The Bro’s Beer Bible: The A to Z of Beer
First off, all beers are either ales or lagers. Ales are brewed at warmer temperatures, between 65 and 75 degrees, and generally have a more complex and fruity taste, like the banana flavor in Hefeweizen. Dial the thermometer down to make lagers, which ferment between 55 and 65 degrees, and taste clean, hoppy, and like the barley used to make them. In fact, in German, lager means to “cold store” and in the old days, lagers were stored in caves for two to three months before they were cracked.
Beer is one of the world’s oldest beverages. In Mesopotamia, a guy named Hammurabi (the “eye for an eye” guy) allocated two liters of beer per day for workers, three for servants, and five for high priests. Pharaohs put one down every day for good measure. The Greek philosopher Sophocles cited beer as part of a balanced diet. Monks sanctified the stuff during the Middle Ages and Napoleon called Berliner Weisse the “Champagne of the North.” Need we say more?
Fast forward to the modern era: From hoppy American ales to Belgian lambics, obscure beers are popular now more than ever before. So don’t be an ass and pretend like you know what’s up. If you want to move beyond your typical Bud, ask your bar man questions. “Humility and curiosity at the bar are cool and infinitely rewarding,” says Cuzme, who minds the bar at Jimmy’s on occasion and is a degustation advisor to www.nycdat.com. “Neveract like you know more than your bartender, even when you do.” Bottom line: There are no dumb questions at a good beer bar.
What’s hot now: Sour beers like Belgium lambics and Gueuze (pronounced gooze). Our recommendation: Cantillion Gueuze and Girardin 1882 Black Label.
O.K., now that you’ve got the basics down, add these terms to your beer vocabulary.
Ales: See Beer Basics, above.
Barley: A grain, barley is a staple ingredient for any beer and is used as a base malt, adding flavor. Got barley? Scientists recently proved that barley is good for your bones, so drink up, boys.
Barley Wine: One of the strongest of all beer styles, barley wines use pale malts, TKTK IBUs (international bitter units), and have double the malt, hops, and alcohol content than traditional beers — um, yes please. They’re full-flavored, dark, roasty, and sometimes taste like caramel and chocolate — perfect for after a great meal or for getting through the long winter months. Our favorites? Sierra Nevada’s Big Foot and Anchor Steam’s Old Fog Horn, which you can often find at Blind Tiger Ale House.
Beer = water +hops + yeast +barley.
Bitter Beers: It’s this simple: Hops make a beer bitter. The more hops, the more bitter the beer. IPAs fall into the bitter category, with American IPAs being less bitter than English IPAs. Got it?
Brettanomyces: A wild airborne yeast hailing from an eight-mile strip in Belgium, Brettanomyces gives a brew a sour flavor and might make your mouth pucker in a good way like when you eat tart cherries. Sophisticated American brewers like Avery have cultivated this yeast and now use it to give beers a sour, funky flavor — sort of like a delicious, smelly cheese.
Bust Head: It’s not what you think, bro; it’s a home-brewed beer.
Dirndl: The sexy Swiss miss outfit worn by beer maids in German or Alpine-themed bars (you know the one — the St. Pauley girl dress with the sexy laced-up bodice that makes the titties pop). Native to Bavaria in Germany, often spotted during Ocktoberfest, throughout the Alps, and on drunk girls on Halloween.
Fire and Fall Back: To hurl.
Growler: A re-fillable, to-go bottle for beer from a brewpub.
Gueuze: A Belgian brew blending young and old lambics, then aged for two to three years. They’re sour and great for people who like Champagne and white wine. Try Girardin Gueuze 1882 Black Label at Jimmy’s.
Hefeweizen: Often served with a lemon in a tall glass, Hefeweizen is a wheat beer ripe with sweet and fruity flavors like banana, apple, and vanilla.
Hops: When it comes to beer, hops are a staple ingredient and function in three ways: to add bitterness, flavor, and aroma to a beer. Hops counteract sugar and barley, making a brew less sweet. American hops, like the Cascade variety (a quintessential American hops), are citrusy and piney; English hops tend to be more perfumey and earthy in flavor. By the way, Hops’ closest plant relative is weed.
IPA: When England started trading with India back in the 18th century, sailors needed beer that would last the long trip, so brewers added extra hops and alcohol to ales. The result? IPAs, or India Pale Ales, a medium-bodied, amber-to-copper-colored, bitterish tasting brew. Drink like a sailor and put down a Six Point Bengali, usually on tap at Jimmy’s No. 43.
Imperial: Any beer tagged with the word “Imperial” should be read as extra-f*cking strong. Imperials were created for Russian royalty back in the 1800s when a czar came to visit England and placed an order for porters to bring back to the homeland. In order for the beer (and the sailors) to survive the long voyage through the Baltic, the brew masters had to add more alcohol and hops. The result? The Imperial porter. It was a smash hit and a good excuse to double down on the alcohol content for any type of beer from Imperial IPAs and stouts, to Imperial porters and pilsners. Use caution, Bro, you’ve been warned.
Lagers: See Beer Basics, above.
Lambics: Light-bodied, tart with a splash of wheat and sometimes fruity, lambics are an unblended ale traditionally from the Senne Valley in Belgium. Don’t miss Cantillion’s lambics.
Kolsch: Native to Cologne, Germany, a Kolsch is an ale that has been lagered. How can this be, you ask? The brew is top-fermented in warm temps like an ale, then cold stored like a lager. Grab a growler of Reissdorf Kolsch at Spuyten Duyvil.
Pilsner: Crisp, clean, and bitter, pilsner is a German classic and perfect for hot summer days. Try legendary Colorado microbrewery Left Hand’s Polestar Pilsner on tap at Rattle ‘n Hum.
Porter: Back in 18th-century England, upon finishing work for the day, porters—the workers, not the beer—would sidle up to the bar and ask for mix from the tap of whatever was on the house; usually a potent blend of brown, old, and pale ales. They liked it. A lot. So much so that pubs started to make the mash-up themselves. Porters and stouts are closely related, but a stout uses roasted barley and has a pinkish hue whereas a porter has a reddish tint when held to the light. Our favorite? Victory Baltic Thunder, a super-strong, toffee-tasting champion of a porter often found at Blind Tiger or Pony Bar.
Sour Beers: Sour beers like Gueuze and Belgian lambics have actual sour yeasts, like Brettanomyces, in them and use an open-air fermentation process. Avery, Jolly Pumpkin, and New York’s own Captain Lawrence breweries all make rad sour brews.
Stouts: Born in 1812 with the advent of the roasting machine, stouts use roasted barley, which distinguish them from porters, and are dark, creamy, and can taste like coffee, oatmeal, or unsweetened chocolate. Victory’s Donnybrook Stout is one of the best to hit taps since Guinness made its debut back in the 18th century.
Sweet Beers: Loaded with sugar — duh — “sweet” beers, like barley beer, usually have a high malt content (READ lots of booze) and b*tchin’ body. Cuzme recommends Anchor Steam’s Old Fog Horn.
Yeast: There are yeasts you want to know and yeasts that you don’t. Two that should be in your vocab: Lactobycylis, a fungus with a bourbounny taste and a certain sweetness; and Brettanomyces, an airborne yeast which imparts a distinct sour, woody, smelly-cheesy type flavor like that in lambics and Gueuze.