Beer Glossary

Any potential craft beer enthusiast needs to learn how to speak the language! Here is a glossary of the most important terms in beer and brewing, to help those wanting to learn more about this tasteful subject.

A

Aeration

The action of introducing air or oxygen to the wort (unfermented beer) at various stages of the brewing process. Proper aeration before primary fermentation is vital to yeast health and vigorous fermentation. Aeration after fermentation is complete can result in beer off-flavors, including cardboard or paper aromas due to oxidation.

Alcohol

A synonym for ethyl alcohol or ethanol, the colorless primary alcohol constituent of beer. Alcohol ranges for beer vary from less than 3.2% to greater than 14% ABV. However, the majority of beer styles average around 5% ABV.

Alcohol by Volume (ABV)

A measurement of the alcohol content of a solution in terms of the percentage volume of alcohol per volume of beer. This measurement is always higher than Alcohol by Weight. To calculate the approximate volumetric alcohol content, subtract the final gravity from the original gravity and divide by 0.0075. For example: 1.050 – 1.012 = 0.038/0.0075 = 5% ABV.

Alcohol by Weight (ABW)

A measurement of the alcohol content of a solution in terms of the percentage weight of alcohol per volume of beer. For example: 3.2 percent alcohol by weight equals 3.2 grams of alcohol per 100 centiliters of beer. This measure is always lower than Alcohol by Volume. To calculate the approximate alcohol content by weight, subtract the final gravity from the original gravity and divide by 0.0095. For example: 1.050 – 1.012 = 0.038/0.0095 = 4% ABW.

Ale

Ales are beers fermented with top fermenting yeast. Ales typically are fermented at warmer temperatures than lagers, and are often served warmer. The term ale is sometimes incorrectly associated with alcoholic strength.

Astringency

A characteristic of beer taste mostly caused by tannins, oxidized (phenols), and various aldehydes (in stale beer). Astringency can cause the mouth to pucker and is often perceived as dryness.

B

Barley

A cereal grain derived from the annual grass Hordeum vulgare. Barley is used as a base malt in the production of beer and certain distilled spirits, as well as a food supply for humans and animals.

Barrel
  • A standard measure in the U.S. that is 31.5 gallons.
  • A wooden vessel that is used to age/condition/ferment beer. Some brewer’s barrels are brand new and others have been used previously to store wine or spirits.
Bitterness

In beer, the bitterness is caused by the tannins and iso-humulones of hops. Bitterness of hops is perceived in the taste. The amount of bitterness in a beer is one of the defining characteristics of a beer style.

Blending

The mixing together of different batches of beer to create a final product.

Body

The consistency, thickness, and mouth-filling property of a beer. The sensation of palate fullness in the mouth ranges from thin- to full-bodied.

Boiling

A critical step during the brewing process during which wort (unfermented beer) is boiled inside the brew kettle. During the boiling, one or more hop additions can occur to achieve bittering, hop flavor, and hop aroma in the finished beer. Boiling also results in the removal of several volatile compounds from wort, especially dimethyl sulfide and the coagulation of excess or unwanted proteins in the wort. Boiling also sterilizes a beer as well as ends enzymatic conversion of proteins to sugars.

Bomber

A 22-ounce bottle of beer.

Bottle Conditioning

A process by which beer is naturally carbonated in the bottle as a result of fermentation of additional wort or sugar intentionally added during packaging.

Bottom Fermentation

One of the two basic fermentation methods characterized by the tendency of yeast cells to sink to the bottom of the fermentation vessel. Lager yeast is considered to be bottom fermenting compared to ale yeast that is top fermenting. Beers brewed in this fashion are commonly called lagers or bottom-fermented beers.

Brew Kettle

One of the vessels used in the brewing process in which the wort (unfermented beer) is boiled.

Brewpub

A restaurant-brewery that sells 25% or more of its beer on site. The beer is brewed primarily for sale in the restaurant and bar. The beer is often dispensed directly from the brewery’s storage tanks. Where allowed by law, brewpubs often sell beer “to-go” and /or distribute to off site accounts.

C

Carbon Dioxide (CO2)

The gaseous by-product of yeast. Carbon dioxide is what gives beer its carbonation (bubbles).

Carbonation

The process of introducing carbon dioxide into a liquid (such as beer) by:

  • pressurizing a fermentation vessel to capture naturally produced carbon dioxide
  • injecting the finished beer with carbon dioxide
  • adding young fermenting beer to finished beer for a renewed fermentation (kraeusening)
  • priming (adding sugar to) fermented wort prior to packaging, creating a secondary fermentation in the bottle, also known as “bottle conditioning.”
Cask

A barrel-shaped container for holding beer. Originally made of iron-hooped wooden staves, now most widely available in stainless steel and aluminum.

Cask Conditioning

Storing unpasteurized, unfiltered beer for several days in cool cellars of about 48-56°F (13°C) while conditioning is completed and carbonation builds.

Chill Haze

Hazy or cloudy appearance caused when the proteins and tannins naturally found in finished beer combine upon chilling into particles large enough to reflect light or become visible.

Color

The hue or shade of a beer, primarily derived from grains, sometimes derived from fruit or other ingredients in beer. Beer styles made with caramelized, toasted or roasted malts or grains will exhibit increasingly darker colors. The color of a beer may often, but not always, allow the consumer to anticipate how a beer might taste. It’s important to note that beer color does not equate to alcohol level.

Craft Brewery

According to the Brewers Association, an American craft brewer is small, independent or traditional.

  • Small: Annual production of beer less than 6 million barrels. Beer production is attributed to a brewer according to the rules of alternating proprietorships. Flavored malt beverages are not considered beer for purposes of this definition.
  • Independent: Less than 25% of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not themselves a craft brewer.
  • Traditional: A brewer who has either an all-malt flagship (the beer which represents the greatest volume among that brewers brands) or has at least 50% of its volume in either all malt beers or in beers which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor.

D

Draught (Draft) Beer

Beer drawn from kegs, casks or serving tanks rather than from cans, bottles, or other packages. Beer consumed from a growler relatively soon after filling is also sometimes considered draught beer.

Dry Hopping

The addition of hops late in the brewing process to increase the hop aroma of a finished beer without significantly affecting its bitterness. Dry hops may be added to the wort in the kettle, whirlpool, hop back, or added to beer during primary or secondary fermentation or even later in the process.

E

Ethanol

Ethyl alcohol, the colorless primary alcohol constituent of beer.

Export

Any beer produced for the express purpose of exportation.

F

Fermentation

The chemical conversion of fermentable sugars into approximately equal parts of ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide gas, through the action of yeast. The two basic methods of fermentation in brewing are top fermentation, which produces ales, and bottom fermentation, which produces lagers.

Filtration

The passage of a liquid through a permeable or porous substance to remove solid matter in suspension, often yeast.

Final Gravity

The specific gravity of a beer as measured when fermentation is complete (when all desired fermentable sugars have been converted to alcohol and carbon dioxide gas).

Fresh Hopping

The addition of freshly harvested hops that have not yet been dried to different stages of the brewing process. Fresh hopping adds unique flavors and aromas to beer that are not normally found when using hops that have been dried and processed per usual.

Fusel Alcohol

A family of high molecular weight alcohols, which result from excessively high fermentation temperatures. Fusel alcohols can impart harsh or solvent-like characteristics commonly described as lacquer or paint thinner. It can contribute to hangovers.

G

Grainy

Tasting or smelling like cereal or raw grains.

Growler

A jug- or pail-like container once used to carry draft beer bought by the measure at the local tavern. Growlers are usually ½ gal (64 oz) or 2L (68 oz) in volume and made of glass. Brewpubs often serve growlers to sell beer to-go. Often a customer will pay a deposit on the growler but can bring it back again and again for a re-fill. Growlers to-go are not legal in all U.S. states.

H

Head Retention

The foam stability of a beer as measured, in seconds, by time required for a 1-inch foam collar to collapse.

Homebrewing

The art of making beer at home. In the U.S., homebrewing was legalized by President Carter on February 1, 1979, through a bill introduced by California Senator Alan Cranston. The Cranston Bill allows a single person to brew up to 100 gallons of beer annually for personal enjoyment and up to 200 gallons in a household of two persons or more of legal drinking age.

Hopping

The addition of hops to un-fermented wort or fermented beer.

Hops

A perennial climbing vine, also known by the Latin botanical name Humulus lupulus. The female plant yields flowers of soft-leaved pine-like cones (strobile) measuring about an inch in length. Only the female ripened flower is used for flavoring beer. Because hops reproduce through cuttings, the male plants are not cultivated and are even rooted out to prevent them from fertilizing the female plants, as the cones would become weighed-down with seeds. Seedless hops have a much higher bittering power than seeded. There are presently over one hundred varieties of hops cultivated around the world. Some of the best known are Brewer’s Gold, Bullion, Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, Cluster, Comet, Eroica, Fuggles, Galena, Goldings, Hallertau, Nugget, Northern Brewer, Perle, Saaz, Syrian Goldings, Tettnang, and Willamettes. Apart from contributing bitterness, hops impart aroma and flavor, and inhibit the growth of bacteria in wort and beer. Hops are added at the beginning (bittering hops), middle (flavoring hops), and end (aroma hops) of the boiling stage, or even later in the brewing process (dry hops). The addition of hops to beer dates from 7000-1000 BC; however hops were used to flavor beer in Pharaonic Egypt around 600 BC. They were cultivated in Germany as early as AD 300 and were used extensively in French and German monasteries in medieval times and gradually superseded other herbs and spices around the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Prior to the use of hops, beer was flavored with herbs and spices such as juniper, coriander, cumin, nutmeg, oak leaves, lime blossoms, cloves, rosemary, gentian, gaussia, chamomile, and other herbs or spices.

I

International Bittering Units (IBU)

The measure of the bittering substances in beer (analytically assessed as milligrams of isomerized alpha acid per liter of beer, in ppm). This measurement depends on the style of beer. Light lagers typically have an IBU rating between 5-10 while big, bitter India Pale Ales can have an IBU rating between 50 and 70.

K

Keg

A cylindrical container, usually constructed of steel or sometimes aluminum, commonly used to store, transport, and serve beer under pressure. In the U.S., kegs are referred to by the portion of a barrel they represent, for example, a ½ barrel keg = 15.5 gal, a ¼ barrel keg = 7.75 gal, a 1/6 barrel keg = 5.23 gal. Other standard keg sizes will be found in other countries.

Kraeusen
  • n – The rocky head of foam which appears on the surface of the wort during fermentation.
  • v – A method of conditioning in which a small quantity of unfermented wort is added to a fully fermented beer to create a secondary fermentation and natural carbonation.

L

Lace

The lacelike pattern of foam sticking to the sides of a glass of beer once it has been partly or totally emptied.

Lager

Lagers are any beer that is fermented with bottom fermenting yeast at colder temperatures. Lagers are most often associated with crisp, clean flavors and are traditionally fermented and served at colder temperatures than ales.

Lagering

Storing bottom-fermented beer in cold cellars at near-freezing temperatures for periods of time ranging from a few weeks to years, during which time the yeast cells and proteins settle out and the beer improves in taste.

Liquor

The name given, in the brewing industry, to water used for mashing and brewing, especially natural or treated water containing high amounts of calcium and magnesium salts.

M

Malt

Processed barley that has been steeped in water, germinated on malting floors or in germination boxes or drums, and later dried in kilns for the purpose of converting the insoluble starch in barley to the soluble substances and sugars in malt.

Malt Extract

A thick syrup or dry powder prepared from malt and sometimes used in brewing.

Mash

A mixture of ground malt (and possibly other grains or adjuncts) and hot water that forms the sweet wort after straining.

Mash Tun

The vessel in which grist is soaked in water and heated in order to convert the starch to sugar and to extract the sugars, colors, flavors, and other solubles from the grist.

Mashing

The process of mixing crushed malt (and possibly other grains or adjuncts) with hot water to convert grain starches to fermentable sugars and non-fermentable carbohydrates that will add body, head retention, and other characteristics to the beer. Mashing also extracts colors and flavors that will carry through to the finished beer, and also provides for the degradation of haze-forming proteins. Mashing requires several hours and produces a sugar-rich liquid called wort.

Microbrewery

As defined by the Brewers Association: A brewery that produces less than 15,000 barrels of beer per year with 75% or more of its beer sold off.

Mouthfeel

Synonym for body of a beer, weight on the tongue, perceived carbonation (sensation), perceived warmth (alcohol), and perceived astringency.

N

Noble Hops

Traditional European hop varieties prized for their characteristic flavor and aroma. Traditionally these are grown only in four small areas in Europe.

O

Original Gravity (OG)

The specific gravity of wort before fermentation. A measure of the total amount of solids that are dissolved in the wort as compared to the density of water, which is conventionally given as 1.000 and higher.

Oxidation

A chemical reaction in which one of the reactants (beer, food) undergoes the addition of or reaction with oxygen or an oxidizing agent.

Oxidized

Stale, winy flavor or aroma of wet cardboard, paper, rotten pineapple sherry and many other variations.

P

Package

A general term for the containers used to market beverages. Packaged beer is generally sold in bottles and cans. Beer sold in kegs is usually called draught beer.

pH

Abbreviation for potential Hydrogen, used to express the degree of acidity and alkalinity in an aqueous solution, usually on a logarithmic scale ranging from 1-14, with 7 being neutral, 1 being the most acidic, and 14 being the most alkaline.

Phenols

A class of chemical compounds perceptible in both aroma and taste. Some phenolic flavors and aromas are desirable in certain beer styles, for example German-style wheat beers in which the phenolic components derived from the yeast used, or Smoke beers in which the phenolic components derived from smoked malt. Higher concentrations in beer are often due to the brewing water, infection of the wort by bacteria or wild yeasts, cleaning agents, or crown and can linings. Phenolic sensory attributes include clovey, herbal, medicinal, or pharmaceutical (band-aid).

Primary Fermentation

The first stage of fermentation carried out in open or closed containers and lasting from two to twenty days during which time the bulk of the fermentable sugars are converted to ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide gas. Synonym: Principal fermentation; initial fermentation.

Priming

The addition of small amounts of fermentable sugars to fermented beer before racking or bottling to induce a renewed fermentation in the bottle or keg and thus carbonate the beer.

Prohibition

A law instituted by the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (stemming from the Volstead Act) on January 18, 1920, forbidding the sale, production, importation, and transportation of alcoholic beverages in the U.S. It was repealed by the Twenty-first Amendment to the U.S. Constitution on December 5, 1933. The Prohibition Era is sometimes referred to as The Noble Experiment.

Q

Quaff

To drink deeply.

R

Racking

The process of transferring beer from one vessel to another, especially into the final package or keg.

Resin

The gummy organic substance produced by certain plants and trees. Humulone and lupulone, for example, are bitter resins that occur naturally in the hop flower.

S

Secondary Fermentation
  • The second, slower stage of fermentation for top fermenting beers, and lasting from a few weeks to many months, depending on the type of beer.
  • A renewed fermentation in bottles or casks and initiated by priming or by adding fresh yeast.
Sediment

The refuse of solid matter that settles and accumulates at the bottom of fermenters, conditioning vessels, and bottles of bottle-conditioned beer.

Skunked (Lightstruck)

A distinctive foulness that appears in both the aroma and flavor in beer and is caused by exposure of beer in light colored bottles or beer in a glass to ultra-violet or fluorescent light.

Specific Gravity

The ratio of the density of a substance to the density of water. This method is used to determine how much dissolved sugars are present in the wort or beer. Specific gravity has no units because it is expressed as a ratio. See also Original Gravity and Final Gravity.

T

Tannins

A group of organic compounds contained in certain cereal grains and other plants. Tannins are present in the hop cone. Also called “hop tannin” to distinguish it from tannins originating from malted barley. The greater part of malt tannin content is derived from malt husks, but malt tannins differ chemically from hop tannins. In extreme examples, tannins from both can be perceived as a taste or sensation similar to sampling black tea that has steeped for a very long time.

Top Fermentation

One of the two basic fermentation methods characterized by the tendency of yeast cells to rise to the surface of the fermentation vessel. Ale yeast is top fermenting compared to lager yeast, which is bottom fermenting. Beers brewed in this fashion are commonly called ale or top-fermented beers.

Turbidity

Sediment in suspension; hazy, murky.

W

Water

One of the four ingredients in beer. Some beers are made up by as much as 90% water. Globally, some brewing centers became famous for their particular type of beer, and the individual flavors of their beer were strongly influenced by the brewing water’s pH and mineral content.

Wet Hopping

The addition of freshly harvested hops that have not yet been dried to different stages of the brewing process. Wet hopping adds unique flavors and aromas to beer that are not normally found when using hops that have been dried and processed per usual.

Wort

The bittersweet sugar solution obtained by mashing the malt and boiling in the hops, which becomes beer through fermentation.

Y

Yeast

During the fermentation process, yeast converts the natural malt sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide gas. Yeast was first viewed under a microscope in 1680 by the Dutch scientist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek; in 1867, Louis Pasteur discovered that yeast cells lack chlorophyll and that they could develop only in an environment containing both nitrogen and carbon.

Z

Zymurgy

The branch of chemistry that deals with fermentation processes, as in brewing. Also the name of the American Homebrewers Association bi-monthly magazine.