What is craft beer? What is an IPA? What is a stout?
If you have asked yourself these questions before then read on…this blog is for you! Perhaps you have shied away from Gwinnett’s burgeoning beer scene because you didn't quite know what to order. After all, the choices can be confusing. We want to help clear up that confusion and break it down for you. By the end of this blog, you will feel confident enough to belly up to the brewery bar and spout off a confident beer request.
Back to the Basics
What makes beer "craft"? All that means is that it is made by a local, small or independent brewer. To classify as a craft brewer, you must produce less than six million barrels of beer a year, which is only 3% of the U.S. annual sales. Many of the breweries starting to open are owned by local beer-loving citizens. The beauty of craft beer and why so many people are drawn to it, is that you can mix it up. If you walk into a brewery each one will have many different combinations of flavors. Brew-masters at each brewery are tasked with creating new, creative recipes.
How beer is made:
There are four basic ingredients: barely, water, hops and yeast. The main goal is to extract the sugars from the grain so the yeast can convert it to alcohol.
- Step 1: Malting. This is the process of drying out the grain (usually barley), so it becomes small enough to be broken down.
- Step 2: Mashing. Once the grains are malted, they are steeped in hot water. This activates the enzymes in the grain which allow it to release sugar. The water is then drained, and it leaves a sweet syrup liquid known as wort.
- Step 3: Adding Hops. Hops provide bitterness to balance out the sugar and serve as a preservative.
- Step 4: Fermentation. Adding yeast to boiling sugar water where the yeast will eat the sugar turning it into alcohol. A proper temperature for this step is no more than 75 degrees. The average time of this process is 2 weeks but ales and lagers take 5-6 weeks. If you stop the process too early it can cause the beer to have "off" flavors.
If you are interested in seeing this process in person, many of our local Gwinnett breweries offer behind the scenes tours where you can see firsthand how the beer is made. If you’d like to take a deeper dive, attend Gwinnett beer tours where you are guaranteed a private tour where you can ask all your questions while tasting some of each breweries best beers.
The most common styles:
- Pale Ale: Medium bodied beer with low to medium caramel and carries a toasted maltiness flavor.
- India Pale Ale (IPA): a pale ale but with more hops.
- Sour: Intentionally acidic or tart. These are usually very fruity flavors.
- Stout: Typically, very dark and served in smaller sizes. A stout is dark because it is roasted for a long time. An imperial stout will have highest alcohol content.
- Lager: Most consumed type of beer. They can be pale, amber or dark.
Here are some facts about craft beer that make it unique and interesting:
- The legal limit of alcohol in a beer for the state of Georgia is 13.9%. Most craft beers will have 4-7% alcohol. It is very rare to find a beer as high as 13.9%, if you do it is usually a barrel aged stout.
- IPA got its name (India Pale Ale) because back in 1815 when it was shipped from England to India, they added hops to the beer as a preservative while in transport. American brewers have doubled down on this by adding even more hops for flavor, that has given our versions a distinct flavor compared to the English Style IPAs.
- Beer is divided into two groups: ales and lagers. The difference is in the way they are fermented. Lagers are fermented colder for a longer period and an ale is fermented warm and has a quicker fermentation time.
- The difference between craft beer and regular beer is the amount of production. Regular beer is mass produced so it contains less and cheaper ingredients to reduce the price. Craft beer is made with hand-selected ingredients to produce smaller, but higher quality batches.
What to order?
Here is a very simple breakdown of what you should order based off what type of what drinks you like:
If you are still unsure what to order, most breweries offer flights which are small tastings, this is the perfect way to sample beer till you find the right one. The atmosphere of each brewery is unique, but they all have a laid back vibe. Most weekends a food truck will be present along with live music. We include all the brewery events on our event calendar for you to check out!
Interested in brewing your own beer? Operation Homebrew in Grayson allows you to rent barrels to brew your own beer. They have all the tools and ingredients you need!