Beer 101

You’ve got questions?  We’ve got answers.

Craft & Import beers come in all different colors, smells, strengths and styles. Since it’s our job here at MidKansasBeer to educate people, from the newbies to the seasoned craft veterans, we’re going to break down some of the different beer styles and explain some of their characteristics.

Beer style is a term used to differentiate and categorize beers by factors such as colour, flavour, strength, ingredients, production method, recipe, history, or origin. The study of what constitutes a beer’s style may involve provenance, local tradition, ingredients, and/or empirical impression, which is conventionally broken down into several elements; typically – aroma, appearance, flavour and mouthfeel.

Beer can simply be broken down into 2 categories: Ales & Lagers.
Ales: This category of beer uses yeast that ferments at the “top” of the fermentation vessel, and typically at higher temperatures than lager yeast (60°-75°F), which, as a result, makes for a quicker fermentation period (7-8 days, or even less). Ale yeast are known to produce by-products called esters, which are “flowery” and “fruity” aromas ranging, but not limited to apple, pear, pineapple, grass, hay, plum, and prune.
Lagers: The word lager comes from the German word lagern which means, “to store”. A perfect description as lagers are brewed with bottom fermenting yeast that work slowly at around 34 degrees F, and are often further stored at cool temperature to mature. Lager yeast produce fewer by-product characters than ale yeast which allows for other flavors to pull through, such as hops.

One of the most common sightings on our site is ABV and IBU. This will tell you how much alcohol is present in the beer and how bitter it may be. We’ll break down the ABV and IBU and explain a little more about what they mean, and therefore what that means to you.

ABV – Alcohol By Volume

Alcohol by volume (ABV) simply represents what portion of the total volume of liquid is alcohol. Our liquid of choice is, of course, beer. And to determine the ABV of a beer, a brewer typically uses what’s called a hydrometer, which is an instrument that aids in measuring the density of liquid in relation to water (it essentially free-floats in a cylinder or liquid). The hydrometer will be calibrated to read 1.000 in water (at 60°F), and the denser the liquid (example: add sugar to the liquid), the higher the hydrometer reading.

Okay, so how does this relate to beer? Well, before yeast cells are introduced to ferment beer, the liquid is called “wort (pronounced wert),” and it’s full of all kinds of sugars that were previously extracted from the grain. A brewer will take a hydrometer measurement of the wort (at 60°F) to determine what’s called the original gravity (OG). Then yeast is pitched into the wort, and fermentation begins. As the yeast cells eat the sugar in the wort, they create two wonderful by-products: carbonation (CO2) and alcohol. And once the brewer has determined that our hungry yeast have had enough (could be days, weeks or months), s/he’ll go ahead and pull another hydrometer reading (at 60°F) and record what’s called the final gravity (FG).

Notice that all measurements were taken at 60°F. That’s because the temperature of the liquid will impact the hydrometers’ measurement of the liquid, and the hydrometer was calibrated with water at 60°F. So in order to maintain controlled calculations … you get it. Otherwise you’d need to make adjustments in calculations, and we don’t want to worry about that.

Calculating the ABV
Say our brewer crafted a high-alcohol beer. The OG measured at 1.080, and the beer stopped fermentation with a FG measurement of 1.011. Simply subtract the FG from the OG and multiply by 131.

1.080 – 1.011 = 0.069 x 131 = 9.039%

So we’ve got a 9 percent alcohol by volume beer. Easy!

IBU – International Bittering Units

The International Bittering Units scale, or simply IBU scale, provides a measure of the bitterness of beer, which is provided by the hops used during brewing. Bittering units are measured through the use of a spectrophotometer and solvent extraction. The bittering effect is less noticeable in beers with a high quantity of malt, so a higher IBU is needed in heavier beers to balance the flavor. For example, an Imperial Stout may have an IBU of 50, but will taste less bitter than an English Bitter with an IBU of 30, because the  English Bitter beer uses much less malt than the Imperial Stout. The technical limit for IBU’s is around 100; some have tried to surpass this number, but there is no real gauge after 100 IBUs when it comes to taste threshold. Light lagers without much bitterness will generally have 5 IBUs, while an India Pale Ale may have 100 IBUs or more.

Here is a chart that compares Color to IBU and tells you what Style of Beer it may be.

Beer Profile Chart