By Patrick Evans-Hylton
Since the eighteenth century, beer has been a common beverage in Virginia. George Washington loved his porter – but only if it was brewed in America – and Thomas Jefferson considered beer one of the necessary “table drinks.” We concur. And lots of other folks apparently do too, because August is designated Virginia Craft Beer Month. Back in the day, it wasn’t unusual for folks to brew their own beer. Many households created it with ingredients we’d recognize today, including grain, water, hops and yeast. But malted barley for the base (or mash) wasn’t easy to come by in Colonial Virginia, so brewers improvised with what they had, such as pumpkin, molasses, and sometimes even spruce and pine pitch.
Now, before you schlep out to find pumpkin and pine pitch and start brewing yourself, rejoice: across Coastal Virginia the craft beer scene has exploded.
One of my favorite places to experience a variety of local brews is at TASTE; the tap handles at all stores reflect an assortment of imbibes from places like Smartmouth Brewing Company and O’Connor Brewing Company.
You can also grab a growler at TASTE and take some beer home to share and enjoy.
Want to make the most of that frosty mug, not just during Virginia Craft Beer Month but all throughout the year? Here are seven must-know beer terms:
ABV – an abbreviation for Alcohol By Volume, which lets drinkers know what portion of the total volume of liquid in their glass is alcohol. Lower alcohol brews are often called session beers (often three or four percent) because you can enjoy a number of them over a period of time or a session. An average ABV is four or six percent; some beers have ABVs as high as 25 to 70 percent.
Ale – is a type of beer that generally has a higher alcohol content than lagers and typically more full-bodied, more bitter, and often sweet, fruity notes. India Pale Ale, or IPA, is one of the most well-known types.
Growler – simply put, a growler is a container to transport and (temporarily) store liquid, usually beer, but sometimes coffee, wine and more. They are usually glass, but can also be stainless steel or ceramic. Growlers are washable and reusable; bring one into most breweries and all TASTE locations to fill up again and again.
Hops – these flowers of the hop plant are used in beer to add certain qualities – particularly bitterness, as measured in a beer’s IBU. Hops also often impart citrus notes. Don’t get hung up on the word, bitter, however – while the levels range from non-detectable to highly discernible, hops (can) give beer true zest.
IBU – an abbreviation for International Bittering Units, which lets drinkers know how bitter (from the use of hops) their beer is. Beers with IBUs of 20 or less have very little – if any – bitterness. The most common IBUs run 20-45 percent, and have some pronounced bitterness. Beers with a 45 IBU or higher are very heavily hopped.
IPA – an abbreviation for India Pale Ale, a type of ale characterized by its pronounced use of hops. It is usually light and refreshing, with varying bitterness from the hops.
Lager – the most common type of beer, usually amber, dark, golden or pale, and typically crisp, light(er) and refreshing. Lagers are generally balanced and smooth. Some examples are Bock, Marzen, Pilsner and Schwarzbier.
NOTE: Join my Facebook group, PEH Buzz Club, for regular outings across the region in pursuit of delicious beer, coffee, spirits and wine. Better yet, join us on Wednesday, Aug. 3 beginning at 5:30 p.m. as we raise a glass to Virginia Craft Beer Month at TASTE’s Bayville store, 4097 Shore Dr., Virginia Beach.
Patrick Evans-Hylton is TASTE’s resident foodie, hosting a number of delicious events throughout the year. The Johnson & Wales-trained chef and wine and cheese expert is an award-winning food journalist, covering tasty trends since 1995 in print, broadcast and electronic media. He is publisher of Virginia Eats + Drinks Magazine; subscribe free at www.facebook.com/VirginiaEatsDrinksMag