Decoding Beer Menus: Understanding Key Terms

In the lively ambiance of a pub or taproom, choosing the perfect beer from a lengthy list can be both exciting and challenging. With many beer styles and flavor profiles available, decoding beer menus requires a basic understanding of key words and indicators. These terms not only provide insights into what a beer might taste like but also hint at its brewing process, ingredients, and origins. Let’s explore some common terms found on beer menus and how you can use this information to select a beer that suits your palate.

Tips for Decoding Beer Menus and Finding a Beer You’ll Love

1. Beer Style

The first clue on any beer menu is often the style of the beer. Styles like IPA (India Pale Ale), Stout, Pilsner, Sour, or Saison indicate the beer’s overall character. Each style has its unique characteristics in terms of flavor, aroma, and appearance. For instance, IPAs are known for their hoppy bitterness and citrusy notes, while Stouts offer a rich, roasted malt profile with hints of coffee and chocolate.

2. ABV (Alcohol by Volume)

ABV is a measure of the alcohol content in the beer. This percentage indicates the strength of the brew. Beers with higher ABV (7% and above) tend to have a more pronounced alcohol warmth and body, while lower ABV beers (around 4-5%) are lighter. Since alcohol is often increased by introducing sugars, you’ll usually find a higher ABV beer to have less bitterness and feature flavors like vanilla, caramels, and chocolates.

Session versus Imperial: You’ll often find the words “Session” or “Imperial” used in conjunction with a style of beer, for example, a “Session IPA” or an “Imperial Stout.” Session and Imperial are on opposite sides of the ABV spectrum.

  • Session beer is usually less than 5% ABV, thus making it a better option to drink during a “session” like a tailgater, picnic, or movie marathon.
  • An Imperial beer is over 7.5% ABV. It got its name from a brew explicitly created for Czarina Catherine the Great and the Imperial Court of Russia. Her stout was 10% ABV–a serious brew for this notable leader.

3. IBU (International Bitterness Units)

IBU measures the bitterness of the beer contributed by hops. A higher IBU suggests a more bitter taste, typical of styles like IPAs and Pale Ales. Conversely, lower IBU values are found in beers like Wheat Ales and Lagers, which are less hop-forward and more malt-focused.

4. Color

The color of a beer can give you an idea of its flavor profile. Lighter beers, such as Pale Ales and Pilsners, are golden to amber in color, often indicating a crisp and more refreshing taste. Darker beers like Porters and Stouts exhibit deep brown to black hues, hinting at rich, roasted flavors.

5. Malt and Hop Varieties

Some beer menus specify the malts and hops used in the brewing process. For example, a beer brewed with caramel malts might have a sweet, toasty flavor, while a beer showcasing Cascade hops could offer citrusy and floral notes.

6. Special Ingredients

Beers brewed with special ingredients like fruit, spices, or herbs are often highlighted on menus. This information gives you insights into unique flavor profiles. For instance, a Belgian Witbier brewed with orange peel and coriander will have a refreshing citrusy and spicy character.

7. Serving Type

Some menus specify if a beer is served on draft or from a bottle/can. Draft beers are typically fresher and might have a different mouthfeel than bottled ones. A beer served on nitro will have a smoother, less carbonated feel to it–allowing the flavors of the beer to come through.

8. Brewery and Origin

Knowing the brewery behind a beer can sometimes indicate its quality and craftsmanship. Breweries known for certain styles or innovative brewing techniques can help guide your choice.

Using this Information to Choose a Beer:

Armed with these key indicators, you can approach a beer menu with more confidence and make informed choices based on your preferences:

Preference for Flavors: If you enjoy hoppy bitterness, choose beers with higher IBU values, like IPAs. For a sweeter profile, choose beers with caramel or chocolate malts.

Alcohol Strength: Consider the occasion and your tolerance when choosing beers based on ABV. Lower-ABV beers are ideal for longer sessions, while higher-ABV beers are better for sipping.

Seasonal Variations: Some beers are brewed specifically for certain seasons. Look for terms like “summer ale” or “winter warmer” to match the beer with the time of year.

Experimentation: Don’t be afraid to try new styles or beers with unique ingredients. Beer menus often offer hidden gems waiting to be discovered.

Find your perfect beer at The Growler Guys.

By understanding these key terms and indicators, decoding beer menus becomes less daunting and more enjoyable. Next time you’re at your local Growler Guys, take an extra moment to review the menu, and you’ll be rewarded with a beer that perfectly suits your taste buds and mood. And of course, our friendly staff is available to answer all your questions. Raise a glass and enjoy a good brew!

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