Every subculture has its own terminology; if I went to your place of employment and heard the terms you casually threw around as part of your job, I would probably be as confused as a dachshund trying to learn Mandarin. Similarly, if you came to a radio station and heard the terms that people who know radio toss around, well, you and I would both be confused, because I don't know any of that stuff either.

But I do know some beer terms. So when those start flying throughout the Hudson River Craft Beer Fest, you're going to want to be informed. Maybe you know all of these, maybe you know some, and maybe you've been dying to figure out what any of these are really about.

Let's start with the basics: by and large, a beer's characteristics are defined by its balance of malts and hopsMalts essentially involve barley being germinated and then converted into sugars and usable starches. Hops are flowers (or cone) that are used to add flavor and often bitterness to a beer. Hops are sometimes used after the boiling of a beer to add a hoppier, more intense aroma--that's what it means when you hear someone refer to dry-hopping.

There is an almost endless amount of hop varieties--cascade, citra, centennial, fuggle, and many more--and each one brings a different acidity, flavor, and type of bitterness. When you hear someone refer to a beer as malty (an Oktoberfest, for example), they're talking about something that's got a chewier body to it, often with some sweetness. Meanwhile, when a beer is hoppy, it's often brighter in body and flavor, having a more hop-dominant profile. This can be a bit misleading too; because there are just so many types of hops, "hoppy" could mean anything from deeply bitter and resiny to something crisp and citrusy.

Sometimes you'll see people bragging abou--er, advertising--the IBU of a particular beer. IBU stands for International Bitterness Units; the higher the IBU, the more bitter the beer. For comparison, Budweiser is reportedly somewhere around 10 IBU, while Green Flash Brewing's Palate Wrecker comes in at an insane 149 IBU.

Yeast is, of course, another integral part of the brewing process; it's what gives us alcohol, after all. To simplify things, yeast eats up all that sugar in the brewing process and excretes alcohol and carbon dioxide, leading to a carbonated beer. It also helps change the flavor of the beer. Depending on the style used, yeast can either have very little impact, or, in the case of Brettanomyces Lambicus and the recently-popular-in-America-but-popular-for-centuries-elsewhere process of adding wild yeast, it can change the entire complexion of a beer.

Now, for the types of beer. You've heard about the seemingly limitless different types of beer, so let's break them down:

First, the difference between lagers and alesLagers are fermented with bottom-fermenting yeast, whereas ales are fermented with top-fermenting yeast. Basically, what this means is that lagers ferment at colder temperatures than ales. "So what?" you're thinking. Here's what: because of the colder temperature, various byproducts that you would notice in aroma and flavor are muted, giving lagers a cleaner, crisper character, while ales can have a much wider range.

Some examples of lagers include American Adjunct Lagers (Bud, Miller, Coors), Euro Pale Lagers (Stella, Heineken, Harp), Vienna Lagers (Sam Adams Boston Lager, Brooklyn Lager, Blue Point Toasted), anything with "Pilsner" or "Bock" in the name, and Oktoberfest beers (also known as Marzen). With a few quirky exceptions, everything else--stylistically--is an ale.

  • Pale Ale - Usually this means a well-balanced beer. It's got a bit more body and hop presence--in general--than the average lager, but it's often very sessionable (as in, it won't knock you out with overwhelming flavor or alcohol content, allowing you to enjoy more than one)
  • India Pale Ale - The bigger brother to the pale ale. Hoppier and bigger in flavor and alcohol content, this is named for its original role as a beer brewed for Indian trade routes, with the East India Company in particular. Usually West Coast IPAs tend to be heavier with hops, while East Coast IPAs are a bit more balanced. Double (or Triple or "Imperial") IPAs are IPAs with the hop and alcohol characteristics amped up even further.
  • Porter - The porter is a beer dark and malty in style that started out as a blend of beers popular with--you guessed it--porters in England during the Industrial revolution. They differ from stouts in that they are generally less reliant on roastiness in the malts, but even this is sometimes not the case; the relationship with stouts as a style is so intertwined and convoluted that the two terms are frequently used interchangeably.
  • Stout - Like a porter, the stout is a rich, dark beer. They often contain malts that are roasted and therefore the beer will sometimes have a coffee flavor. Another common flavor note in stouts is chocolate notes. Often much more malty than hoppy, but some American breweries have been adding more and more hop character to the stout. Occasionally, oatmeal, lactose, coffee, and chocolate malts are actually added during the brewing process, giving birth to the oatmeal stout, milk stout, etc.
  • Russian Imperial Stout - A huge, full-flavored and full-bodied take on the stout. Made for Catherine the Great, this is a style of beer meant to--and certainly capable of--not only surviving the Russian winter but getting you through it as well. All character of the traditional stout is amplified and the alcohol is pumped up, often over 8%. Some brewers add in tons of hops to balance out the huge malt flavor, while others prefer to let the big roastiness of the malts take the forefront.
  • Hefeweizen - A German-style wheat beer. This is a light-bodied style with a maltiness and often has a sweetness from the yeast. It's unfiltered, so the spent yeast remains suspended; this gives the beer a characteristic cloudiness. Often flavors of banana and clove are prominent.
  • Saison - A Belgian "farmhouse beer" with earthy, herby/spiced (not spicy) flavor, sometimes with a bit of a floral character. Refreshing and traditionally meant to be consumed in the Summer.
  • Tripel - A Belgian style brewed historically by Trappist monks. Seriously. They make some of the best beer in the world. When you see "Belgian-style," think at least a hint of sweetness (usually from the Belgian yeast or the addition of Belgian candy sugars). Tripels have triple the malt of the traditional Belgian pale ales and significantly more alcohol.
  • Barleywine - A huge, strong, intense beer. English style can get a little syrupy in body, while many American brewers use the size of this beer (these suckers can get up to 12+%) as an excuse to pump 'em full of hops. If you see "barleywine," expect a beer with big flavor and big alcohol--one you're going to want to sip.
  • Berliner Weisse - This is a sour German sessionable beer, crisp and clean with a pronounced tartness and sometimes acidic citrus character. Almost no identifiable hop presence all and typically very low alcohol content. It's traditionally served with a flavoring syrup, so many brewers have begun brewing it with fruit flavors already in the beer. A good gateway into sours.
  • Gose - Like the Berliner Weisse, the gose has seen a bit of a rebirth with the re-popularization of sour beers. This one is a little bigger in body than the Berliner, and is unfiltered so there's a cloudiness in appearance. Often has a bit of a salty flavor.

There are, of course, approximately a billion and three more styles and terms that you could learn, but this should get you  by. Anything else got you confused or that you think should be added to the list? Send an email to deuce@wrrv.com and I'll get it on here.

Oh, and of course, if you haven't gotten your hands on your tickets, you're going to want to do that.


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