Last week was American Craft Beer Week, and, more than ever, it seemed to also be American Steep Your Beers In Other Things Week. In addition to a handful of rare brewery-supplied beers and cost-saving specials, nearly every decent beer hall in town had SOMETHING that was firkin’d, foss’d, infused or hop-rocketed.
Which got me thinking: what does the average person DO with terms like “firkin,” “foss,” “infusion” and “hop-rocket?”
Nothing, probably. The terms are hard to decipher and they often overlap. You can firkin in a Foss, and you can infuse with a hop-rocket, and seriously these are terms you need to learn to be a beer reviewer ON TOP OF the impossibility of defining mouthfeel, bitterness and general aroma notes.
Don’t worry, though. Because I’m a seasoned professional and because I genuinely care about your beer intake, I want to de-mystify these words for you.
Because you’re the best readers in the world.
(And, because you NEED to understand the significance of a grapefruit-infused Crooked Tree IPA from Dark Horse, if you ever get the chance to try one.)
The Putting Beer In Things (And Putting Things In Beer) Glossary
There’s putting stuff in beer. And then there’s putting beer in stuff. Take a discarded bourbon or whisky barrel - or, in the case of something like Odell’s Brewing Amuste, an old oak wine barrel - and you’ve got the crucial ingredient for higher-priced and boozy-tasting (read: probably delicious) barrel-infused beer.
The key: a beer soaks up the residual awesomeness of the liquor that came before it. The classic example is Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout - a beer that’s not only rare, but splintered (try the Bourbon County Coffee Stout, or the Cherry Rye Bourbon County Stout, for example) and sought after more than any other major beer outside of California. For good reason - a good year rates 100 or more. A bad year drops down to a measly 98.
Then, there’s the wine-barreled beers, which take on a musky red-flavor that’s surprisingly refreshing. I’m no wine fan, but I get it. At least, I get it when it’s mixed with beer.
When we say “dry-hopping,” we mean “dry-hopping at the tap,” which is often done via firkin infusion or hop-rocket. Case in point: you can throw a pile of Citra hops - one of the more recent of super-popular and probably overrated hops (but don’t tell my taste buds about it, because they CRAVE Citra at all points of every day) - into a pile of delicious beer and suddenly your west-coast IPA or milk stout or whatever-it-is now takes on the subtle tropical-ity of Citra.
Taylor’s Pantry has started hop-rocketing Odell IPA with Citra hops. I haven’t tried it, but I can only imagine it’s fantastic.
A “firkin” is a measure of volume - according to journalistic stalwart Wikipedia, it’s a a quarter of an ale or beer barrel - but more recently it has become a vessel for cask beers. If you ever hear of a bar “tapping a firkin at three o’clock,” you can be assured that you’re going to get a cask version of a beer you’ve already tried, but infused with some kind of fruit or vegetable.
It might sound gross. It’s not. It’s delightful, in the right situation (a chili-infused firkin of a stout or porter might be the epitome of veggie/beer pairing). It’s also all the rage. Look for a visiting brewer, a sales rep with some hats to give away, and an eager bar filled with beer nerds.
Until Thursday’s Schell’s Takeover at Monk’s, I had never heard of a Fass. I can’t even find it on the INTERNET, you guys. I can tell you this, though: it’s a beer container. Except plastic. I think. I dunno. My Foss’d Schell’s Pilsner was the highlight of the night, and that’s even when it was followed by a glass of Schell’s Firebrick, one of the best Vienna Lagers ever created.
This is the act of passing a beer through a machine called a HopRocket. It is a blast of fresh hops without the risk of an overtly vegetable taste - as if you let your beer rest on a batch of beets for too long. HopRocketing can be awesome. Or, it can be masked by the already strong hops in a beer.
Best done in a beer that’s not too-hop forward, but horrible in a beer that’s not supposed to be hopped in the first place. (Please, in the name of St. Bernardus, never hop-rocket a Belgian ale or Oktoberfest. PLEASE.)
You put something in a keg, and it infuses into the beer. Grapefruit in an IPA. Plums in a Belgian quad. Dry hops in pretty much anything. Infuse it, and it’s probably decent, because most brewers aren’t likely to RUIN their beer by putting stupid things in it.
No hot-dog-infused porters. No chili-pepper-infused hefeweizens. No grass-infused Grain Belt, unless you just mowed your lawn and caught a few strays.
These are the terms I kept hearing over the past week. There are more. If you can help shed light to the weird foreign glossary we encounter as craft beer connoisseurs, list them in the comments below. And, add your own altered definition to these above. The language of beer in the past decade is a language that’s evolving. Your dry-hopping is another’s infusion; your firkin is another’s pin.
Let’s progress this language. Let’s make it clear for the rest of the world.