Welcome to the fourth installment of the DrinkFree Series, where I shed some light on the deep, often intimidating craft beer universe. This is where myths are debunked, truths are told, and consumer advice of the highest quality is given! Part of the DrinkFree motto that we have adopted is being able to make good purchasing decisions. To me, that means being empowered with the knowledge to increase the likelihood that you will love the beer you order or purchase, because we know two things:
- Good beer is rarely cheap.
- Just because a beer is expensive does not mean you will like it.
Craft Beer Jargon
Craft beer comes with tons of jargon. Some of it is marketing fluff, some are technical terms, and some are just trendy words within the experimental craft brewing segment. Here’s some terms you need to know in order to navigate the craft beer waters and make good purchasing decisions:
- Nitro – This is speaking to how a beer is carbonated. While the majority of beers are carbonated with 100% C02, a beer that is “on Nitro” is actually carbonated and pressurized with a C02 and Nitrogen Mixture. The effect of this on the beer is a more creamy and smooth mouthfeel, and the sense of lower carbonation. It can allow more complex flavors to come through, and can really add to the experience via the mouthfeel. Originally, stouts were the only beer you could find on nitro, but these days, you can find nearly every style in nitro. Guinness is the most well-known nitro beer.
- Double IPA/Imperial – While regular IPA’s go up to 7.5%, anything above is considered a double IPA. Imperial simply means extra strong. So a double IPA and Imperial IPA are the same things, but strong versions of other styles, such as stout, are always referred to as Imperial, not double. i.e. Imperial stout, not double stout.
- Triple IPA – A marketing term. This is not a real style, but it can still give you a clue as to what the beer is – usually 10% abv or more, and very hoppy.
- Shandy/Radler – There are arguments about the differences, if there are any, between shandy and radler. In general, these are drinks that consist of a mixture of beer and juice, usually some sort of citrus. The common ratio is 50/50 beer to juice. The most popular style of this is beer mixed with lemonade. Summer Shandy from Leinenkugel’s is the most popular example of the beer/lemonade mixture.
- Ale vs. Lager – All beers fall under two parent categories: Ales & Lagers The differences have to do with the fermentation. Lagers are fermented in colder temperatures with bottom-fermenting yeast, resulting in a crisp, clean and light-bodied beer. Ales are fermented in warmer temperatures with more active yeast, resulting in more yeast-derived flavors, such as fruity esters or spicy notes. Typically, ales tend to be higher in alcohol and more flavorful, however are usually less refreshing. Stouts, porters, IPA’s, hefeweizens are all ales, while Pilsners (most domestic beers) are lagers.
- Growlers, Howlers, Crowlers – These are to-go containers for beer, usually sold and filled at the brewery. A growler is 64 oz, or half a gallon, a howler is a half growler, meaning 32 oz/quart, and a crowler is simply a half growler in can form – a 32 oz can filled and seamed on site from the tap. Consume them within a few days – they won’t last as long as a can or standard bottle.
- Saison – A saison is a farmhouse style ale – an extremely old style of beer, usually made with more characterful (often Belgian) yeast than the average ale. Imagine in past centuries, a Belgian or French family living out on their farm, doing everything by hand, including their beer making. The Saison is one of the most variable and interesting styles, and details are usually needed in order to know what to expect. For flavor, expect a mild to extremely spicy yeast flavor, and often floral or slight lemon notes. Usually they are average alcohol levels, and they tend to be refreshing.
- Milkshake IPA – A beer brewed with lactose sugar for a really thick and creamy mouthfeel, similar to how a milk stout is brewed. Often with other flavorings such as vanilla or fruit to give it a more exotic, non-traditional flavor.
- Adjunct – Any non-traditional beer ingredient (not barley, hops, water, or yeast). If a beer says it’s got adjuncts, it means it could have anything from corn to chocolate in it.
- Gose – A Gose is a style of wheat beer that is tart. It’s not usually a full-on sour, but it has a citrusy tart-ness. This is in contrast to Berliner-Weisse, which tends to have a more vinegary sourness. They also tend to have a quite salty taste, and are extremely refreshing.
- Lite Beer & How It’s Made – Lite Beer is simply a variant of a standard beer that is brewed to have less carbohydrates and calories. Often times, flavor is also lost. Comparing Budweiser to Bud Lite is just a small change in recipe. They take out some barley and add adjuncts such as rice and sometimes corn sugar to boost alcohol level without adding body. It makes for an extremely light bodied beer that still has a comparable level of alcohol.
- Cask Ale/Real ale – These are a predominantly British style of beers, and not too common in the US. Expect a relatively low alcohol, lightly flavored yet complex, low in carbonation and served near room temperature. They can be an acquired taste for Americans used to freezing cold lagers, but they are amazing once you get used to them.
- Lactobacillus – If you see this on a label, the beer inside will be sour. Lactobacillus is a bacteria that is used in many beers to make sour beers, as it creates lactic acid. If you don’t like sour beers, stay away from Lacto!
If you are curious about any other terms, let me know! The world of craft beer can be difficult to decipher, but worry not! They’re all delicious!
Thanks, and Drink Free!