Houston Craft Beer Guide

The Houstonia Beer Glossary

If you’re going to drink beer, better make sure you know the lingo.

By Katharine Shilcutt August 3, 2014 Published in the August 2014 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Image: Audra Oden

ABV: Alcohol by volume. The higher the percentage, the stronger the beer.

Amber ale: A catchall term for a beer that has a balance of hops and malts, with a color that ranges from amber to deep red.

Craft beer/brewery: At its simplest, craft beer is produced by a small brewery that concentrates on creating small quantities of beer and distributing them in a small region. Over time, “craft” has come to connote “quality,” though not all craft beer is created equal.

Double IPA: A beer that has double the amount of hops—and occasionally double the ABV—of a standard IPA. (Triple IPAs and quadruple IPAs aren’t unheard of either. 

Growler: A container used to transport beer fresh from the keg. Typically made of glass or steel, growlers can normally be purchased in two standard sizes: 32 and 64 ounces (two and four pints of beer, respectively).

Hops: One of the four main ingredients in every beer (the others are water, barley, and yeast), hops provide a bitterness that offsets the sweetness of the malt, as well as a floral and/or citrus quality. In addition, they help keep beer shelf-stable with acids that prevent bacterial contamination. The “hoppier” the beer, the more it will be infused with a taste and smell of resin or pine. Hops come in many varieties, each with its own scent and flavor.

IPA: The initials stand for India Pale Ale, a style that dates back to the 1700s. Big and bold, with a pronounced dry, clean bitterness from the large amount of hops added during the brewing process, this beer is well suited for spicy or rich foods. Crisp and refreshing, IPAs are best served cold.

Kegs: The aluminum or steel barrels used to transport beer from the brewery to bars and stores (such as Whole Foods) that sell beer on draft. Beer is drawn from the keg to a tap via long, plastic draft lines (hence the term “on draft”). A good bar cleans its draft lines regularly; when a beer tastes old or off, it’s a good bet the lines are dirty.

Kölsch: A specialty beer originally brewed in Cologne, Germany, Kölsch is light and straw-colored, with a delicate hoppiness. Refreshing as beer gets, it’s become a very popular antidote to our humid weather. 

Malt: The term is short for “malted barley”—barley (or sometimes other grains such as wheat) that’s been soaked in water and then dried with hot air. (The process encourages barley to transform its starches into sugars.) As such, during the brewing process, malt adds richness and sometimes sweetness to a beer. 

Microbrewery: A term that originated in the UK in the 1970s to describe small beer makers that brewed traditional cask ale (as opposed to giant, corporate-owned breweries). In the US, a microbrewery is generally defined as one that produces fewer than 15,000 barrels of beer per year, with 75 percent of that beer sold off-site.

Porter: A style of beer that originated in London in the 1700s, this dark beer has a strong malt profile that gives it a more pronounced sweetness—chocolate and coffee are common flavor notes—than its cousin, the stout.

Saison: What was once considered a dying style has been revived by craft breweries in recent years. Saisons originated in southern Belgium during the 1800s, where they were brewed in wintertime and stored in farmhouses until ready to drink come spring. Saisons often have spicy notes due to this aging process and its effects on the yeast, which itself produces a fruity flavor and lots of carbonation. 

Seasonal/limited-edition beer: As opposed to beers that a brewery creates and sells all year long, a seasonal beer is only brewed for a particular time of year. Oktoberfest beers, for example, are brewed and sold for the fall months, though they usually reappear year after year. A limited-edition beer, like Saint Arnold’s Divine Reserve series, is a beer that’s typically brewed once and will likely not reappear. 

Stout: Descended from the porter style, a stout incorporates roasted barley, giving this dark beer a toastier, nuttier flavor than a porter. Like porter, stouts range in color from very dark brown to nearly black.

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