Alcohol by volume, or ABV, tells you a beverage’s alcohol percentage. An extra-light beer might be as low as 1.1% ABV, while an extra-strong one could be as high as 8.6%. To help you choose the best beer for you, every product that is more than 1.1% is required to list ABV on the label.
Ranging from light golden to dark amber in colour, and from fruity to earthy in flavour, ale gets its unique characteristics from the yeast used to make it. During production, the yeast rises and is skimmed off the top. (Contrast that to lager, which uses bottom-fermenting yeast.)
While there’s no legal definition of “craft,” connoisseurs agree it refers to beer that’s made with local ingredients, using old-fashioned methods, in breweries with a focus on community and the environment. They range from microbreweries to companies that produce six million barrels per year.
Often emblazoned with your favourite brewery’s logo, growlers are basically refillable takeout bottles for your choice of beer. You’ll mostly find them in stainless steel or opaque glass, and the standard size is 1.89 L.
These seed cones, which grow on the climbing plant of the same name, are natural preservatives, and they give beer a lot of its bitter flavours and unique aromas. Brewers are constantly playing with new hops varieties and finding ways to add them to the brewing process.
If you like brews with bite (such as India pale ale), you’ll want to take a look at a beer’s IBU, or international bitterness units, on the label. While bitter tastes can be subjective, IBU actually measures the parts per million of isohumulones, chemical compounds that are present in hops.
In basic terms, a keg is a small barrel, typically made of stainless steel, that’s used to store and transport draft beer. For home use, some brewers sell kegs that range in volume from 20 to nearly 60 litres, equivalent to 59 to 173 beer bottles. Some Beer Store locations sell kegs — call ahead to place your order and schedule a pickup.
Typically crisp and dry, and pale yellow to red in colour, lager is defined by the type of yeast used during fermentation. The yeast sinks to the bottom of the mixture, and it grows more slowly than yeast used for ales (which rises to the top).
A key part of the brewing process, lautering involves separating the sweet liquid (the wort) from the soaked malt. The wort is drained through a false bottom in the mash tun tank (see “mashing,” below) and then pushed upward to rinse the malt once again — this helps to extract more of the sweet liquid, which then makes its way to a giant brew kettle.
Think of malt as a grain (typically barley — most of the world’s supply is grown in Canada!) that’s soaked in water to start germination, producing certain enzymes, and then dry-roasted in a kiln. The malt is crushed or cracked before brewing begins. Lightly roasted malt makes pale, grassy-tasting brews (like pilsner), while darker malt results in a rich beer (like stout).
In this quick, one-hour stage of the brewing process, the crushed or cracked malt is soaked in purified water inside a large insulated tank (called a mash tier or tun) to allow enzymes to work their magic, converting starch molecules into sugars.
In contrast to large operations, a microbrewery is defined by the small amount of beer it produces: up to 15,000 barrels per year. These independent beer producers often focus on introducing consumers to innovative styles.
Porter is part of the ale family, and it originated in England in the 1700s. It’s recognized by its deep, roasted flavour and dark colour. It’s thought to be the great-grandfather of stout, though it’s made from malted barley, while stout’s key ingredient is unmalted roasted barley.
Thirst-quenching and tangy, a radler is a refreshing mix of lager or wheat beer and citrus juice. It’s the German answer to the British shandy. It’s said to have been invented as an innkeeper’s fix for thirsty bike riders (“radler” means “cyclist” in German).
While there’s no legal definition for this term, you’ll spot it on the labels of beers that are lower in alcohol, typically less than 5% ABV. Meant for sipping, session brews come in all kinds of styles and flavours.
Tart and refreshing, sour is more of a flavour category than a style. These zesty brews contain bacteria and unique yeast strains that give them their funky, earthy zing. Sour beers have recently made a comeback, though they’re technically one of the oldest brews — born before science controlled fermentation.
From the Latin word “spargere,” meaning “to spread,” sparging follows lautering in the brewing process. While the methods vary, brewers essentially pour boiling water over the mash to remove every last drop of the wort.
Technically a stronger version of an ale, stout stands apart for its deep colour and characteristic chocolate and coffee flavours. It’s similar in colour and flavour to porter but is uniquely made with unmalted roasted barley.
Hazy, cloudy beer gets its look from skipping the filtering step during production, which leaves a little bit of the yeast and barley proteins floating in the liquid. Unfiltered beer typically has a hoppier flavour and aroma than filtered brews, but also a reduced shelf life.
Think of wort like unfermented beer: This sweet liquid, which is 80% to 90% water and 10 to 20% sugars, is released from the soaking mash (typically roasted barley) during the brewing process. Once cooled, it’s combined with yeast and hops to create your favourite brew.