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How to Run a Bar: Beer Basics

Beer is among the most popular beverages consumed in bars in the United States. It is brewed from malted barley, hops, and water. Yeast is added, which converts the natural sugars to alcohol and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide gives beer its carbonation.

Here’s a list of some beer terms you may have seen on labels or heard in beer commercials:

  • Ale is top-fermented beer (meaning the yeast collects on top of the fermenting vat). Pale ales are usually a little bitter, usually taste hoppy, and generally have a higher alcohol content. Amber ales are sweeter and milder with less hops.

    India Pale Ales, commonly known as IPAs, are substantially hoppier than their pale ale cousins, and are extremely popular at the moment. Blonde ales are a little softer and lighter in color.

  • Bitter beer is a strong ale, usually English, with a higher-than-normal alcohol content and, as the name implies, a bittersweet taste.

  • Bock beer is a dark, strong, slightly sweet lager beer brewed from caramelized malt.

  • Lager is a bottom-fermented beer (meaning the yeast collects at the bottom of the vat or even the mug after it’s poured) that is stored at very low (cold) temperatures for a long period of time (several months). Lager is the German word for to store. Heineken, Budweiser, and Samuel Adams are well-known lagers.

  • Lambic beer is brewed in Belgium. Ingredients such as peaches, raspberries, cherries, and wheat are added during the brewing process. These beers tend to be sweet and slightly syrupy.

  • Light beer has fewer calories and less alcohol. Bud Light and Coors Light are two big names in light beer.

  • Low-carb beer has less sugar and fewer calories than its regular counterpart. Michelob Ultra is a familiar brand of low-carb beer.

  • Malt liquor is fermented at a higher temperature than other beers, which results in a higher alcohol content.

  • Pilsner is a light, hoppy, dry lager, named for the Czech city of Pilzen. Widely available pilsner brands include Miller Lite, Stella Artois, and Pilsner Urquell.

  • Sake is beer brewed and processed from rice. (Some consider sake a wine.) Sake is served warm or at room temperature.

  • Stout is an ale produced from heavily roasted barley. It’s darker in color and has a slightly bitter flavor, reminiscent of coffee or dark chocolate. Guinness, made from a nearly 300-year-old recipe, is the best-selling stout in the world.

  • Trappist beer has been brewed in Europe by Trappist monks in a monastery for hundreds of years. It contains high levels of alcohol and is usually amber to dark in color.

    Spencer Trappist Ale brewed by the St. Joseph Monastery in Spencer, Massachusetts, is the first and only recognized true Trappist ale.

  • Wheat beer is made from, um, wheat. It’s usually garnished with a lemon or orange wedge. Some people add a little raspberry syrup. Blue Moon Belgian White is a wheat beer. Hefeweizen is a German-style, unfiltered wheat beer that tends to be spicy with a hint of cloves.

Unless you plan to use a huge beer selection as a draw, it is recommended choosing about 20 beers to keep on hand. Select five local brews, five national beers, three light beers, five imported beers, and two nonalcoholic beers. Don’t forget you need adequate cold-storage space to store them all.

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