Beer Jargon Part 1
Beer jargon – there is just so much, right? And just when you think you know your Fuggle from your fermentation, something else pops up to make you feel like you’re back at craft beer kindy again. We’re going to cover a few of the most common bits of beer terminology you’re likely to hear in the next few blogs – not just so you can impress your mates at the pub but because this is stuff that will have you enjoying your craft beer drinking experience to the max.
We have covered this briefly before but allow me to refresh your memory and elaborate a bit on this much talked about but possibly not very well understood term. IBU stands for International Bitterness (or Bittering) Units and is a way of quantifying how bitter a beer is. The IBU scale measures the parts per million of isohumulone in a beer. Isohumulone is created when the alpha acids in hops isomerize (which is a fancy way of saying “break down”) during the boil and it’s the stuff that makes your beer bitter.
Sounds pretty straightforward doesn’t it? Well, it gets a little complicated by the fact that just because a beer has a higher IBU doesn’t mean it will taste as bitter as a beer with a lower IBU. This is because plenty of other ingredients come into play when you taste a beer. For example, a beer might have a substantial IBU rating – say, 70 IBUs – but not taste as bitter as a beer with, say, 20 IBUs but far less malt in the flavour. This is because malts and other ingredients can cover up the bitter taste in a beer. Sometimes there are other bittering ingredients in the beer – like black malt or certain spices – and these are not taken into account by the IBU scale either.
None of this is to say that the IBU of a beer isn’t worth noting. It’s all part and parcel of the great and mysterious world of craft beer. But the best way to tell how bitter a beer tastes, is to taste it. Like you guys needed any encouragement.
Beer Days recommends Mash Brewing’s Invisible Weizenbock if you in the mood for a low IBU – it clocks in a very restrained 20 – or the Sixpoint Resin Double IPA at 100+ if you’re up for a bitter hop bomb
No, not the thing that keeps you floating off your bar stool like George Clooney drifting into outer space. We mean the thing you’ll sometimes see referred to on a beer label. So what does it mean? The short answer is that it is the measurement of a beer’s density. It tells us how much of the soluble sugars have dissolved. Remember? Those are the sugars that are munched up by the yeast to make alcohol.
The slightly longer but still heavily abbreviated answer is that original gravity, OG, is the measurement taken before yeast is added to start fermentation and final gravity, FG, is the measurement taken at the end of fermentation. The difference between the two gives an indication of how much sugar has been turned into alcohol and therefore how alcoholic the beer will be. You’ll see gravity on beer labels listed usually between about OG 1.046 and OG 1.059 (and to show you know what you’re talking about, say “ten four six or ten five nine” not “one point zero four six” etc). To give you some context, water is 1 and anything over 1.075 is considered high gravity, so you can see that very slight variations mean a lot. Clear as an unfiltered wheat beer, right? Simply put, there is generally a clear correlation between high gravity and high alcohol content. So go ahead and peer at the tiny writing on your beer label then have a swig and see if you can tell.
Ok, we’re going to hit you with one bit of jargon and then we will leave the rest for another day and another blog post and let you get on with the important business of actually drinking craft beer.
Beer Days recommends: BrewDog Hardcore IPA with an OG of 1.083. Hardcore by name, hardcore by nature.
Sometimes you might read in your tasting notes that a beer has been bottle conditioned. And you’ll nod your head and go “ahh, yes, bottle conditioned. Righto” and be none the wiser. Well, lucky we’re here to make you wiser because bottle conditioning is its own little world of magic.
Bottle conditioning involves carbonating beer by introducing some new sugars or a little extra yeast into the bottle itself. This results in further fermentation and the CO2 it produces is contained by the capped bottle and absorbed back into the beer to create that lovely spritzy effervescence of bubbles.
CO2 is usually allowed to bubble away and dissipate during fermentation so all non bottle conditioned beers (along with fizzy sodas) use forced carbonation to create fizz – a bit like a Soda Stream. In bottle conditioning, there is still live yeast at work in the bottle working its magic to produce alcohol and carbonation and even enriching the flavours of the beer while it is being stored.
Generally speaking, bottle conditioned beer needs to be stored at a temperature neither too cold, which will stop the fermentation process, nor too hot, which will send it into overdrive and cause your beer to gush out from an excess of carbonation. Don’t be afraid to chill your bottle conditioned beer if you wish – but don’t go making it icy cold like a lager or you’ll miss the subtlety and beauty of it – and experiment with ageing your bottle conditioned beer because many will respond well to a few extra months on the shelf.
There are mixed opinions on whether it’s the done thing to actually drink the yeast that you’ll see in the bottle. We like to recommend that you store your beer upright and then pour it gentle and carefully into a glass so that the yeast doesn’t glug out and cloud your beer.
Beer Days recommends: Moa’s Five Hop ESB for a delicious bottle conditioned brew experience.