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Craft Beer Brouhaha Reaches a Head

Tickers in this article: BREW BUD TAP
Lara walked along the tracks following a path worn by pilgrims and then turned into the fields. Here she stopped and, closing her eyes, took a deep breath of the flower-scented air of the broad expanse around her. It was dearer to her than her kin, better than a lover, wiser than a book. For a moment she rediscovered the purpose of her life. She was here on earth to grasp the meaning of its wild enchantment and to call each thing by its right name, or, if this were not within her power, to give birth out of love for life to successors who would do it in her place.

-- Boris Pasternak, from Dr. Zhivago

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- Admittedly, the community of small brewers, brewpubs, bottle shops, taprooms, beer festivals and publications that throws itself under the umbrella of "craft" can seem fairly pedantic at times.

If you ask for a pint of stout, they'll give it to you in a bulbous 20-ounce glass larger than the shaker tumbler you're accustomed to -- with 16 ounces for the pint and 4 to accommodate the head. Ask for a wheat beer that tastes like Blue Moon, and you might be told it's a witbier and get Pierre Celis' life story in return. Ask a brewer for one of their resealable gallon jugs and you'll learn what a growler is, if not a grenade (its 32-ounce sibling).

They're not trying to be difficult. It's just that among this community, specific words and terms matter.

It's a similar case in just about every other corner of life. Once you've heard it referred to as a lintel, you'll never call the top portion of your door anything else. Once that wall around a stage curtain is a proscenium, no other word will do. Break bones in your fingers and you'll never forget the word phalanges.

The folks in the small brewing community are just trying to make sure you get what you want, and that the word you're using will get you to it without confusion. It's not as easy as it sounds. Bars throughout the U.S. have no qualms serving you a beer in a straight-sided 16-ounce shaker pint that not only diminishes odor and flavor (a minor quibble), but will get you less than 16 ounces every time unless the bartender sweeps the beer's head clean off. At some shops and breweries, the 32-ounce size, or even a two-liter version, is also a "growler." Ask for a wheat beer, meanwhile, and you run the risk of being handed a Kona Wailua Ale, Boulevard Unfiltered or Goose Island 312: All fine beers, but none remotely resembling that Blue Moon you tasted.

In an attempt to eliminate confusion, blogger and Northwest beer writer Bill Night suggested during the hop harvest earlier this month that brewers stop using both "fresh hop" and "wet hop" to describe beers brewed with hops picked just 24 hours before brewing. By using both terms, Night says some breweries reserve the "wet hop" term for when they use fresh-picked stock and will use "fresh hop" to describe bundles of the freshest hops they have hanging around at the time.