Besting Beer Terminology

From sessions to sours, we define the growing list of lingo you need to know


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Nicole Fischetti Stabell of North River Hops and Brewing helps us define common craft terms.

As we all know, brewing has taken full hold of the Hudson Valley, and it’s not letting go. And while we certainly aren’t complaining, this expanding excitement has made for bar menus with descriptions that can be almost indecipherable to anyone that’s not a craft connoisseur. Thankfully, Nicole Fischetti Stabell, co-owner of North River Hops and Brewing in Wappingers Falls, has eight terms on tap that any beer enthusiast should know.

ABV (Alcohol By Volume): This term is used across the board for liquors and spirits and refers to the percentage of alcohol per volume of liquid. Beer usually falls between 4% and 6% whereas wine generally falls between 12.5% and 14.5%.

IBU (International Bittering Unit): At North River, IBU is used as an indicator of how bitter a beer is. “When you talk about taste, a lot of other factors come into play,” says Fischetti Stabell. “It’s not a hard and fast rule, but generally, the higher the IBU, the higher the bitterness.”

Fermentation: This is the process by which yeast converts sugar in the wort (the sugar water that remains after the brewing process) to alcohol. “It’s not beer without fermentation,” says Fischetti Staebell. The longer the beer ferments, the higher the ABV.

Malt: Brewers use this to indicate the type of barley that goes into the beer. Specific types of malts (Caramel, Chocolate, Roasted) refer to the toasting process that determines the boldness of the brew’s flavor.

Imperial: This general term (interchangeable with the word “double”) refers to a strong drink with a high ABV (usually over 8%). It tends to have more flavors, hops, and malt.

Session Beer: Coined from the phrase “drinking session” (a specific period of time spent drinking), this beer has a moderately low alcohol content. Quite opposite from an imperial, “a session beer is one that you can drink easily no matter the percentage,” says Fischetti Stabell. “It’s light, full of flavor, and a nice beer to drink without thinking about.” North River offers one on their menu (ask for the BLM), but the most well-known local session is Newburgh Brewing Company’s Cream Ale.  

Sour Beer: Beers that are brewed to intentionally foster a funky or acidic flavor. To acquire that tart taste, bacteria is used to convert sugars in the beer into lactic acid.

Gose: This sour, German beer made from malted wheat is brewed with coriander and sea salt. It generally tends to be seasonal. “As far as all beers go, it’s my favorite,” admits Fischetti Stabell. There are plenty available on the market, with Newburgh Brewing Company bringing a few local takes to the scene. Fischetti Stabell raves about Westbrook Brewing Company’s take on this comeback brew.

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