You’ve sipped pints in some of Halifax’s craft breweries, and even visited a few taprooms outside the city. Now it’s time to take your craft-beer experience up a notch. Chatting with other enthusiasts is the best way to learn, so learn to talk the talk.
Ale versus lager: People use a lot of terms for beer that they shouldn’t, like suds and wobbly pop. But the biggest sin is using ale and lager interchangeably. Yeast eats sugar and produces alcohol and carbonation. Without yeast, it’s not beer. Different yeasts need different conditions to survive. Ale yeast likes warmer temperatures and ferments quickly, often in as little as a week to 10 days. Lager yeast demands a cooler location, and can take weeks to finish the job.
ABV: Alcohol by volume, the percentage of your beverage that’s made up of alcohol. A typical local beer will be in the 5% to 6% range.
Imperial: These high-alcohol beers were first brewed in 18th-century England for export to Russia and the Baltic states. Brewers dialled up the alcohol and hop levels to preserve the beer on its long journey. The result is an 8% to 12% ABV beer. More recently, North American breweries applied the term to high hop and alcohol IPAs, which are also called double IPAs. Tread carefully with these; you’ll feel their effects after your first pint.
Session beer: A low-alcohol (generally in the 3.5% to 5% range), light-bodied beer that offers easy drinking and low bitterness.
IBU: International bittering units is a quick way to identify how much hop bitterness you’ll find in your bottle. Some breweries make a sport of seeing how high they can push that number. Developing a taste for hops takes time. Start with something in the 15 to 30 IBU range and work up.
Aroma: Research tells us that 90% of what we perceive as flavour is derived from our sense of smell. Start your pint with a big smell rather than a big swig. Put your nose in the glass, open your mouth and inhale through your nose. Think about what you smell and let that inform your first sip.
Tropical/Citrus/Pine: Hops are one of the easiest flavours to identify in beer, so it’s a great place to start learning. After your big sniff, take a sip, but don’t swallow right away. Let the beer dance on your tongue. Note tropical flavours like passion fruit and pineapple, orange and grapefruit, and earthy hints like pine and resin.
Dry hop: This is an ancient technique that’s come back in a big way. Traditionally, adding hops was more about inhibiting spoilage than imparting taste. Thanks to refrigerators and modern packaging, modern dry hopping is all about adding extra aroma to beer to enhance its taste.
Mouthfeel: Think about the level of carbonation you’re feeling. A lager might feature tiny, champagne-like bubbles that buzz in your mouth, while a high alcohol beer often feels warm and velvety.
Body: Like mouthfeel, body describes how the beer feels. This time we’re looking at weight and thickness. A fizzy lager will feel much lighter in your mouth than a full-bodied stout.
Lacing: The intricate lace-like patterns left on the inside of your glass as you drink. While some say it’s an indication of high quality ingredients in the beer, others say the only thing lacing tells you is your glass is clean and free of detergent residue.
Growler: A reusable jug used to transport fresh craft beer. Common growler sizes in Halifax range from 750ml to 1.89L. Some breweries will let you swap your old growler for a new one when you bring it back clean, but most will refill your old growler. What’s important isn’t the label, but that it is clean. Rinse your growler with hot water as soon as you empty it and let it air dry, until it is dry. No cheating.
Cask: Known by the marketing label “real ale” in the U.K., this beer starts the process in the fermenter like it’s beer siblings, but instead of pouring into a bottle or growler it goes into a barrel-shaped cask with some residual yeast to mature more. Cask beer isn’t force carbonated like draught, so it develops less carbonation, which lets subtle flavours shine through. Find cask beer locally on Barrington Street at the Henry House or Stillwell.
Must-try beers: Award winners
Vohs Weizenbier (hefeweizen)
Uncle Leo’s Brewery, Lyon’s Brook, N.S.
This beer won the 2017 Canadian Brewing Awards (CBA) gold award for German-style wheat beer in May. The wheat malt lends this light-bodied beer a cloudy look, while the yeast adds a hint of clove and banana flavours. It weighs in at 5% ABV and 14 IBUs—a perfect pairing with BBQ chicken and summer salads. Available throughout the summer.
Propeller Brewing, Halifax, N.S.
Some people say dark beers are just for the winter. But they’re wrong. This delightfully refreshing porter offers notes of chocolate, coffee, and dark sugar. At 5% ABV, it’s a good sipper for an evening by a bonfire. This year it won bronze in CBA’s porter category. Available year-round.