What's my beer?

When you walk into a bar or restaurant with your friends and you sit down to look at the drink menu and you seem to be lost in the foreign looking names of endless choices of beer. So, you ask your friend and they say, “oh you’ll like this, its ‘hoppy’”. But this means nothing to you? You’re not alone, finding the right beer for you can be intimidating.

            So first 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 effect the bitterness, aroma, mouthfeel and foam of the beer. And lastly 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 or it can be called Malt. Grains contribute the flavors such bread, toasty, caramel, dark chocolate and coffee. 

            Some common beer terms you might encounter while browsing the beer list include ABV, Imperial and IBU. ABV stands for alcohol by volume, this is 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. IBU stands for International Bittering Units, this 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 prominently hoppy beer in aroma and taste with noticeable bitterness balancing against the fruitiness from the yeast. the most common Pale Ale is the IPA or Indian Pale Ale and APA or American Pale Ale.

            Amber Ales similar to its Pale Ale counterpart in terms of hops and bitterness, incorporate flavors like caramel, toffee, toast and nuts.

            Porters are similar to Amber Ales but include barley that is roasted like coffee or cocoa giving them that coffee or chocolate flavors in addition to caramel malt like flavors like an amber ale. These 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 Sweet/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 rather straight forward, however 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 is more extra body and bread aromas.

            Lagers tend to be lighter beer options such as Budlight or Coors. These beers tend to lack fruity flavors and give off a very clean profile.

            Sour beers are an incredible category of beer, bursting with unique flavors and aromas. Everything about this beer can vary from brand to brand. Common examples of a sour beer would be something light and tart with additions of fruit or spice. Some 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 these sense that prices reflect the time and skill required for its creation.

Despite knowing an extensive vocabulary to describe beers and their flavors, you will find 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. But hopefully this article gives you some confidence next time you’re looking at a novel of a beer menu. Perhaps use some of these words to ask the bartender to make a recommendation and try as many beers as possible!