Beer terminology can be ambiguous and confusing, and for some it can even seem like an esoteric language. So, to help you better understand it all, below is a glossary of beer terms with easy-to-understand definitions. This is the first half of our Beer Glossary, and we will publish the second half next Wednesday.
Adjunct: Any fermentable ingredient used in brewing other than malted barley. Examples include corn, rice, honey, oats, rye, and various sugars or unmalted sources of starch. Even though some adjuncts — such as corn, rice or sugar — are sometimes viewed as cheap malt substitutes used to lighten flavor and body, adjuncts in and of themselves are not necessarily bad. Many adjuncts are used to enhance flavor and improve mouthfeel, clarity and head retention.
FUN FACT: Anheuser-Busch is the largest buyer of rice in the United States.
Alcohol By Weight (ABW) and Alcohol By Volume (ABV): After Prohibition in America, breweries wanted their beers to seem more temperate, so they used the alcohol-content-measurement system that provided the lowest number, which is ABW (due to the fact that alcohol is lighter than water). Today, most macro breweries still use ABW, whereas most craft breweries and most foreign breweries use ABV. For reference, 3.2 percent ABW is equal to about 4 percent ABV.
Ale: One of the two major classifications of beer. Ales are made with top-fermenting yeast and they are aged for shorter periods of time at warmer temperatures, relative to lagers. Examples: India Pale Ale (IPA), Porter, Stout, Extra Special Bitter (ESB), Hefeweizen, Barleywine, many Belgian styles, etc.
Balance: Generally speaking, a balanced beer has complementing amounts of sweetness and bitterness, but balance can also mean other things. A beer with a harmonious blend of different flavors and aromas might be described as balanced, for example. Also, there can be many dimensions of balance beyond flavors and aromas, such as the mouthfeel/texture and body of the beer (i.e., dry versus cloying, or undercarbonated versus overcarbonated). It should also be noted that hop bitterness is not the only element in beer that can be used to counteract malt sweetness. Sometimes sharply roasted notes, smoky notes and/or nips of alcohol can cleave off some of the sweetness, and thus balance out the beer.
Barrel: Unit of measurement in commercial brewing equal to 31 U.S. gallons. A half-barrel “keg” is 15.5 gallons and it is the most common keg size.
Barrel-Aged Beer (aka, Oak-Aged Beer): Beer that was stored in a new or used oak barrel for a period of time – from months to years. In the last decade or so, barrel aging has become quite popular with American craft brewers. At first, used whiskey/bourbon barrels were all the rage, and the most common styles to age in these barrels were imperial stouts and barley wines. Of course, they are still popular today, but in recent years, many breweries have started aging a variety of beer styles in other types of barrels that were previously used for other spirits or wines (both red and white wines). Some whiskey / wine barrels can hold more than 50 gallons.
FUN FACT: Beer barrels are not the same size as oil barrels. Oil is no longer shipped in 42-gallon wooden barrels or the more modern 55-gallon steel drums, but 42 gallons is the unit of measurement still used today for pricing and taxing.
Body: A quality of beer – typically modified with “light,” “medium” or “heavy” – that is determined by the amount of proteins, carbonation, unfermented sugars and hop oils in the beer. Light-bodied beers may feel thin and watery in your mouth, whereas heavy-bodied beers may feel thick and chewy.
Brussels Lace (aka, Belgian Lace or simply Lacing): Traces of foam, sometimes thick and intricate, left behind on the inside of the glass from the beer’s head. Some say lace is an indicator of quality, but some beer styles produce less foam/head than others.
Cask Beer or Cask-Conditioned Beer (aka, Real Ale): Unfiltered and unpasteurized beer that undergoes its final fermentation in the serving vessel, where it is allowed to condition and carbonate naturally (instead of being force carbonated with carbon dioxide or nitrogen), just before serving. To pour the beer, a handpump, also known as a beer engine, is used to siphon the beer up from the cask to the glass. Cask simply means container. A firkin is a traditional British cask that holds 10.8 U.S. gallons or 9 Imperial gallons. Cask beer was popularized in England and it’s gaining popularity in America.
Craft Brewery (formerly known as a Microbrewery): Definitions of “craft beer” vary from person to person, and in recent times there have been many philosophical debates and articles on the topic. Many people use the term “craft” to describe artisanal, innovative and creative breweries that put quality and flavor ahead of appealing to the masses. The Brewers Association, the trade organization that promotes and protects American craft brewers, their beers and the community of brewing enthusiasts, continually updates its definition to reflect the evolution of the industry. Here is the current version: An American craft brewer is small (annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less; beer production is attributed to the rules of alternating proprietorships), independent (less than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled by a beverage alcohol industry member that is not itself a craft brewer) and traditional (a brewer that has a majority of its total beverage alcohol volume in beers whose flavor derives from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation).
Dry Hopping: The practice of adding hops to fermenting beer, which imbues it with additional hop aromas but no additional bitterness.
Fermentation: A biochemical process whereby yeast consumes sugars (and propagates) and then produces alcohol, carbon dioxide and, with some strains of yeast, esters.
Final Gravity (F.G.): The weight/density of wort after fermentation is complete relative to the weight of water. Original Gravity (O.G.) is measured after chilling the boiled wort but before pitching the yeast. Using the two numbers, one can calculate how much fermentation has taken place and get an estimate of the beer’s alcohol percentage.
Finish / Aftertaste: “Finish” typically refers to the flavors and aromas detected right after swallowing, whereas “aftertaste” typically refers to the flavors and aromas that linger in the moments after swallowing. Contrary to what multi-million-dollar ad campaigns want you to believe, aftertaste is not necessarily a bad thing. No one wants tasty food flavors to instantly vaporize once you swallow, and the same goes for beer. One major advantage of aftertaste is when it comes to pairing beer with food. Lingering flavors of beer can intertwine with food flavors and create new layers and dimensions. A good beer-food pairing occurs when the two complement or contrast (in a good way) one another.
Foeder (Dutch) / Foudre (French): A foeder (pronounced FOOD-er) is a very large wooden vat that is typically used to age sour ales. These super-sized barrels were originally used for wine, and they range in size from 7 barrels to more than 100 barrels.
Be sure to catch the second half of our Beer Glossary next Wednesday.