Are you looking to become part of the thriving beer scene but feel intimidated because everyone there is speaking a language you don’t understand?
What, exactly, does your beer geek friend mean by “hoppy”? And did he say “bread” or “Brett” when referring to the yeast? Session beer: Is that a good thing? And are you considered cool if you still love Pliny?
Don’t panic. Here’s a primer to get you up to speed and help you feel at home at your favorite brewery or beer-centric pub.
Craft beer: This refers to the little breweries, the underdogs, the up-and-comers. But wait. Aren’t behemoths Sierra Nevada and Lagunitas craft breweries? Well, yes. Craft beer gatekeepers keep changing the definition.
The Brewers Association says any brewery that produces 6 million barrels or less annually, uses traditional brewing methods and is not more than 25 percent owned by non-craft brewing interests qualifies as craft. What about craft breweries that have been gobbled up by the giant breweries but still function largely as independent operations? There is no hard-and-fast rule about that.
Barrel: A unit used to measure beer. It’s equal to 31.5 gallons — or two standard kegs.
Hoppy: This adjective may refer to the bitterness you smell and taste in a beer. The term generally is associated with India pale ales and pale ales, whose hoppiness is measured in international bittering units (IBUs). The higher the IBUs, the more bitterness you’re going to taste and feel raking over your palate.
To some, it’s unpleasantly harsh. To others, it’s joyous. But it’s also very broad. It can mean citrus, tropical fruit, earthy, dank and more. It’s gotten to the point that hoppy can mean so many things that it really isn’t very helpful if you use it to describe an IPA.
Hops: They grow on vines and brewers use the flowers, or cones. There are all kinds of hops used for flavoring and bittering beer, but you have to know only a few to start.
Cascade is the most popular hop and was the first American-bred variety, dating to the 1950s. Centennial hops have similar, though bolder and more bitter, characteristics. Citra is all about creating wonderful aromas in IPAs. Take a big whiff of many an IPA and you’re likely to get notes of grapefruit, melon and more. Simcoe is bitter, fruity, earthy and piney, and its overall aroma is alluring and complex.
Brett: This is a term you’re likely to hear more and more often. Not so much at breweries but at beer bars that carry certain Belgian styles. Short for Brettanomyces, Brett is the wild yeast that can contaminate beer and render it undrinkable or infuse it with a kind of funky complexity that makes it taste magical. A very unlucky and, perhaps, careless brewer creates the former; a very skilled brewer, the latter.
Nitro: The process of using nitrogen (usually 70 percent) along with carbon dioxide to create carbonation with smaller bubbles that imparts a smooth, creamy mouthfeel.
Bomber: This is a big bottle of beer, a 22-ouncer. Not to be confused with “a 40,” as in a big can or bottle of cheap beer designed to get you inebriated fast. The bomber is the most commonly used container in craft beer and usually is sold as a single. Many of the best beers in the world are bottled this way.