GABF Terminology 201

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Words are hard. You may know enough about beer, but I’ve found there are a few things that trip people up as far as brew terminology goes. This is amplified at a festival like GABF, because you sometimes will not take the time to give a fuck. You approach the booth to try something, pick a color, put it in your face and move on.

What I will try to cover is just a little bit of what I’d call the ‘secondary tier’ of terminology- meaning you should already know enough about beer styles before reading this. You have heard of IPA, yes? You know that it is hoppy. Stout is a dark color and is often described as malty? Got it. Stuff like that I would assume is pretty general knowledge, especially if you are attending GABF. Besides, if this article was about styles it would be super long and irritating. This brief guide should give you a little more knowledge under the belt before you go up to the guy or gal pouring, say “uhh” and point to a pitcher. You know what you like, right? Great. Listen up.

Imperial – Not specifically made for emperors, or was it? The Russians, perhaps. These days, essentially, all ‘Imperial’ means is stronger (higher ABV%), and more flavorful. Brewers take the grain and hops for a recipe and double or even triple it. More fermentable sugar extracted from the grains means more alcohol. A good question to ask when sampling anything ‘Imperial’ is- “Excuse me, how strong is this shit?” Consider yourself warned.

The Double Dubbel Conundrum – A Double [insert beer style] can also be loosely interpreted as an ‘Imperial.’ Again, brewers are just adding more grain and hops into the fold to create a more complex and higher ABV% beer. The confusion comes from another style, which is the Belgian Dubbel. Don’t get these two confused, as a Dubble is not on the same playing field with a Double IPA, let’s say. The Belgian style should be malty and sort of fruity from the characteristic Belgian yeast that is used, and moderately strong, but a Double IPA will be super hoppy and pack enough punch to knock you on your behind. This also applies for ‘Triple’ (strong in regards to a specific style) and Belgian ‘Tripel’ (strong, but is its own style entirely).

Sours – As this category of beer becomes more popular, we see more and more each year at GABF. The app even has a ‘Pucker-Up Buttercup’ section to map a route of breweries that brought some of that tart goodness to show off. Buzzwords to look for in a name or description are “wild”, “funk”, or “brett.” These descriptors are commonly in reference to the yeast used in the brewing process that gives these beers their sour and delicious quality. Many beer lovers enjoy sours, and there are also the folks who will take a pass.

Grain – The grain portion of beer is most commonly composed of malted barley, but sometimes you will see another grain like rye, wheat or oatmeal thrown in amongst the barley to achieve a specific flavor profile. More often than not, brewers will cleverly include this into the name of the brew to let you know of its presence. Examples “Rye.P.A” – an IPA containing a portion of rye grain in the recipe, “Oatmeal Stout” – yep, a stout brewed with oats. If you are a person who loves bread and hot cereal, take note and explore your grainy side.

So many terms are thrown around at GABF, it can be a little overwhelming. Not to mention brewers come up with clever names for their beers so you might have to poke and prod them a bit to find out exactly what it is you are trying. If you have good knowledge of beer already, these five things will give you an even better idea of what to gravitate towards (or stay away from), and at least some nuggets to start a conversation. Cheers!

About Jim Halligan


Jim is a modern day conquistador. When not teaching his three parrots to speak Italian, he spends time poking flags in things and calling them his own.