Let’s Stop the Abuse of Beer Terms
Ah, beer. Many a skeptical event centers around this lovely beverage. The world’s oldest recipe is for it. Some people claim, in a perhaps tongue-in-cheek fashion, that it saved civilization. People who we used to think were slaves were actually workers who were paid in it. It’s safer than water to drink, meaning that it was once a traveling must-have item.
The popularity and proliferation of American home, micro, and craft brewing has brought about something of a Silver Age for this ancient form of drinkable bread. There is a precise process and science to brewing, and related to them is a specific set of terms. It’s high time, then, that we stop saying completely silly and utterly useless things when we talk about it.
Of course, not everyone is a beer connoisseur (or snob). There is no need for every beer drinker on the planet to understand what lacing or IBU is. At the same time, people incessantly misuse terms regarding beer and misconstrue what qualities of beer mean with wild abandon. This leads to more confusion and less enjoyment of beer — and FSM forbid that we allow that.
Instead of saying: “I want a beer I can’t see through, none of that light crap.”
Say: “I would like a beer that is [bitter/boozy/hoppy].”
The implication here is that beers that are lighter in color are low on flavor, alcohol content, and/or calories (and therefore in street cred as well). Nothing could be further from the truth. One of the best-known dark-colored beers, Guinness, might be bitter, but it was developed specifically so that it would have a lower alcohol content and its heavy mouthfeel comes not from its caloric content or bitterness, but from the nitrogenation process it undergoes. Malt, and to some extent, brewing conditions, are what gives a beer its color. A darker-colored beer, then, is no guarantee of intoxication, palate-wrecking, or a beer gut. In fact, some of the most caloric, high-alcohol, bitter beers come from the IPA family, and those beers are generally quite pale in color.
If you want a beer that has a full body, you want a stout, like Guinness. If you want a beer that will get you drunk, ask for one with a high alcohol content. If you want a beer with floral bitterness, you want a hoppy one, like an IPA. “Darkness” isn’t A Thing with beers, full-stop.
Instead of asking: “Do you have any light beers?”
Ask: “Do you have any beer that I could enjoy without getting too drunk?” or “Do you have any beer that isn’t terribly bitter?”
The term “light” is completely meaningless when it comes to beer. As noted before, the color of a beer is not at all a helpful indicator of alcohol content, flavor, or number of calories. The only time you should ask for a “light” beer is if you want something low in calories, and even then, keep in mind that “diet” beers did not get popular because they helped people lose weight, but because people could drink more beer without filling up too quickly. In terms of taste (and pretty much any other factor I can imagine), it is far better to have one or two high-quality beers than a half-dozen “light” ones. If calories are a big concern, you can opt for some of the better craft options.
Instead of bragging about how you only like: “Anything imported, because American/domestic beer sucks.”
Complain about: “American adjunct lagers.”
The reason why “American” beer has a bad reputation is because of Prohibition. Pre-Prohibition, there were plenty of breweries making delicious beer. Prohibition shut them all down and created a generation of drinkers unfamiliar with the tastiness of it. Post-Prohibition, breweries were invested in churning out as much beer as possible that people not exposed to beer would find palatable, i.e. in sales rather than quality. The result of that, plus the Great Depression, was the (deservedly) much-maligned American adjunct lager — thin, pale, watery, nigh tasteless, and low in alcohol content.
Jimmy Carter changed all of that with the relaxing of brewing laws. People began home-brewing again, and some of those home-brewers went on to found microbreweries dedicated to producing innovative, tasty brews. Some of those grew too big to truly be called “micro” and so the term “craft brewery” was born. Because the craft brewing industry in the United States isn’t hampered by purity laws and tradition like it is in Europe, some of the most unique beers in the world are, technically speaking, domestic, if you are in the United States.
Saying that you loathe any and all American beers, then, is to discount a wide range of beers from nearly 2000 breweries. I doubt anyone who has said so has actually tried all of the incredible concoctions offered by breweries out of the United States (including, to bring it full circle, beer modeled on the very first known recipe) before making such a sweeping declaration. Instead of proclaiming your ignorance about craft brewing in the U.S., acknowledge the grossness of the type of beer that everyone loves to hate.