Hop Hop Hooray
Confused how to broaden your beer horizons from the standards like Coors and Bud? Learning about beer is easy and fun, and best of all, you get to learn by tasting.
Beer was discovered accidentally about 7,000 years ago in what today is Iran, and the frothy, intoxicating drink has been quenching the masses ever since. Ancient Egyptians paid pyramid builders a gallon of beer for a day’s work. The Sumerians worshipped the beer goddess Ninkasi. And the oldest beer recipe on record was written on a 4,000-year-old Sumerian tablet.
If fact, many of America’s founding fathers — including Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Ben Franklin and Samuel Adams — were brewers and beer lovers.
Today, Americans drink roughly 7.5 billion gallons of beer every year. That’s 27.8 gallons, or roughly 300 bottles, per drinking-age adult. Behind water and tea, beer is the most consumed beverage in the world.
Beer often is portrayed as a simple, blue-collar drink, but the truth is that even though every beer includes four basic ingredients (grain, hops, yeast and water), beer is complex. It involves a highly-scientific brewing process and includes hundreds of classifications. Understanding beer can be difficult, but knowing exactly what’s pouring from the tap, can, or bottle can greatly enhance your drinking experience.
As craft brewing has become exceedingly popular across the country, it’s hard to imagine a time when these beers were known only among homebrewers and rogue connoisseurs. While market growth reports speak to a lucrative financial time in the industry (in 2016, craft beer accounted for $23.5 billion in annual revenue in the United States), they also indicate a large, curious consumer base eagerly exploring a previously fringe market.
Let’s say you like a light lager or a traditional pale ale, but you’re ready to branch out and aren’t sure where to start. The world of craft beer is so expansive that navigating through the many options can be intimidating. Fortunately, there’s no right answer, and experimentation is the name of the game. From classic lagers to bold IPAs to funky sour ales, each type of beer spawns more sub-categories than drinkers know what to do with.
“Develop your palate slowly and try many different kinds of beer until you start getting a sense of what flavors you like,” says Jason Hower, owner of Kwenchers Wine & Spirits in Owasso.
Many craft brewers also produce seasonal, small-batch and limited-release beers throughout the year. While every new season is the opportunity for something new, fall in particular is prime time for those special selections. Look out for saisons, Oktoberfests, pumpkin ales, smoked porters and barrel-aged stouts. But be quick: Hower warns that many seasonal beers sell out quickly and don’t go back into production until the following year, if at all.
Beer basically falls into two major classifications due to the yeasts used: ales and lagers.
Ales have been around much longer, dating back thousands of years, and are fermented in warmer temperatures — 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit — for a shorter period of time. Ales are made with top-fermenting yeast that floats during fermentation.
Lagers are newer beers, only several hundred years old, and are fermented in cold temperatures— 45-55 degrees Fahrenheit— for a longer period of time. Lagers use bottom-fermenting yeast that sinks during fermentation.
Marzen: The name Marzen is derived from the German word for March. Before refrigeration, it was difficult to brew beers during the summer, so many beermakers brewed in March, then kept beer on ice to drink throughout the summer.
Bock: These have a deep copper to dark brown color. They are the darkest and fullest of all lagers and typically are made from a single Munich malt.
Kolsch: Similar to Marzen, Kolsch-style beer falls into the German lager category, with a hint of grape flavor from the malts used.
The American pale lager is by far the most commonly consumed beer in the United States. Lagers comprised 19 of the top 20 beers sold in America last year, with Anheuser-Busch owning 11 of them. They usually are light in color and flavor, with little or no bitterness from hops.
Pilsners are the most common European lagers in the United States and get their name from the city Plzen˘ in the Czech Republic. They generally are light in body and color with a clean, crisp taste lacking in hoppy flavor. A signature of pilsners is their aggressive carbonation.
Stouts are strong in flavor and dark in color. They originated as the strongest form of porter but now are widely considered their own classification. Stouts have a heavy roasted malt flavor and sometimes include coffee, chocolate or caramel tones. Drinking good stout is a rite of passage, a sign that the craft drinker has graduated from pale ales and IPAs. Ireland’s Guinness brand produces some of the world’s most recognizable stout beer. While the darker color of the beer gives the impression it’s tough to drink, these stouts carry sweetness from unfermented sugars that offset any bitterness.
Imperial: Generally a term companies use to designate their top-of-the-line beer.
Oatmeal: These stouts are brewed with oats, and tend to be sweeter and smoother than other stouts.
Brown ales were popularized in London. As the name suggests, they are a deep amber color. Brown ale has evidence of caramel and chocolate flavors and may have a slight citrus accent or be strong, malty or nutty, depending on the area of brewing.
American pale ales are the lightest ales in terms of color and body. Pale ales are usually hoppy but carry a lower alcohol content than IPAs. Most types of pale ale, which can include American amber ale, American pale ale, blonde ale and English pale ale, are malty, medium-bodied and easy to drink.
While porters are dark and full-bodied like stouts, they aren’t quite as strong. The hops flavor in porters can range from bitter to mild, and the beer often has a smoky taste. Porters tend to taste less like coffee than stouts, with more of a chocolatey feel.
Sour beer has shot up in popularity in the U.S. over the last few years, becoming an enticing beverage to people looking to expand their beer palate or to those wanting to try something new. Highly tart, sour beers can take on many forms, including Belgian-style Lambic beer, fruity Flanders ale and lemony Berliner Weisse beer. With the addition of fruits like cherry, raspberry or peach, sour beers marry sweet and sour to make beer flavors completely unlike the lagers and IPAs of yore.
Wheat beers rely on wheat for the malt ingredient, which gives the beverage a light color and alcohol level that makes it perfect for kicking back with during the summer and for combining it with fruit, like a slice of lemon or orange. Some wheat beers, with their funky and tangy flavors, fall under Belgian-style brews, while the ones made in the U.S. have a light flavor that recalls bread.
India Pale Ales (IPAs), which encompass numerous styles of beer, get their characteristics largely from hops and herbal, citrus or fruity flavors. They can be bitter and contain high alcohol levels, though the final product depends on the variety of hops used. Some IPAs can taste like pure citrus, while others are strong and bitter. IPAs are usually a beer drinker’s first introduction to the world of craft beer.
Blonde ales are very pale in color and tend to be clear, crisp, and dry, with low-to-medium bitterness and aroma from hops and some sweetness from malt.
A very versatile beer, amber beers are full bodied malt aromas with hints of caramel.
What do Those Letters and Numbers Mean?
Typically, there are two or three letter combinations in the beer list and on the label:
ABV or ABW: Alcohol by volume or alcohol by weight. This is the amount of alcohol in a container of beer.
IBU: International Bitterness Unit measures the levels of hop bitterness.
SRM: Standard Reference Method is the color of the beer in a clear glass on a scale of one to 40 with one being the lightest.
In addition to flavor descriptions and what each measurement unit means, craft beer is also described by appearance, flavor, aroma, mouth feel and after taste.
Kwenchers Wine & Spirits
12914 E. 86th St. N. | Owasso
Monday-Saturday: 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
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