Beer Terms

I’ll update this glossary as I use new terms in articles. If you see an underlined word that’s unfamiliar, click on it! Chances are it’ll bring you here.

A

  • ABV: Alcohol by volume. A standard method of measuring the percentage of alcohol in a beverage.
  • Acetaldehyde: A byproduct of fermentation that produces green apple flavors. Also a product of alcohol metabolism that is thought to be more harmful than the alcohol itself and could be the cause of hangovers.
  • Adjunct: Fermentable materials sometimes used as a brewing supplement. Large breweries often use inexpensive adjuncts like corn and rice to make their beers lighter and cheaper. Craft breweries sometimes use adjuncts to enhance flavor.
  • Ale: One of the two major types of beer (the other being lager beer). Ales use top-fermenting yeast strains that perform at warmer temperatures and produce flavorful, complex beers such as barleywines, IPAs, porters, stouts, and many more. For more info, check out this article.
  • Amber: A general term for ales between pale and dark in color. Ranges from popular, light-bodied ambers like Fat Tire to big, hoppy reds such as Bear Republic’s Red Rocket Ale.

B

  • Bacterial/Infected: Terms used to describe a wide range of undesirable flavors or aromas associated with microbiological malfunctions in beer.
  • Barleywine: Although barleywines share some characteristics with wine, including high alcohol content (usually around 10-12% ABV) and intense fruit and floral esters, they are beer. The style can be challenging, so try out a few before settling on an opinion. Beginners can start with Rogue’s Old Crustacean, Great Divide’s Old Ruffian, or Alesmith’s Old Numbskull. Apparently these also get better with age … as far as their names go, anyway. (Barleywines do tend to age well, though.)
  • Bottle-Conditioning: Beers that undergo fermentation in the bottle. This can occur in unfiltered beer (the final conditioning takes place in the bottle) or when brewers add yeast after filtering (which makes a second fermentation take place). This can produce extremely flavorful, complex beers.
  • Bottom-Fermenting Yeast: Strains of yeast associated with producing lagers. These yeasts earn their name from their relatively lengthy fermentation time, during when they don’t create as much suspensive foam and end up settling at the bottom of the fermentation vessel. They typically ferment at around 40 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit. For more info about the beers they produce, see Lager.
  • Brown Ale: Dark, malty, full-bodied ales. Some even have nutty flavors. Often used nowadays as a catch all style for dark American and English ales. Encompasses a wide variety of flavors and potencies.

C

  • Craft Brewery: A small, independent brewery that brews beer using traditional methods and ingredients and/or uses adjuncts only to enhance beer.
  • Chili Beer: A standard, light-colored lager or ale with hot pepper juices (or a pepper itself) added to spice it up.  Spiciness can range from subtle to terrifying.

D

  • Dunkel: The German word for dark. As you might expect, this term often refers to dark German beers. Typically smooth and malty. Not to be confused with Schwarzbier.

E

  • Eisbock: A style of beer created when the brewer employs freeze distillation to concentrate the flavors and alcohol content of a doppelbock.
  • Ester: A fragrant and flavorful organic compound that is a by-product of yeast fermentation. Often comes across as sugary, spicy, or floral.
  • Extra Special Bitter: ESB. Despite the name, these copper-colored English ales usually aren’t all that bitter. They’re more aggressive than traditional English bitters but still well-balanced. You’ll find way more bitterness in some other styles, such as IPAs.

F

  • Fermentation: The process by which living yeast converts sugar to alcohol, which also produces carbon dioxide (for carbonation!).

G

  • Glassware: The glass is an important part of enjoying beer. You don’t really need every beer glass on display at your local Bevmo, but a nice selection of weizen glasses, pint glasses, goblets, etc. can definitely enhance your drinking experience. For example, boisterous Belgian ales are often best served in a tulip or snifter, which funnel the fruity aromas up into your nostrils — and make your beer look damn sexy. If you want more information, check out this guide.
  • Gravity: A term used in chemistry when measuring the density of a liquid. In brewing, it usually refers to a brew’s density relative to water and is measured in degrees on the Plato scale. You might see terms like “original gravity” and “final gravity”; these refer to different stages in the brewing process. Original gravity measures the sugar in the wort before fermentation, and final gravity measures the sugar left afterward. A higher final gravity usually means you’re getting a sweeter, maltier beer, whereas a lower final gravity indicates cleaner, crisper flavors.
  • Growler: A half-gallon glass jug used to transport draught beer.
  • Gueuze: A Belgian-style ale that blends lambics of different ages, then lets them age some more in the bottle. This is an intense, sour style that will probably stun new drinkers. Usually pronounced “gooz-ah” in America, but pronunciations vary, especially overseas.

H

  • Hefeweizen: German for “wheat with yeast;” hence, a German-style unfiltered wheat ale. Expect a light body, cloudy appearance, flavors of bananas and cloves, and moderate alcohol content. Beginners might want to start with well-established German offerings, the best (in my opinion) being the Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier.
  • Hops: A flowering plant used in brewing that acts as a preservative and gives beer its bitter aroma and flavor.
  • Hybrid Beer: A beer that cannot be clearly defined as a lager or an ale. Usually a hybrid beer is made by blending brewing techniques; for example, when a brewer employs bottom-fermenting lager yeasts (which usually perform at cooler temperatures) at abnormally warm temperatures, e.g., steam beers (AKA California common beers). They can also utilize adjunct malts to create new flavors, which means hybrid beer styles include fruit beers and spiced beers.

I

  • IBU: International Bitterness Units. A scale used to measure hop bitterness in beer. Usually indicates bitterness of flavor, but not always: A stout may have a higher IBU than a pale ale but taste less hoppy because its maltiness balances things out. But, generally speaking, if you see an IBU around 40-50 or above, you’re getting a beer with intense bitter flavors, probably a flavorful IPA, stout, barleywine, etc. Less potent but still noticeable hop flavors lie in the 20-40 range, and anything below that shows very little hop bitterness.

  • IPA: India Pale Ale. American versions of this style are usually hop monsters, and many new beer drinkers aren’t fond of them. Once you learn to appreciate the balance between the sweet malt and floral hops, you’ll open up a whole new world of beer. Beginners should try the Dogfishhead 90 Minute IPA (its relative smoothness makes it a great gateway beer, but it’s a double IPA, so watch out for its 9% ABV) and then move on to a Bear Republic IPA like Racer 5 or Hop Rod Rye. Belgian brewers have also taken a crack at the style, creating dryly bitter beers that often taste like an American IPA blended with a Belgian tripel.

J

  • Jeroboam: A curvaceous type of wine bottle that sometimes houses beers as well. Jeroboams are larger than your average beer bottle, ranging in size from 3 to 5 liters.

K

  • Kräusening: Before bottling a beer, brewers will sometimes discover that it’s gone flat. The yeast became inactive (a brewing term that means either “dead as crap” or “in a micro-coma”), and when that happened, they stopped excreting all those delicious byproducts. Kräusening fixes this problem. It describes the act of pouring new wort – with active yeast – into a beer that’s ready to bottle, which stimulates continued (or second) fermentation. This method gives the beer a more lively, carbonated character and can reduce flavors of diacetyl and acetaldehyde. Lagers require kräusening more often than ales because their colder fermentation temperatures make yeast work slower and extend the lagering process, which gives yeast more time to fall asleep. Note: Kräusen can also describe foaming during early fermentation.

L

  • Lace: If the glass is clean and the beer is poured properly to produce head, the foam will leave a spiderweb trail down your glass as you empty it. This is called beer lace.
  • Lager: One of the two major types of beer (the other being ale). Lagers use bottom-fermenting yeasts that perform at cooler temperatures and often produce clean, crisp beers such as pilsners, märzens, and many others. For more info, check out this article.
  • Lambic: Tart, crisp ales that ferment spontaneously via exposure to wild yeast. A traditionally Belgian style. Sometimes fruit is added during fermentation to impart additional flavors.
  • Light-Struck: A beer is light-struck when exposure to ultraviolet light chemically alters its hop compounds. This produces a sulfurous odor and flavor, which is why light-struck beers are often described as “skunked.”

M

  • Macrobrewery: The big boys in the brewing industry. BMC: Bud, Miller, Coors. The word has a derogatory connotation in some beer communities because these breweries use cheap ingredients (see Adjuncts) to mass-produce cheap beer.
  • Malt: Short for malted barley (or some other cereal grain like wheat or rye). The base ingredient of beer, aside from water. Contributes flavor, color, and body.
  • Mashing: The stage in brewing when milled grains are mixed with hot water in a mash tun (an insulated vessel) to extract starches and convert them into fermentable sugars (so that yeast may later go to town on them).
  • Metal Turbidity: An old brewing term used to describe flavor contamination in beer that has come into direct contact with a reactive metal like tin or aluminum.
  • Mouthfeel: The way the beer feels … in your mouth. Influenced by body, carbonation, etc.

N

  • Nitro: Sometimes a bar will employ phrases like “nitro conditioned” or “on nitro” to sell a beer, particularly a draught stout. Upon seeing this, you might think, “Someone’s ad campaign has gone horribly awry, because that sounds like something that will explode in my mouth.” Don’t worry. Nitro refers to a combo of CO2 and nitrogen that propels the beer from barrel to tap. Nitrogen produces tiny bubbles and gives the beer a smooth, creamy texture. This is why Guinness on draught usually tastes like a burnt creamsicle (and because most bars serve it way too cold).

O

  • Old Ale: This commonly refers to dark, malty English ales. Alcohol content ranges from mild to very strong. Sometimes also called stock ales.

  • Oxidation: The process by which oxygen (or other oxidizing substances) interacts with chemicals in a beer. It can make a beer taste stale or produce a variety of other undesirable flavors. Heat and movement can accelerate the process, which is why beer should be stored in a fridge.

P

  • Pale Ale: A popular, well-balanced ale style of British origin. Flavors vary depending on the ingredients used; many American pale ales tend to have crisp, hoppy flavors, whereas British pales are often balanced with more malt.
  • Pilsner: Also spelled “pilsener” or “pils.” A pale Central-European lager. Gets its name from being developed in Pilsen, Bohemia, which is now Plzeň, a city in the Czech Republic. Expect spicy floral hops and grassy notes with a light body. A Prima Pils or Mama’s Little Yellow Pils wouldn’t be a bad place to start.
  • Porter: A dark ale that resembles a stout but is often a bit lighter in body and color (almost black with dark browns and reds). Expect moderate bitterness with flavors of roasted malts, chocolate, and coffee. For a start, look for a Sam Smith Taddy Porter, Anchor Porter, or Kona’s Pipeline Porter (a great choice for beginners who like coffee, but it’s a seasonal beer).

Q

R

  • Reinheitsgebot: This Bavarian Purity Law of 1514 states that beer may contain only 4 ingredients: malted grains, hops, yeast, and water. It’s the oldest food purity law on the books, and most German brewers still adhere to it. (It was, however, struck down in 1987 after being labeled an enemy of free trade.)

S

  • Saison: A traditionally Belgian style. Also known as farmhouse ales. These complex golden ales are usually a bit dry and tart with nice fruit flavors. Try Ommegang’s Hennepin.

  • Schwarzbier: “Black beer” in German. These dark German lagers often look and taste a lot like stouts but are typically tamer on the tongue.
  • Scottish Ale: A type of beer from Scotland known for its dark brown color and rich malt flavors. Try an Oskar Blues Old Chub first.

  • Sediment: A by-product of yeast fermentation composed of fats, proteins, and inactive yeast that is found in bottle-conditioned and unfiltered beers. Sediment is not harmful (some even believe it’s good for you!), but it can be a bit of a turn-off in terms of appearance and mouthfeel. You can limit the amount of sediment in your glass by opening and pouring the bottle gently and leaving a small amount of beer (with the sediment) at the bottom of the bottle. Also known as yeast deposits, trub, and lees (refers to sediment left by secondary fermentation).
  • Session Beer: A low-alcohol beer with mild, balanced flavors. Typically designed to encourage drinking of multiple beers in a single sitting (or “session”) without destroying the palate or getting the drinker totally plastered. The name possibly originated during World War II in Britain, when the government imposed allowable drinking times on shell makers.
  • Steam Beer: Also known as Common beer, the steam beer is an American-style lager brewed with special yeast that ferment at warmer temperatures than normal, producing lagers that are medium-bodied, malty, and even hoppy. See hybrid beers.
  • Stout: About as dark as beers come. The term stout encompasses an incredibly varied list of beers, so depending on the substyle you can expect a light, medium, or full body and flavors of roasted malt, coffee, and chocolate. For an introduction, a dry stout like Guinness will do the trick (preferably on tap or in a bottle marked Extra Stout)—but if you’re in the mood to explore other variations on the style, try a Rogue Chocolate Stout, a Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout, or, if you’re feeling brave, a Russian imperial stout like North Coast Brewery’s Old Rasputin.

T

  • Top-Fermenting Yeast: Strains of yeast associated with producing ales. These yeasts earn their name during fermentation, when they rise and foam at the top of the wort. They typically ferment at around 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. For info about the beers produced by these yeasts, see Ale.
  • Trappist: The word Trappist refers to a Roman Catholic religious order. In the beer world, it usually refers to robust ales produced by Trappist monks, who sell the beer to fund their monasteries and drink the beer as a means of sustenance during fasts (and, I’m sure, for personal enjoyment).
  • Tripel: A style of strong pale ale often associated with Trappist monasteries. Characterized by fruit, spice, and caramel flavors; a golden hue; and high alcohol content. For a place to start, try a La Fin Du Monde or something with Trappist on the label.

U

  • Underback: A tub into which wort is drained from the mash before moving into another vessel for boiling.

V

  • Vintage: The year of a beer’s production. Many beers can age like wine, so some craft breweries have started printing the vintage on the label.

W

  • Wild Yeast: When a beer is brewed in open air, it is usually to allow exposure to natural yeast and bacterial infection. These natural yeasts, also called wild yeast, produce beers that are, um … wild. See Lambic.
  • Winter Warmer: A traditional English-style ale whose malty sweetness makes it a winter favorite. Sometimes spiced, sometimes hopped, these beers tend to be fairly well-balanced with a nice, subtle alcohol warmth.
  • Wort: A sweet liquid extracted from mash during the brewing process. Basically, beer before fermentation.

X

  • Xylose: A sugar that exists in wort in very small quantities but doesn’t usually affect anything about the beer.

Y

  • Yeast: A micro-organism classified as fungi. These little guys create beer (and many other alcoholic beverages) by breaking down sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide. In brewing, adding yeast to wort or beer is called “pitching” the yeast.

Z

  • Zymurgy: The chemistry term for the study of fermentation. Also known as zymology. If you brew, you’re a zymurgist! Or a zymologist. I think the latter sounds better.

Responses

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