Getting the beer lingo

Posted: Thursday, July 10, 2008

Specialty beers, with their extensive and often foreign lingo, can be quite overwhelming. And it can be off-putting to spend a small fortune on a beer only to get home, crack it open, and find it doesn't suit your tastes in the least.

So here's some advice to help you understand what you are about to purchase.

Let's start with seasonals. It seems everyone is making one nowadays. There is no general rule to them, or any special style.

Summer ales will generally be a brewery's lighter offering. Brew geek lingo would call this a "lawn mower beer," something you would drink to quench your thirst while actually doing yard work in the sun.

These beers can be lightly spiced, have a light, crisp body and have low levels of hop bitterness to stay in balance with the malt character. Wheats, Whites, Weizens and Wits can all be summer ales.

As the seasons change, so will the style. Winter ale offerings will often contain spices and have more alcohol with a thicker, sweeter body and higher hop content for balance.

Wheat beers are made with wheat malt, and Whites are the English equivalent of wits.

Wit means white and is a Belgian-style wheat ale with a perfumy nose of coriander and citrus.

Weizens, or Weissebier, are a German wheat ale that typically has an aroma and flavor of cloves and bananas. All the white ales are light bodied, with low hopping rates and stylistically are cloudy from the starch haze and yeast.

On Lees means "on the yeast," or unfiltered. You should not shy away from yeast in beer. Yeast is good for you and is high in B vitamins. Although it can give you bad gas and if you are prone to yeast infections, you may not want to over-do it.

Imperial is another word thrown around with abandon. Imperial is big. Big hops, big alcohol. If you don't really like beers with lingering bitterness, heady hops and alcohol that can be quite euphoric, these beers are not for you. Anything that says Imperial is not an easy drinking, sessionable beer, meaning you can sit down and have a few and still find your way out of the bar. These beers can sneak up on you, but if you are aware of this, they can pair well with heavier foods like a good steak or stew.

A few Belgian styles found in our market are Dubbels, which are malt forward with minimal hops and medium to medium-high alcohol. Triples are light bodied in color, but with a spicy, fruity and alcohol nose. The addition of Belgian candy sugar in this style can really up the alcohol content. Careful!

Saisons are farmhouse-style ales, with medium alcohol content and a spicy, fruity nose, they can have a bit of a tart flavor. These beers are rustic and unfiltered. Flemish, or Flanders ales, are extremely sour beers and are an acquired taste. Grand Cru would be this style. Lambics are also sour ales, but are loaded with fruit and are a good introduction to sour ales.

IPA's, or India Pale Ales, are beers with a higher hop content than a pale ale. The style originated for the long voyage from England to India in the 18th century, as hops are a preservative, and fresh beer is needed to keep your troops happy.

Lagers and Pilsners are a style that can be a cheap swill or fine upstanding beer. Pilsners are a bit more hoppier and floral than a lager, but they are crisp and refreshing, have relatively low hops and light bodies. They are made with lager yeasts that require long cellaring times, and is where the term "cold conditioned" comes from.

• Rachael Juzeler can be contacted at

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