Eat & Drink

Craft beer: Everything you need to know from A to Z (Part 1)

Craft breweries are proliferating in Kansas City, offering their own variations on classic styles of beer. Examples: (From left) Torn Label Brewing Co.’s Monk and Honey beer, Border Brewing Co.’s Campfire porter and Double Shift Brewing Co.’s Hayloft Saison.
Craft breweries are proliferating in Kansas City, offering their own variations on classic styles of beer. Examples: (From left) Torn Label Brewing Co.’s Monk and Honey beer, Border Brewing Co.’s Campfire porter and Double Shift Brewing Co.’s Hayloft Saison.

From ales to zymurgy, the language of craft beer includes a barrel-load of terms to describe its styles, flavors and aromas.

Ordering a beer is no longer limited to a few familiar brand names. Numerous local breweries and taprooms like Bier Station and Tapcade have opened to meet demand for craft beer.

Restaurants, bars and liquor stores stock a diverse array of craft beer on their menus, tap lists and retail shelves. For newcomers to craft beer, descriptions of what is in the glass, can or bottle might require explanation.

For instance, what’s the difference between a wet-hopped or dry-hopped IPA? Barrel-aged vs. bottle-conditioned beer?

Our A to Z list will help quench the thirst for knowledge behind one of the world’s oldest beverages. This is the first of a two-part series: I-Z follows next week.

A to H

Abbey Ale: Refers to a broad categorization of beer, rather than a specific style, that includes dubbels, tripels and quadrupels. Abbey Ale refers to beers produced by Trappist monks in Belgium or the Netherlands, beers brewed at other monasteries or Belgian-inspired beers brewed to approximate those actually created in an abbey. The Abbey Ale by Martin City Brewing Co. and Sister Abby, an American dubbel by Double Shift Brewing Co., are variations.

Accessible: Considered easy to drink by beer experts and novices, a crowd-pleaser.

Aftertaste: The taste on the palate that remains after the beer has been consumed.

Age: When consumers store beer in a cool, dark place until it is consumed, allowing the flavor and character to continue developing. This practice is similar to aging wine in a cellar. (See also barrel-aging.)

Alcohol-by-volume (ABV): The amount of alcohol in a beer measured as a percentage of the beer’s total volume. For instance, Torn Label Brewing’s Monk & Honey, a Belgian-inspired ale, has a moderate 6 percent ABV.

Ale: Beer produced using top-fermenting yeast and brewed at warmer temperatures than lagers. Ales often have fruitiness and esters in their taste and aroma. Boulevard Brewing’s Pale Ale was the first example of this locally brewed craft beer style in Kansas City.

Amber: A beer that has an amber color between pale and dark.

Backbone: Refers to the support that grain (malt) contributes to balance the flavor of a hoppy beer.

Banana: Descriptive of beer, such as the hefeweizen at Stockyards Brewing Co., that contains or emits aromatic notes of bananas or banana esters, the compounds that create distinctive flavor in fruits that is emphasized by yeast in beer.

Barley: Cereal grain that is malted before it becomes mash in the brewing of beer. (See malt.)

Barleywine: A style of strong ale (not wine), often intensely fruity or hoppy, between 6 to 11 percent alcohol by volume.

Barrel: In the United States, a barrel holds 31.5 U.S. gallons. Typically, wood barrels are made of Missouri white oak and used for storing and aging.

Barrel-aging: When breweries age beer in wine, whiskey, bourbon or other spirits barrels before packaging or releasing it for sale. Barrel-aging imparts specific flavor and aroma to the beer, depending on the barrel’s characteristics. Possible notes include vanilla, caramel, whiskey and chocolate. Cinder Block Brewery’s Black Squirrel Russian Imperial Stout, aged 13 months in a whiskey barrel, and Boulevard Brewing’s Bourbon Barrel Quad, a Belgian dark strong quadrupel aged in oak for up to three years, exemplify this technique.

Beer: An alcoholic beverage produced by the fermentation of sugars derived from grain, typically barley malt, combined with water, hops and yeast.

Bitter: A sharp, dry flavor typically produced by hops, the aromatic, bitter-tasting flower of the hops plant.

Bomber: A 22-ounce bottle (650 milliliter) used to package beers. Many brewers package beer instead in a 750 milliliter bottle, such as Crane Brewing’s Saison and Farmhouse IPA, as a standard size.

Bottle-conditioning: Secondary fermentation and maturation occurs in the bottle when a small amount of yeast and sugar are added to the beer just before packaging, creating complex aromas and flavors. All of Boulevard Brewing’s ales, such as The Calling and Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale in its Smokestack Series, are bottled-conditioned.

Bready: A flavor of bread derived from malt.

Brettanomyces (Brett): A strain of yeast that produces funky flavors ranging from tropical fruit to peach to earth and hay. Used in Crane Brewing’s special release Amber + Brett.

Brewhouse: A brewery and the collective equipment used to brew beer.

Brewpub: A restaurant-brewery that sells beer brewed on the premises. McCoy’s Public House, established in 1997, is Kansas City’s oldest currently operating brewpub.

California Common: This American-style lager is made with a method that dates back to the 1800s, when refrigeration was not common. Brewers used a special strain of lager yeast accustomed to warmer temperatures, and they cooled the beer in shallow fermenters. Cinder Block’s Northtown Native is a full-bodied ale brewed and fermented in this style as if it were a lager, producing a light, crisp beer.

Cicerone: Comparable to a wine sommelier, a beer professional who has passed the second of three levels of a Cicerone Certification Program.

Cider: Unlike beer made from grain, the alcoholic version of cider is made from fermented crushed fruit. Cinder Block’s French Apple Cider and English Cherry Cider and KC Wineworks’ Crossroads Apfel are two locally made examples.

Collaboration: When two or more breweries cooperate to develop, brew and/or distribute a beer, usually as a limited release.

Conditioning: The maturation phase that lends carbonation to beer.

Crowler: A combination of a can and growler, this aluminum package is produced on demand at a brewery taproom using a seaming machine to fill and seal a 32-ounce container of beer. At Martin City Brewing Co.’s taproom, customers may order a crowler to go.

Dry hop vs. wet hop: Hops, the oily flowers of the hops plant, are typically dried in a kiln to produce dried hops. Dried hops are often processed into pellets for use in brewing. Dry-hopping refers to the time that hops (dried, pelletized or fresh) are added during the brew process after the boil. Dry-hopping extracts hop oil and contributes bitter flavor and aroma to the beer. Wet or fresh hops, recently harvested off the vine, retain most of their moisture and essential oils. These unprocessed hops contribute intense flavor and aroma, plus add a green or grassy character to the beer.

Dubbel: A Belgian ale, such as Martin City’s Abbey Ale, brewed with greater strength than other ales. A dubbel (meaning double) is typically high alcohol, amber to copper in color, and has dark fruit or caramel qualities.

Dunkel: Dark German lager. Kansas City Bier Co.’s Dunkel, dark in color with a light body, is available at its taproom and in bars throughout the city.

ESB: Abbreviation for extra special bitter. Not actually bitter in taste, an ESB is an English- style pale ale characterized by a balance of malt and bitter hop flavor. Border Brewing serves its Pub Dweller ESB on nitro, producing a nitrogen-infused pour from the tap that yields a creamy mouthfeel. Brewery Emperial’s ESB, aka Biscuit, is a pale ale with toasted bready notes.

Ester: A flavor compound naturally created in fermentation. Often fruity, flowery or spicy. Estery describes an aroma or flavor reminiscent of flowers or fruits.

Fermentation: During the brewing process, yeast converts sugars into ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide.

Firkin: An English unit of liquid volume (41 liters). Also, a wood or metal quarter-barrel or cask used for conditioning beer with no added carbonation. Yeast ferments beer in the firkin and produces natural carbonation. Breweries tap firkins of beer as special releases on occasion.

Gose: Pronounced goes-uh, this unfiltered wheat German beer style is crisp and refreshing with a cloudy color. Tangy and puckery, the beer delivers a trace of salt on the finish. Crane Brewing’s Grapefruit Gose and Orange Gose are representations of the style.

Growler: A glass or metal container measuring about half-gallon, used to transport and store draft beer.

Guezue (or geuze): Belgian blend of young and old lambics (a strong style of Belgian beer with whole fruit added after fermentation has begun) that are bottled and aged for secondary fermentation to produce a dry, fruity and intense lambic with a sour flavor and no hop presence.

Head: The foam atop the liquid in a beer glass.

Hefeweizen: “Hefe” means yeast and “weizen” means wheat in German. This classic German wheat ale beer is identifiable by its banana and/or clove aroma, is cloudy from unfiltered yeast and has little hop bitterness. Kansas City Bier Co.’s version is deep gold and effervescent, with a smooth malt body.

Hops: A natural preservative and one of beer’s four essential ingredients. The conical flower of the hops plant (Humulus lupulus) imparts bitter flavor and a range of aroma to beer. Hundreds of varieties of hops sourced from across the U.S. and globally are used to produce a diverse array of flavors and aromas that include piney, citrusy, floral, tropical fruit and herbal.

Pete Dulin is a Kansas City-based food and beverage writer who specializes in beer. His most recent book, “Kansas City Beer: A History of Brewing in the Heartland,” was published by Arcadia Publishing in 2016.

Watch for next week’s Craft Beer: I-Z.

What is craft beer?

While no official definition of craft brewing exists, the Brewers Association describes American craft brewers as small, independently owned and traditional. By volume, a craft brewer’s annual production is 6 million barrels of beer or less. For comparison, Boulevard Brewing Co. has an annual production capacity of 600,000 barrels, and its 2015 sales amounted to 196,962 barrels.

The annual volume brewed by craft brewers is dwarfed by the multimillion barrel production of mass-market brands made by large-scale breweries.

The traditional craft brewer brews a majority of its beer with flavors derived from traditional ingredients (malt, hops, yeast and water), innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation.

Mass brewers tend to stick to the main four ingredients and same classic technique.