hoppy beer in aroma and taste with noticeable bitterness balancing against the fruitiness from the yeast. The most common pale ales are the IPA or Indian Pale Ale and the APA or American Pale Ale.
Amber ales are similar to its pale ale counterpart in terms of hops and bitterness but it also incorporates flavors such as caramel, toffee, toast and nuts.
Porters are similar to amber ales but include barley that is roasted, like coffee beans or cocoa, giving them that coffee or chocolatey flavors in addition to caramel malt-like flavors like an amber ale. These types of beer are dark in color and usually contain a higher ABV.
Stouts, which used to be in the porter family, are very similar but are darker in color and have a higher ABV. The flavor profile of a stout ranges widely, from dry stouts that are very bitter to a milk stout, which is moderately sweet with a chocolate milkshake vibe. Russian Imperial Stouts are big in every way, from flavor to ABV.
Wheat beers seem like they would be pretty straight forward, but they can be complex in flavor depending on the yeast strain and flavors pulled out from fermentation. European style wheat beer tends to be fruity and spicy, while the American wheat beer has extra body and bread aromas.
Lagers tend to have lighter beer options such as Bud light or Coors. These beers tend to lack fruity flavors and give off a very clean profile.
Sour beers are an interesting category of beer, bursting with unique flavors and aromas. Everything about this beer varies from brand to brand. Common examples of a sour beer would be something light and tart with additions of fruit or spice. More intense styles of sour beer are brewed and fermented in oak barrels instead of the traditional stainless steal tanks. These sours are much more like wine in the sense that prices reflect the time and skill required for its creation.Now that you have a basic understanding and vocabulary to describe beers and their flavors, you’ll be able to better figure out what you do and don’t like in a beer. At the end of the day, your taste buds will tell you what you think is tasty. Our hope is this article gives you some confidence the next time you’re looking at a novel of a beer menu. Maybe use some of these words if you ask the bartender to make a recommendation and try as many beers as possible!