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The nomenclature of beer

Tuesday we had a meeting devoted to the discussion of equipment. We made a lot of decisions, and this week will be ordering several large, essential bits of the brewhouse. What they are and why are things we’ll get into in future Thirsty Thursday updates, but for now they aren’t the point, with the exception of the fact that ordering several thousand dollars worth of stainless steel is a great way to make this endeavor seem real.

It was sort of like this, except with us instead of these guys I found on Google Image Search.

What I’d like to focus on this week, though, is how we started the meeting: with drinking. Opening a brewery is hard work, man, but somebody’s got to do it! We’ve begun having semiformal tastings at meetings, to drink both our test batches and also commercial examples of the styles we’ll be brewing, and discuss what we like and dislike about each. We use BJCP judging sheets, if for no other reason than they’re an easy way to structure it.

As we drank Rudy’s baseline APA, and also Tröegs’ pale ale, we used words like ‘piney’ and ‘citrussy,’ and said that Rudy’s was slightly warming. Dave got some grapefruit out of the hops. Some people found one or the other astringent. We liked the dryness.

We hope to cater to a wide audience of beer lovers. A certain segment — a group that likes to call themselves beer geeks, of which I’m a member — will understand every word in the above paragraph. They could hear that the initial gravity was 46 and know what that means. But another group of you reading this probably have no idea what the hell we’re talking about: you like beer, and you like drinking beer. Not to say you’re poorly educated; you just haven’t gone down the rabbit hole. And that’s fine.

I was at my father in law’s this week, and as we checked the brakes on my car (I’m a chubby nerd by trade, so I enjoy these manly outings) he gave me a beer that I had never tried before. It was a Stevens Point Nude Beach Summer Wheat, and he said it ‘tastes a little like a Killians. But not as strong.’

Now, it should be clear that an Irish Red and an American Wheat bear little to no resemblance to each other. As I drank it, though, I realized what he meant (this was not the first time something ‘tasted like Killians’): he meant it was malty. And there was some malt in the wheat beer, along with a ton of wheat flavor (on the whole we were drinking Labatt’s and listening to 97 Rock and getting our hands greasy, so I didn’t do a formal tasting of it and that’s all you’ll get from me). That’s just his vocabulary.

If I could brew backwards, like a crab

Similarly, the day before my mom told the waitress at Pizza Plant ‘I like ales. Do you have any ales?’ ‘They’re pretty much all ales, mom,’ I said, hoping I wasn’t sounding condescending (she used to put up with me saying ‘fire fruck,’ after all). She probably meant pale ales. Again: she knows what she likes; it’s just that the words she uses aren’t necessarily the ones us beer geeks do. And in the end, they’re just lists of words: I can find pine and citrus and resin and so on in hops, because I’ve sat in on the judging of the local homebrew competition for three years now and I know the lingo. Others at CBW are more developed than this young Padawan and can pick things out that maybe they weren’t expecting. And while being able to vocalize your sensations is a great thing, in the end they are just words, words, words.

Because at the end of the day, what drinking beer is about, to me, is the rest of the night: friends talking, occasionally pouring themselves more out of a bottle, enjoying good beer and each others’ company. It was a great night, and the fruits of it are set to echo down through CBW history. But more on that next week.

One comment on “The nomenclature of beer

  1. Ethan on

    So, you know what I mean when I say “It’s got a bit of diaper smell,” don’tja? “cause that always used to elude me before I had kids.

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