Craft beer: Everything you need to know from A to Z (Part 2)
Ale, barrel-aging and hops are a few of the terms covered last week in Part 1 (A-H) of a two-part exploration into the lexicon of beer. Part 2 lists and defines beer terms from I to Z.
Highly technical terms that apply to brewing and homebrewing are omitted, such as original gravity. That’s a measurement of the density of fermentable sugars in a mixture of malt and water when a brewer begins a given batch.
The list also avoids lingo that über beer geeks and traders use, such as “whales.” Craft beer has nothing to do with large marine mammals. Yet the term is used by craft beer fans to discuss a rare beer that’s difficult to find. Kind of like Capt. Ahab’s relentless search for his great white whale, Moby Dick.
From IPA to zymurgy, Part 2 shares basic terms that easily explain what’s behind the descriptions of beer on the tap list or in the can or bottle.
IBU: Abbreviation for International Bittering Unit, the universal measure for a beer’s bitterness level calculated in parts per million. Beer typically ranges from 5 to 120 IBUs, with a low number equating to minimal bitterness. IBU is an inexact relative flavor gauge, however, since perceived bitterness is also affected by the beer’s balance of sweetness and alcohol level.
IBU is often listed along with a description of the beer’s taste, aroma and/or body, and the ABV (alcohol-by-volume) percentage. For example, Rock & Run Brewery’s 5K IPA is 6.6 percent ABV and 73 IBUs.
Imperial: Historically, the term referred to beer — usually an extra-strong stout with high ABV that could endure a long journey — brewed in England circa the 1800s and shipped to Russia’s imperial court. Russian imperial stout is a description of a style of stout. Modern usage of “imperial” suggests a beer of any style is boldly flavored, with a hefty ABV.
McCoy’s Ursa Major Russian Imperial Stout (10.5 percent ABV) flexes big, bold flavor. The Smoked Imperial Pilsner (8.5 percent ABV) from Stockyards Brewing is an atypical interpretation of a traditionally low-alcohol Pilsner style.
IPA: An abbreviation of India pale ale. Originally, an English beer style categorized within the pale ale family, but bearing a more assertive hoppy flavor and aroma.
American-style IPAs have evolved to become more highly hopped, intense versions than their balanced English-style counterparts. West Coast IPAs have a more pronounced pine, floral or resin hop character compared to East Coast IPAs, with stronger malt backbone to balance the hoppiness.
Finally, Double IPA (also known as DIPA or Imperial IPA) is an American style that ramps up robust hops and use of malt to create a complex IPA with high ABV.
The Big Rip Brewing Co.’s Aisle 12 West Coast IPA, Boulevard’s tropical fruit and pine aroma bomb The Calling, and Martin City Brewing’s Hard Way IPA, an American IPA loaded with citrus and pine from triple dry hopping, demonstrate the diversity of this beer style.
Lacing: As the head of the beer dissipates and beer is consumed, it leaves lacy patterns of foam on sides of the glass.
Lactobacillus (Lacto): A bacteria that eat the sugars during the brew. Instead of converting them to alcohol, the bacteria convert sugars to lactic acid and produce a sour flavor in beer styles like gose and Berliner weiss. Crane Brewing specializes in weiss beers flavored with beet, tea, apricot and other ingredients.
Lager: Produced with bottom-fermenting yeast strains at colder fermentation temperatures than ales, resulting in a crisp, thirst-quenching beer. Cerveza Royale from Stockyards Brewing is a light-bodied Mexican-style lager brewed with light malted barley from Chile and German hops. Next, try Kansas City Bier’s Helles, a golden, Munich-style lager, for comparison.
Lambic: A strong style of Belgian beer aged one to three years. Wild yeast and bacteria produce a funky sour aftertaste that gives lambics character. Lambics fermented with fruit, such as peach, raspberry or cherry, gain sweetness to offset natural sourness.
Malt(ing): Malt, one of four essential beer ingredients, is primarily derived from barley. The grain is steeped in water until it germinates. The malt is roasted in a kiln to convert insoluble starch to soluble substances and sugar. A malty taste in beer is often compared to bread or yeast.
Mouthfeel: How the body, weight, viscosity and texture of a beer feel in the mouth. A creamy milk stout, effervescent Pilsner and full-bodied Belgian quadrupel each have a different mouthfeel.
Nitro: Refers to nitrogen, the type of gas used in the carbonation process. Nitrogenated beer, or beer served with a typical carbonation ratio of 70 percent nitrogen and 30 percent carbon dioxide, yields a beer with a creamy head and thicker mouthfeel. Guinness popularized this style of stout served on tap. Border Brewing serves its sweet Chocolate Milk Stout on nitro.
Oaky: Beer with vanilla, toasted, woody, butterscotch or caramel characteristics usually obtained from aging beer in an oak barrel.
Pale ale: A hoppy ale produced with a pale, or light-colored, malt to yield a beer with amber color, crisp body and hop aroma. Boulevard Brewing’s Pale Ale, its flagship beer first released in 1989, was Kansas City’s first professionally brewed craft beer.
Pediococcus (Pedio): A bacteria similar to lacto that produce lactic acid and funky, sour flavors in beer.
Pilsner (Pils): A type of pale lager. Pilsner gains its name from its mid-1800s origin in Pilsen, a city in the former Czech Republic. Brewery Emperial’s Pre-Prohibition Pilsner uses an old brewer’s recipe that calls for sweet corn as part of the grain used in brewing.
Porter: Beer Judge Certification Program guidelines define an American porter as “a substantial, malty dark beer with a complex and flavorful dark malt character.” Stout is a style that derived from porter. Porters, usually made with malted barley, tend to be lighter in body than stouts. American porters, stouts, ales and IPAs have evolved to become bolder versions of the original English styles.
Oktoberfest: A style of malty, copper-red Bavarian lager, also known as Märzen. Released during Oktoberfest, the fall festival season that traditionally begins the third weekend in September.
Quadrupel: A Belgian quad is stronger (10 to 13 percent ABV) than its sister Abbey ales, dubbel and tripel. Deep red to dark coppery brown, quads have a malty profile with ample spice and bready yeast and sweet finish. The Sixth Glass from Boulevard is a fine example of this full-bodied style of dark strong ale.
Radler: A German beer style that originated from Bavaria, where beer is mixed with fruit-flavored soda or lemonade. Radler, meaning cyclist in German, is a light, sweet-tart, refreshing beverage ideal after a bike trip or during a hot summer day. Similar to a British shandy. Boulevard Brewing offers two seasonal versions, Ginger Lemon Radler and Cranberry Orange Radler.
Reinheitsgebot: A German “Purity Law” that originated in Bavaria and now applies to all German brewers making beer for consumption in that country. The law requires that only malted grains, hops, yeast and water may be used in the brewing.
Roasted: Having the dark, bitter taste or aroma of roasted malt that often produces notes of chocolate and coffee.
Rye: A grain sometimes used in combination with, or instead of, barley malt, adding a peppery aroma and flavor. Border Brewing’s Rye IPA has a spicy, bready malt backbone. Boulevard’s Rye-on-Rye, a rich rye ale made with two types of malted rye, is aged in charred oak rye whiskey casks from Templeton Rye. Also try Rock & Run Brewing’s Ryely Porter and Red Crow Brewing’s Elaine, a Rye Porter.
Saison: “Saison” means season in French. Historically, Belgian farm workers brewed a light-bodied, low-alcohol ale with a dry finish, also known as a farmhouse ale, from autumn through early spring. The beer was consumed from late summer through harvest season to sustain laborers.
Saisons tend to be fruity, spicy and highly aromatic but vary wildly in aroma and taste, depending on the yeast strain and ingredients used. Local interpretations include Boulevard’s Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale, Martin City Brewing’s City Saison and Rock & Run Brewery’s Farmhouse Funk.
Session: Typically at 5 percent ABV or less, an easy-drinking beer with a clean finish. The drinker is able to consume more than one in a sitting without becoming substantially intoxicated. The Big Rip’s Umbrella Kolsch, Red Crow Brewing’s Donna American Wheat and Double Shift Brewing’s Briar & Bramble English Pub Ale qualify as session beers.
Shandy: Similar to a radler, shandy is a beer style that blends beer with a nonalcoholic drink such as lemonade. McCoy’s Ginger Shandy is a zesty example of the style.
Sour: A characteristic but not a style. Beer styles that taste sour include gose, Berliner weisse and lambic. Sour, a catch-all term, may be further specified by descriptors such as tart or acidic.
Stout: A dark beer made with roasted malt or barley at greater strength than a porter. Beer Judge Certification Program guidelines define an American stout as “a fairly strong, highly roasted, bitter, hoppy dark stout. Has the body and dark flavors typical of stouts with a more aggressive American hop character and bitterness.”
A milk stout, or cream stout, is made by adding unfermentable sugar, usually lactose, that adds sweetness and body to the beer. The Big Rip Brewing Co.’s Mint Chocolate Milk Stout (released around St. Patrick’s Day), Calibration Brewery’s Carry On Milk Stout and Double Shift Brewing’s River Pirate Oatmeal Stout represent variations of the basic style.
Tripel: Belgian style brewed with light Pilsner malt that produces a high alcohol beer with light pale to deep gold color and spicy, fruity flavor.
Unfiltered: Beer that has not been filtered to remove yeast or other particles, contributing to a cloudy or hazy appearance and possibly sediment in the bottom of a glass or bottle. Beer may be filtered or unfiltered, depending on the brewer’s intent to affect the appearance, taste and mouthfeel of a beer. Boulevard Brewing’s Unfiltered Wheat is an example.
Warmer: A winter warmer is a seasonal beer, usually ale, that appears to heat the mouth or body through the use of spices, such as cinnamon, clove and nutmeg, and hops.
Weiss: “Weiss” means white in German. As a specific style of top-fermented “white” wheat beer, Bavarian weissbier is traditionally made with malted wheat and malted barley to produce a pale-colored, effervescent beer.
Another variety of “white beer” is Belgian witbier, which incorporates coriander and orange peel. In hefeweizen, a type of weissbier common in the U.S., the yeast is not filtered out, which creates a thick, white cloudy appearance.
Dunkelweizen, a dark German wheat beer, is also a subcategory of weissbier. Berliner weisse is a type of wheat beer that tastes sour. Kansas City Bier Co. features some of these wheat beers and other styles on tap.
Yeast: A micro-organism that converts sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. One of four essential ingredients in beer.
Zymurgy: Using applied chemistry, the study or practice of fermentation in brewing, winemaking or distilling.
Pete Dulin is a Kansas City-based food and beverage writer who specializes in beer. His most recent book, “Kansas City Beer: A History of Brewing in the Heartland,” was published by Arcadia Publishing in 2016.
What is craft beer?
While no official definition of craft brewing exists, the Brewers Association describes American craft brewers as small, independently owned and traditional. By volume, a craft brewer’s annual production is 6 million barrels of beer or less. For comparison, Boulevard Brewing Co. has an annual production capacity of 600,000 barrels, and its 2015 sales amounted to 196,962 barrels.
The annual volume brewed by craft brewers is dwarfed by the multimillion barrel production of mass-market brands made by large-scale breweries.
The traditional craft brewer brews a majority of its beer with flavors derived from traditional ingredients (malt, hops, yeast and water), innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation.
Mass brewers tend to stick to the main four ingredients and same classic technique.