It’s likely that most of you have noticed a change on the beer walls at both UGSE and UGCH recently. Ever since the Urban Grape opened, our wines have been organized in a progressive way, from light-bodied to heavy-bodied, as a way to help you explore your palate and perhaps to try out wines you otherwise wouldn’t have considered. Now, we’re doing the same for beer. This was, admittedly, a bit tricky. The flavor profiles of beer are exceedingly complex, with over 120 recognized styles and literally thousands of possible ingredient combinations. How can that be boiled down into a simple, accessible system? Almost every beer is a combination of malt, hops, and yeast, with each of these three ingredients contributing to the flavor and aroma of the beer. I decided that the best way to organize the beer was by dividing them along the lines of those three ingredients. Each beer in the shop is defined and categorized, on a scale of 1 to 5, by its dominant ingredient: Malt, Hops, or Yeast.
Malted grain is the main ingredient in any beer. Normally it’s malted barley, but often wheat, oats, or rye are added to a brew to create different flavor profiles or textures. Malted grain is the source of the alcohol in beer, of course, which is very important, but it also determines the color, and a great deal of the flavor profile. Notice a sweetness in your beer, or a roasty/coffee note on the finish? That’s coming from the malt. The residual sugar in malt creates the sweetness, and the level to which the malt has been roasted will provide darker colors and more roasted or toasty character to the flavor. The color of the beer doesn’t have anything to do with the weight or alcohol content of the beer, there can be heavy pale beers and light dark beers. However, they do determine a great deal of flavor character, and that’s how we’ve decided to shelve the beer that emphasizes malt. 1M is where you’ll find the palest beers, with biscuity flavors and mild sweetness; 5M is where the big, roasty, cocoa-coffee tasting stouts and porters will sit. Ambers, reds, and brown ales will fall somewhere in between.
Hops are added to beer during the brew process to provide a bitter balance to the malt’s sweetness, as well as intense citrus, pine, and floral aromas. While most of us are familiar with hops by way of the classic West Coast-style IPA, full of intense pine and grapefruit with a strongly bitter finish, hops can be used in a wide variety of ways, creating far more subtle flavors and brews. The variety of hop matters a great deal, as does its place of origin. American hops are known for their potency, while German hops are more floral, and some Japanese hops lend delicate herbal notes to a beer. Hop-forward beers will be shelved according to the intensity of hop flavor in the beers. Among the 1H’s, you’ll find hoppy pilsners and light pale ales, beers where the hops are the star, but won’t wreck the palate. 5H, on the other hand, is reserved for the biggest of the hop bombs; dank, resinous, and just generally huge.
Yeast is the most important ingredient in beer, and yet often the most overlooked. Without yeast, beer is just barley tea with hops in it. Once that yeast gets involved, though, the alcohol begins to appear, and then it’s a party. It’s not just alcohol, though, that gives yeast top billing. During fermentation, different strains of yeast release different esters (flavor and aromatic compounds), granting a unique profile to every beer. Many brews seek to minimize these flavors, or to hide them with heavy malt or big hops. Some beer, however, wants yeast to take center stage. These beers are arranged on the shelf according to the level of complexity and intensity their yeast provides. At 1Y, you’ll find saisons, Belgian blondes, and beers that let their yeast play around, adding spice, fruit, and rich bready aromas to the brew. That complexity and flavor will continue up through the 3Y’s, as bubblegum, tropical fruit, and rich clove emerge. 4Y and 5Y, of course, is where the wild stuff starts happening. Friendly lactic bacteria creating tartness, wild yeast bringing funky barnyard notes in… The 5Y’s are not beginner beers, but really reward the dedicated beer drinker.
With this system in place, we’ll be better able to find you the perfect beer for any occasion, and guide you to new brews you hadn’t thought to try before. Looking for a nice big IPA for an evening grilling on the deck? Find the 4H’s. If you’ve got a creme brulee seeking the deep cocoa roast of an imperial stout, 5M is the shelf for you. Starting the evening with a cloudy, clovey Hefeweizen and a salad? The 2Ys are the way to go. If you’re just looking for a fun new beer to try, come on in and let us walk you through it. There’s a beer out there for everyone, and we’re glad to help you find yours.