Beer Glossary a living list of Beer Terms

There are a bunch of abbreviations, terms, styles and lingo on beer labels these days and it takes a beer geek to understand their purpose. Here’s a Beer Glossary for your reference.

Beer Glossary:

Abbey: The term “Abbey” might conjure up images of monks brewing under a vow of silence but in fact it’s just a term that is used for beers that mimic monastic style beer. It may very well be brewed by monks or other religious order but “Abbey” isn’t a protected designation and non-religious entities can use the title. Trappist beers are genuinely brewed in monasteries under the direction of monks. The term Trappist – is a legal designation.

ABV% (Alcohol by volume). On the surface, this indicates how much punch a drink might have and how many you could drink before passing out but it also reveals the thickness of the drink. Since alcohol is heavier than water, the higher the alcohol content the more viscous the drink. Think of a big juicy Zinfandel from a winemaker like Turley (17% ABV is not uncommon). To me and others, it lends a nice mouthfeel and gives off a nice warming sensation. These days it isn’t uncommon to see beers (stouts and double IPA) around 10% ABV.

Ale: The main difference between an ale and a lager is the yeast that is used in fermentation. Ale yeast ferments on the top and lends some flavor to the beer. Lager yeast ferments the beer from the bottom of the tank and doesn’t really lend any flavors to the beer, leaving that to the malt and hops.

Beta Acidity (BA): Beta acids are found in the glands of the hop flower. These acids will lend to aromatic strength in beer. As a rule, the higher the percentage of these acids – the more aromatic. A hop can range from a mild 1% beta acidity to a pungent 9%.

Bottle-Conditioned: A brewer may add yeast and or additional sugars at bottling to revitalize the yeast into to gain carbonation.

Brettanomyces: is a combination of Briton (as in English) and myces (as in fungus). A patent for the strain was granted in 1906 to the Carlsberg Brewery. Brettanomyces are used to produce Lambic, Gueze, Saison and Farmhouse ales.

Brux: as in short for the yeast associated with Brettanomyces bruxellensis. One of four sub-types classified under Brettanomyces. This yeast is found growing wild all over the world and is often found on the skins of fruit.

Alpha Acidity (AA): Alpha acids are found in the glands of the hop flower. These acids will lend to the bitterness in beer. As a rule, the higher the percentage of these acids – the more bitterness it may lend to a beer. A hop can range from a mild Saaz at 2% alpha acidity to the robust Nelson Sauvin at 18% alpha acidity.

Altbier: A German-style beer originally brewed in Dusseldorf. It translates to “old beer”. It is brewed with Ale yeast but everything else in the process resembles how they brew lager. It is fermented in cool temperature wort and is additionally aged in cool temperatures for a month or two. It is said to bring out a mellow maltiness of the brew and accentuate the hop aroma.

American Wild Ale: The concept is that wild yeast strains ferment the beer. Of course, I know you just don’t want any old organism getting into your beer so brewers “inoculate” wooden barrels with select strains. So, not everything is totally wild, call it a controlled wild. This style is the American counterpart to Belgian sour ale. Also know in America as sour ales.

Barleywine: Barleywine is an odd name for a style of beer. It is made from grains (hence – barley) and is typically high in alcohol and comparable to the alcohol content of wine. Its roots are in England

Bock: First brewed in a German town called Einbeck. It was mispronounced as Ein Bock which means “Billy Goat”. For some reason the billy goat moniker stuck. For this reason, many bock beer have a picture of a billy goat on the label. A bock should really highlight the malt providing sweetness and bread characteristics. Bock beer has low IBU and little yeast influence. The alcohol level is elevated. There are a number of bock varieties…Maibock, Double Bock (aka doppelbock) and Eisbock.

Bottle-Conditioned (Live Beer): There are multiple types of “bottle conditioning”. A beer is either fermented a second time by adding yeast to the bottle or the original fermenting beer is left unfiltered and allowed to continue to ferment in the bottle.

Braggot: is an ale and what I’ll call a close relative to mead. This style dates back to the middle ages in England. Mead features honey as the primary yeast food and braggot features honey as well as malt.

Cacao Nibs: chocolate is made from cacao. The cacao pods grow on trees and the pods contain cacao beans. From there, cacao beans can be processed a few different ways. Cacao nibs are simply cacao beans that have been roasted, separated from their husks and broken into smaller pieces. Essentially, raw chocolate minus the addition of fats and sugar. Cacao nibs have a chocolatey taste, but they’re not quite as sweet as chocolate. They can also lend a nutty flavor to beer. Okay, are cacao and cocoa the same thing? No, not really. Cocoa is the term used to refer to cacao that has been heated at a higher temperature and comes in the familiar powdered form.

Degrees Plato: measures the density of the unfermented beer offering how much undissolved solids like sugars are in the batch before the yeast is pitched. Gravity can also be stated as Original Gravity. Both original gravity numbers and plato numbers are somewhat relative. So, if you are comfortable with one measurement (I like original gravity), you can divide the decimal portion of the OG by four to arrive at degrees plato. As an example, an original gravity of 1.072 would be a rating of 18 plato (72/4). To me, I consider a high-density beer to be at or above that 1.080 or 20 degrees plato. What does it mean to beer drinkers? A high-density beer usually offers a high alcohol content and a dense and rich flavor. Firestone’s Parabola clocked in at a remarkable 29.5 degrees plato or a whopping OG of 1.180 — wow!

Double (Doppel): You’ll hear the terms double (doppel), triple (tripel) and quad associated with (amongst other styles) Belgian-style ales. Basically – these are designations associated with the alcohol’s strength. In early times, monasteries would mark casks with one cross, two crosses or three crosses and each would represent an increase in strength.

Dry Hopped: Hops come wet or dry. Dry hops are hops that have been dried or processed into the familiar hop pellet. Wet hops are fresh unprocessed hops – straight from the vine so to say. In either wet-hopping or dry-hopping, hops are temporarily added to fermented beer allowing an additional punch of fresh hop aroma, flavoring and/or bittering. As a home brewer, this is achieved by filling a hop bag and submerging it in the fermented beer — like a big tea bag.

Farmhouse or Saison: saison is French for “season” and it is attributed to a beer that was brewed for the farming season. Each farm had their own special recipe and these beers were brewed in the previous autumn or winter. They were typically low ABV brews probably because drunken farmhands don’t work so hard. They were really meant to hydrate since there was a lack of suitable drinking water on the farm.

Hopback: is a process in which hot wort (cooked beer before cooling and the addition of yeast) passes through a chamber filled with hops before it moves to the chiller. The process basically locks in the hop aroma in the beer. Some prefer this to dry or wet hopping as the addition of hops to hot wort will cause the loss of hop aroma.

IBU (International Bittering Units) basically the higher the number the higher the bitterness quality. There are a lot of hop heads out there that seek out 100+ IBU beers (see Stone Ruination). Although generally the IBU bitterness comes from hops, a lot of stouts contain a high IBU from their use of roasted grains (think coffee). Brewers have been pushing the limits on IBU with each one trying to leapfrog over their competitors. Mikkeller even went so far as to release a beer called 1000, purportedly at 1,000 IBU (I don’t think so).

Imperial Stout: first brewed as exports from England to Russian royalty as far back as the 18th century. Even those brews pushed the ABV to heights of 8 – 12 % ABV. The high alcohol volume was born out of necessity as a high alcohol volume prevented these stouts from freezing while being transported across the cold Russian climate. High ABV also aids in the prevention of spoilage.

India Pale Ale- (IPA) Like a lot of other beer terms – the phrase pale ale comes from England. It was a time when beer came in dark or darker and pale ale was the lightest colored offering. England’s vast empire included territories all over the world, including India. There was a booming trade business for exports and a hoppier variation of a pale beer was quite popular in India. Other English brewers were quick to also offer variations of this Export Pale Ale.

Kolsch: Originated in Cologne, Germany. It is clear (Weiss beer is a cloudy version of Kolsch). It is made with traditional hops like Hallertau and is typically low in alcohol by volume 4 – 5.5%. One other note about Kolsch is that is an ale that is fermented in warm temperatures but cold conditioned.

Lager: The main difference between an ale and a lager is the yeast that is used in fermentation. Ale yeast ferments on the top and lends some flavor to the beer. Lager yeast ferments the beer from the bottom of the tank and doesn’t really lend any flavors to the beer, leaving that to the malt and hops

Live Beer: See Bottle-conditioned.

Lovibond (Degrees): Its the measure of the color density of beer. It can’t differentiate the color, just how opaque the color. You might also see something measured as SRM (Standard Reference Method) – but know that they rate color with the same numeric scale. The palest pilsner would have an SRM or Lovibond of 2, while an imperial stout would come in at 138.

Malt beverage/malt liquor: Malt beverage describes most beers since they are brewed from malt from grains like barley. Malt liquor is a poor label for any malt based beer over 5% ABV. These days it’s equated to cheap boozy beer like Colt 45 but technically, it could describe quite a few beers made today.

Marzen: (translates in German to March). Since summer’s heat wasn’t conducive to producing (or storing) beer before refrigeration, this traditionally malty ale was brewed in Spring and consumed all summer long. The inventory spends the summer stored in caves and cool places. The alcohol level was also elevated to 5 – 6% to prevent spoilage. The remaining beer was consumed when the brewing season resumed in fall. So, to me, Oktoberfest is basically the equivalent of a big fridge purge.

Near Beer (or non-alcoholic beer): Called near beer because it nearly is a beer. Brewed like a beer but has most of its alcohol removed by distilling (low-temperature boiling) or even reverse osmosis. Recarbonated after boiling, this beer still has an ABV of up to .5%.

Oatmeal: I’ve mentioned the use of oatmeal in other posts – but simply, oatmeal stouts don’t taste like oatmeal. Probably because an oatmeal stout only contains about 1% oats. Rather the smoothness of oatmeal stouts comes from the proteins, fats, and gums found in the oats. These components increase the viscosity and body adding to the sense of smoothness.

Original Gravity (OG): measures the density of the unfermented beer offering how much-undissolved solids like sugars are in the batch before the yeast is pitched. Gravity can also be stated as degrees Plato. Both original gravity numbers and plato numbers are somewhat relative. So, if you are comfortable with one measurement (I like original gravity), you can divide the decimal portion of the OG by four to arrive at degrees plato. As an example, an original gravity of 1.072 would be a rating of 18 plato (72/4). To me, I consider a high-density beer to be at or above that 1.080 or 20 degrees plato. What does it mean to beer drinkers? A high-density beer usually offers a high alcohol content and a dense and rich flavor. Firestone’s Parabola clocked in at a remarkable 29.5 degrees plato or a whopping OG of 1.180 — wow!

Pater or Paterke: is a term used in association with Belgian style ales. It describes a chestnut colored ale with a high ABV.

Porter: An old English style ale said to be “three threads” which is a combination of three types of ales: Old Ale, New Ale, and Mild Ale. It is also said that this type of beer was popular with those in the transportation business or porters. Stout is related to porter as Stout’s original name is Stout Porter. So, think of porter as a lighter version of a stout. It has similar roasted malt characteristics.

Quad: You’ll hear the terms double (doppel), triple (tripel) and quad associated with (amongst other styles) Belgian-style ales. Basically – these are designations associated with the alcohol’s strength. In early times, monasteries would mark casks with one cross, two crosses or three crosses and each would represent an increase in strength.

Red Ale: Pale ale is the broad category of beer that includes: pale ale; India pale ale; red ale; amber ale and blond ale. What makes red ale unique is the distinctive coloring that comes from slow roasting caramel malt and that roasted grain gives red ale its distinctive burnt caramel flavor.

Saison: Saison is French for “season” and it is attributed to a beer that was brewed for the farming season. Each farm had their own special recipe and these beers were brewed in the previous autumn or winter. They were typically low ABV brews, probably because drunken farmhands don’t work so hard. They were really meant to hydrate since there was a lack of suitable drinking water on the farm

Scotch Ale:a malt heavy brew that gets its dark coloring from an extended boiling of grains. First brewed in Edinburgh, Scotland. This variety is known for its roasted and sweet characteristics.

Session or Sessionable: Use of the beer term “session” or “sessionable” remains a bit of a mystery. In England, the Defence of the Realm Act of 1915 had a temperance element aimed at cutting alcohol consumption by limiting pubs openings to two “sessions” – one at lunch and one in the evening. Around the same time (World War I), the British government imposed restrictions on alcohol strength including higher tariffs on higher strength beer. Could it be that a session beer was one that could be consumed straight through a lunch or evening session and one could remain a proper gentleman?

Today the term is loose in its requirement – is it under 4.5% ABV, under 5.0% ABV. Like other American interpretations, we set our own boundaries.

Shilling: the alcoholic strength of Scottish ales are still referred to in terms of shillings. It’s a reference to a tax on beer. For example, a 70 shilling ale would be lower in ABV than a 90 shilling ale.

SRM (Standard Reference Method): It’s the measure of the color density of beer. It can’t differentiate the color, just how opaque the color. You might also see something called degrees Lovibond – but know that they rate color with the same numeric scale. The palest pilsner would have an SRM or Lovibond of 2, while an imperial stout would come in at 138.

Trappist:Today in beer aisles you will see phrases like Trappist or Abbey tossed around and it’s worthy to note the difference. Trappist monks of the Cistercian order originated in LaTrappe, France. It wasn’t until 1997, that an alliance of Trappist breweries established the designation of “Trappist” to relay a quality assurance to consumers. This label tells consumers that beer carrying the Trappist seal must be brewed within the walls of the monastery either by the monks or under the direction of the monks. It also says that the beer brewed does not generate a profit. So, if you want to fund the works of the order enjoy some ales made by the seven main Trappist labels Achel, Chimay, LaTrappe, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle, and Westvleteren. Others pending.

Triple (Tripel): You’ll hear the terms double (doppel), triple (tripel) and quad associated with (amongst other styles) Belgian-style ales. Basically – these are designations associated with the alcohol’s strength. In early times, monasteries would mark casks with one cross, two crosses or three crosses and each would represent an increase in strength.

Wee heavy: a strong variety of what is called a Scotch ale. Scotch ale is a malt heavy brew that gets its dark coloring from an extended boiling of grains. Wee heavy is a richer and higher alcohol version of a Scotch ale. No surprise, American versions of wee heavy tend to have a bit more ABV that their Scottish counterparts.

Wet Hopped:Hops come wet or dry. Dry hops are hops that have been dried or processed into the familiar hop pellet. Wet hops are fresh unprocessed hops – straight from the vine so to say. In either wet-hopping or dry-hopping, hops are temporarily added to fermenting beer allowing an additional punch of hop bittering. As a home brewer, this is achieved by filling a hop bag and submerging it in the fermenting beer — like a big tea bag.

Check back as the Beer Glossary is updated from time to time.

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