Craft beer terms you need to know… or not

Sep 20, 2017 at 10:42 am
Against the Grain

It wasn’t that long ago that IBUs were all that mattered. International Bitterness Units were all the rage as IPAs ascended to the top of the craft beer mountain, and the higher IBU count, the better — if you wanted to prove yourself as the top “hophead” in your beer peer group. Bitterness was king, and the counterbalance was a big, thick, malty backbone that sometimes made it feel like you were drinking a burlap sack.

IBUs are scarcely an afterthought these days, as new catchphrases emerge to fill the mouths of craft beer aficionados everywhere, including here in Louisville. One of those phrases, one I hear more and more often every day, in fact, is the word “juicy.”

Juicy is now often used in reference to a beer, usually a Northeast-style IPA, that is particularly fruity or tropical in flavor, and actually drinks sort of like a juice as much as it does a beer. Mile Wide’s series of Northeast IPAs falls directly into the “juicy” category.

As in, “Try this mango-infused Northeast IPA, dude. It’s juicy!”

Those Northeast IPAs have gained a lot of traction in the craft beer world, so I expect this term to become even more common. But my first thought when I heard the phrase some time ago was that beer is a liquid, which is, by nature, “juicy,” right? Heck, a lot of beer names now are starting to incorporate the word “juicy,” which will ultimately render it meaningless. But it’s fun for now. I guess.

Another one I keep hearing, usually in reference to crisp, refreshing, less complex beers, is “crushable.” In other words, it’s a beer one can drink quickly as a thirst-quencher. It has good flavor, yes, but it isn’t the kind of flavor you sit and ponder while taking notes you’ll later use in your Untapped review; rather, it’s the kind of flavor you enjoy in the moment, in a more fleeting way.

As in, “Try this hoppy wheat beer, dude. It’s crushable!”

This one is also known as “quaffable.” I’m pretty sure they’re interchangeable, so if you are the type who likes to zig when everyone else zags, feel free to revert to the classic phrase. “Sessionable,” which refers to beers lower in alcohol, comes into this ballpark as well, so you have lots of options to use at your next bottle swap.

Oh, yeah, and there’s “bottle swap.” That’s where you and a bunch of your beer nerd friends come together, everyone brings an interesting bottle or two, and everyone tastes everyone else’s beer. I once brought a “40” of Miller High Life to a bottle swap as a joke. No one found it funny but me.

Another descriptive phrase I’ve been hearing for a while now is “drain pour.” As in, the beer you just opened and carefully poured into a snifter to savor as you read your favorite Hemingway novel, but it is so tragically bad that you stop in your tracks and simply pour it down the drain. Next.

As in, “I tried that maple banana scotch ale, dude. Drain pour.”

This one is at the height of beer snobbery because, well, who throws away beer? (OK, OK, I’ve done it. But not many times.)

Another derogatory phrase is “shelf turd.” I don’t hear this one as much, but I suspect it will come into its own as craft beer continues to grow into mainstream consciousness. Think of a shelf turd as this: a beer brewed in large quantities that can easily be obtained at your local Kroger. It might not even be a bad beer, but to the average beer snob, it has no value because of its ready availability, so it sits on the shelf and slowly goes stale. Or, heck, it might just be bad to begin with.

As in, “Dude, don’t take that Wal-Mart shelf turd to the bottle swap!”

Shelf turds are sort of the opposite of “whales,” or as it is sometimes spelled in beer geekdom, “whalez” (come on, really?). A whale is a difficult-to-find, highly desirable beer that craft beer nerds will actively seek out, sort of like Ahab did with that other whale. They might even stand in long lines to get it, and it will be cherished like a family heirloom, often gathering dust for months or years before being consumed, and bragged about in online beer forums.

As in, “Dude, I’m not trading you my whale for your crushable shelf turds!”

Have you heard the term “dank”? It’s an off-putting word to begin with, which might just be appropriate when describing a big beer that hangs heavy on the palate. Think a thick, sticky, double IPA with lots of harsh bitterness that may or may not taste and smell a bit like cannabis.

That’s dank. As in, “Dude, this imperial IPA is so dank that it’s like drinking a burlap sack!” [Ed. note: In weed circles, dank means righteous smoke.]

OK, that’s enough to get you started – assuming you don’t already use these terms regularly during your sessions at Holy Grale — and there are way too many to include in one column. But by this time next year, there will no doubt be a dozen more making the rounds, so be on the lookout for Part II. Cheers.