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Dictionary of Beer

So You Want to be a Beer Expert?

Puzzled by the technical terms on the bottle label? Here's a quick guide to the language of beer.

A–C   D–F   G–I   J–L   M–O   P–R   S–U   V–Z

60/-, 70/- and 80/-: see Shilling system.

ABV: Alcohol by Volume – the amount of alcohol in a beer, expressed as a percentage (‘the strength’).

Abbey beer: a beer in the style of monastic beers but brewed by non-religious companies. Trappist monasteries are allowed to call their beers ‘Trappist’; others producing similar beers under licence from a clerical order use the term ‘Abbey’.

Adjuncts: cereals and sugars that are added, during brewing, to malted barley, sometimes to lower the grain cost but on other occasions for special flavours or effects.

Aftertaste/afterpalate: see Finish.

AHA: American Homebrewers Association.

Ale: a top-fermenting beer (during fermentation the yeast mostly – but not entirely – lays on top of the wort).

Alpha acid: the natural acid found in hops that provides bitterness to a beer.

Alt: a top-fermented German beer. The name means 'old', and the style is closely associated with the city of Düsseldorf.

Aroma: the smells and perfumes expressed by a beer.

Attenuation: the degree of fermentation allowed for a beer. Fermentation may be stopped early for some beers, to allow some sugars to remain to add sweetness or body. Fully-attenuated beers, however, are fermented to the point where nearly all the sugars are turned to alcohol, producing a drier, stronger beer.

Barley: the cereal that is turned into malt, ready for brewing. It is sometimes used unmalted but roasted, usually to darken the colour of a beer or add roasted notes.

Barley wine: a potent, often sweetish ale.

Barrel: a cask size, or measurement, equivalent to 36 gallons in the UK and 31 gallons in the USA.

Best bitter: see Bitter.

Bière blanche: see Witbier.

Bière de garde: a French farmhouse-style ale, held for a lengthy maturation (the 'garde') before release, but generally not bottle conditioned. Originally a beer brewed in spring for consumption later in the year.

Bitter: a well-hopped, low- to middle-strength ale.

Blond: orginally a European term for a golden- or pale-coloured beer (usually an ale), now in more widespread use.

Bock: a strong lager, originally from Germany. The doublebock ('doppelbock') and so-called triplebock are even more potent, fuller-bodied sister styles.

Body: the fullness of the beer, generally related to the amount of malt it contains.

Bottle-conditioned: beer that experiences a secondary fermentation in the bottle. Dubbed by CAMRA ‘real ale in a bottle’.

Brew pub: a pub, bar or restaurant with its own microbrewery.

Brewery-conditioned: beer processed at the brewery so that all fermentation is finished before release; usually pasteurized.

Bright: clear beer, racked off the yeast or filtered; often pasteurized.

Brown ale: the name often given to mild when it is bottled, although brown ales come in various forms, some weak and sweet (such as Manns), some stronger and robust (such as Newcastle) and others more hoppy (such as American).

Burtonization: the chemical adjustment of brewing liquor so that its mineral content becomes similar to the naturally-hard waters of Burton-upon-Trent, England, known historically as the 'pale ale capital'.

Butt: a 108-gallon cask (no longer in use).

Campaign for Real Ale: see CAMRA.

CAMRA: the Campaign for Real Ale, a British consumer movement established in 1971 to fight for quality beer and customer rights, and against brewery and pub closures and unfair trade practices.

Carbon dioxide: a gas created by yeast during the fermentation process. It is important to the drinkability of a beer; see also Condition.

Cask: container for unpasteurized beer undergoing a secondary fermentation.

Cask-conditioned: beer experiencing a secondary fermentation in a cask; dubbed by CAMRA ‘real ale’.

Condition: dissolved carbon dioxide in a beer. Too much condition and the beer is over fizzy; not enough and it is flat and dull to drink.

Copper: the vessel in which wort is boiled with hops. Also known as kettle.

Decoction: a European method of mashing malt, designed to work with less modified malts and to encourage better starch-to-sugar conversion. Batches of wort are pumped from the mash tun into a second vessel, where the temperature is raised, before being pumped back to the original vessel.

Dextrin: a type of sugar that is not fermentable by brewer's yeast. A beer with high dextrin content will, therefore, have a full, sweetish body.

Doppelbock: see Bock.

Dortmunder Export: see Export.

Draught beer: beer served from a large container such as cask or a keg, usually in a pub or bar.

Dry hopping: adding unboiled hops to a beer after fermentation. The hops are usually pushed into the cask – or put in a tank where beer is conditioning prior to bottling – with the aim of enhancing the hop character of the finished beer (particularly the aroma).

Dubbel: a 'double' ale produced by Trappist or Abbey brewers. Such beers are typically dark brown and malty, with modest hop characteristics, and usually hit around 7% ABV. Their sister beer, Tripel (‘triple’), is much paler, generally hoppy and fruity, and even more potent (8–9%).

Dunkel: a dark lager style, featuring roasted malts, that is native to Germany.

ESB: originally Extra Special Bitter, as in the trademarked name of Fuller's strong ale from London. The Fuller's beer has been a trendsetter, however, and ESB is now a style of strong pale ale in the USA.

Esters: organic compounds produced during fermentation, comprised of an alcohol and an acid. They introduce unusual, often fruity, aromas and flavours to beer, suggestive of tropical fruits, bananas and pear drops, for example.

Export: a reasonably strong, but not exceptionally hoppy, golden lager beer from Dortmund, Germany. Also a strong Scottish ale. The term originally referred to beers that were 'exported' to other parts of the country or abroad.

Faro: a sweetened version of lambic.

Festbier: a celebratory beer, brewed by German breweries for religious festivals, parties and other events. The style varies from brew to brew, but is commonly in the Märzen mould.

Filtration: the removal of yeast and other sediment from beer to leave it clear. Sterile-filtration involves the use of a particularly fine filter to ensure very little active yeast remains in the beer.

Finings: the substance widely used to clarify beer, a glutinous liquid that attracts yeast cells and pulls them down to the bottom of a cask or a conditioning tank. Isinglass finings trouble vegetarians because they are made from the swim-bladder of a tropical fish. Animal-free finings are also available but are less commonly used. Many bottled beers are now filtered rather than fined, making them vegan friendly.

Finish: the taste that lingers on the palate after beer is swallowed.

Firkin: a nine-gallon cask.

Framboise/frambozen: see Kriek. 

Fruit beer: a beer that contains fruit or fruit extract, often added after primary fermentation to encourage a secondary fermentation, but sometimes just as a flavouring in the copper or prior to packaging. See also Kriek.

Golden ale: a pale-coloured bitter, best bitter or strong ale, the ale world's answer to pilsner.

Green beer: not fully matured beer.

Green hops: undried hops collected from the fields and used fresh in a brew. The flavours and aromas tend to be more sappy and pungent character than conventional hops.

Grist: malt that has been crushed by a mill in preparation for mashing. The word can also be used for the mix of cereals, or hops, that go into a brew.

Gueuze: see Lambic.

Head: the froth on the top of a beer.

Hell or Helles: a pale lager from Germany, often more delicate and less hoppy and dry than a pilsner. The term is also applied to pale weissbiers.

Hogshead: a 54-gallon cask (now seldom used).

Hop: a stringy plant with conical flowers that are used in brewing to provide bitterness and other flavours (herbal, fruity, resin-like, spicy, etc.). Hops also act as a natural preservative in beer. The plant is a relative of the nettle and cannabis.

IBU: International Bitterness Units, a scale for illustrating the bitterness of a beer.

India pale ale: a strong, well-hopped ale originally designed in England to withstand the long sea voyage to India. High levels of both alcohol and hops helped keep the beer drinkable through months at sea.

IPA: see India pale ale.

Isinglass: see Finings.

Keg: a pressurized metal container for storing beer. In the UK, 'keg beers' tend to be pasteurized and require added gas pressure to provide artificial carbonation.

Kettle: see Copper.

Kilderkin: an 18-gallon cask. Also known as a kil or kiln.

Kölsch: a top-fermented, but cold-conditioned, pale and fruity beer from Cologne.

Kräusen: the process of adding a small amount of partially-fermented wort to a beer. This provides fresh sugars for the yeast to consume to continue fermentation and helps generate extra carbonation.

Kriek: a lambic beer that experiences a secondary fermentation from the addition of cherries or cherry juice. Other fruits are also used to create similar beers, including raspberries (‘framboise’/‘frambozen’), blackcurrants ('cassis') and peaches ('pêche'). See also Lambic.

Lager: a bottom-fermented beer (during fermentation, the yeast mostly drops to the bottom of the vessel) that is matured at very low temperatures for several weeks or even months.

Lambic: a Belgian wheat beer spontaneously fermented by wild yeasts in the atmosphere. It is then aged in wooden casks where other yeasts and microfauna in the wood have an influence on the taste of the finished beer. A blended version of lambic, using old and young beers, is called gueuze. See also Kriek.

Late hopping: a procedure that involves adding hops towards the end of the copper boil. This ensures that hop character is present in the beer and compensates for the loss during the boil of the aromas and flavours of hops used earlier.

Lauter tun: a vessel used mostly in European breweries as part of the mashing process. By moving the mash to the lauter, where wort is run off leaving behind spent grains, the mash tun is freed up to start another mash.

Light ale: a low-strength pale ale in a bottle.

Lightstruck: see Sunstruck.

Liquor: the technical term for brewing water.

Maibock: a strong, malty lager from Bavaria, originally brewed for consumption in May as a celebration of spring.

Malt: the 'soul of beer', barley that has been partially germinated to open up starches and enzymes that are vital for brewing, then kilned to stop germination. Kilning also results in various degrees of roastedness in the flavours of the malt.

Malt extract: concentrated wort, commercially-produced. Some brewers use this to save mashing malt, or to top up their own wort.

Märzen: an amber-coloured, fairly strong, malty lager, traditionally brewed in March for consumption later in the year after a long period of cold conditioning.

Mash: the infusion of malt and water that takes place in the mash tun. This extracts fermentable materials and important enzymes from the grain.

Mash tun: the vessel in which malt and other cereals are combined with hot water to extract wort.

Microbrewery: a small brewery, sometimes just a one-man band, but occasionally growing into a major enterprise.

Mild: an often dark-coloured, gently-hopped ale with good malt character. It is usually lower in strength than most bitters, but strong milds also exist.

Mouthfeel: the body and texture of a beer.

Nose: see Aroma.

OG: Original Gravity, a measurement of the amount of sugar in the wort before fermentation begins. More sugar generally means more fermentable material, so the higher the OG reading, the greater the strength of the finished beer is likely to be.

Okoberfest: major beer festival held in Munich each September, originally a celebration following a royal wedding in 1810. Oktoberfestbiers were traditionally special Märzen brews, but increasingly beers on sale at the event are more like standard hell lagers.

Old ale: traditionally, a beer that has been aged before release. Today, the term is often applied to dark, strong ales.

Original gravity: see OG.

Oxidation: the detrimental effect of oxygen on a beer, bringing stale papery or cardboard notes to the palate.

Palate: the sense of taste.

Pale ale: often a bottled version of bitter or best bitter, but traditionally pale ales are lighter in colour and are associated with Burton-on-Trent, England, where the mineral-rich waters once produced clean, flinty, well-hopped ales.

Parti-gyle: the system of producing more than one beer from the same mash, either by diluting the resultant wort or beer, or by using the rich, first runnings from the mash tun to make a strong beer and later, thinner runnings for a weaker beer.

Pasteurization: the process of heat-treating beer to kill off yeast cells and bacteria, thus inhibiting further fermentation and the development of infections.

PET: Polyethylene Terephthalate, a clear plastic used to make some beer bottles.

Pilsner, Pilsener or Pils: a golden, well-hopped lager created in the Czech town of Pilsen in 1842 and rapidly emulated around the world. Many lagers marketed as pilsners today have little in common with the original.

Pin: a 4.5-gallon cask. Plastic versions – now commonly a plastic bag in a cardboard box – are known as polypins.

Polypin: see Pin.

Porter: a lighter-bodied forerunner of stout, although the two are often confused today. Porter tends to be fairly dry, with some sweetness.

Priming: the addition of new fermentable sugars to a beer to encourage a secondary fermentation in the cask or bottle.

Rack: to flow beer from a tank or a cask into another vessel.

Rauchbier: a dark lager brewed from beechwood-smoked malt, a speciality of the German city of Bamberg.

Real ale: a term created by CAMRA for an unfiltered, unpasteurized beer that undergoes a fermentation in the vessel from which it is dispensed; also known as ‘cask conditioned’ or ‘bottle conditioned’ beer.

Reinheitsgebot: the German beer purity law. Proclaimed in 1516, it allows only malted barley, wheat, hops, yeast and water to be used in German brewing.

Saccharomyces: the technical name for yeasts that turn sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Saccharomyces cerevisiae is ale yeast, and saccharomyces uvarum (once known as saccharomyces carlsbergensis) is lager yeast.

Saison: a farmhouse-style beer from the French-speaking part of Belgium. The name translates as season, the season being summer when these beers, brewed earlier in the year, were generally consumed by farm workers. The beers are strong but with plenty of energy-restoring unfermented sugars, as well as a fairly high hop content and sometimes some spicing.

Schwarzbier: an East German style of black lager, incorporating roasted malts.

Scotch ale: a strong, malty, only mildly-hopped beer in the style of beers from Scotland. The style is still popular in Belgium but strangely difficult to find in Scotland itself.

Sediment: solid material left in beer, generally yeast but also some proteins.

Shilling system: A 19th-century, Scottish method of charging for beer that is still reflected in the names of some beers (the wholesale price of a barrel was based on the strength of the beer and charged by the shilling). A sixty shilling (60/-) beer is also known as Light and is roughly equivalent to a mild in England. A seventy shilling (70/-) beer is also known as Heavy, and equates roughly to a bitter or best bitter, while an eighty shilling (80/-) beer, known as Export, is the Scottish equivalent of a strong ale.

SIBA: The Society of Independent Brewers, the trade body for the small brewing industry.

Single-varietal: a beer incorporating just one type of malt or one strain of hops.

Skunky: see Sunstruck.

Sparging: the spraying of the grains in the mash tun with hot water as the wort is being run off, in order to extract the last remaining sugars.

Steam beer: a hybrid of ale and lager, developed in California in the 19th century when attempts were made to brew lager using pilsner yeast in a warm climate, but without the benefits of refrigeration to bring down temperatures to the required level. The resultant beer had a high carbonation that hissed like steam when casks were broached.

Sterile-filtered: see filtered.

Stock ale: a very strong beer brewed for keeping and maturing over several months.

Stout: a dark beer with a dry, bitter taste, often flavoured by roasted barley, although sweet versions also exist. Traditionally, the stronger version of porter.

Sunstruck: the adverse effect on a beer caused by exposure to bright light. An unwanted chemical reaction leads to unpleasant ('skunky') flavours and aromas. Also known as Lightstruck.

Trappist ale: see Abbey beer.

Tripel: see Dubbel.

Vienna: a style of lager, also known as Vienna Red from the use of dark – but not heavily roasted – malts, developed in the Austrian capital by Anton Dreher in the early 19th century.

Vintage ale: a beer that is brewed to be stored and matured in the bottle, with the brewing date usually printed on the label for future reference.

Water: see Liquor.

Weissbier: a style of wheat beer native to Bavaria and known for its fruit and spice (apple and clove, in particular) aromas and flavours. Naturally cloudy weissbiers are known as hefeweissbiers; kristalweissbiers are filtered clear. Also called weizenbier.

Weizenbier: see Weissbier.

Weizenbock: a strong weissbier, generally even more complex than the standard wheat beer.

Wheat beer: a beer brewed with a high percentage of wheat in the grist. The style originates in Germany and Belgium. Wheat beers are often served hazy, thanks to yeast left in suspension.

Witbier: a spiced, possibly fruited, wheat beer, native to Belgium and the Netherlands; known to French speakers as bière blanche. Coriander and orange peel are commonly among the spices and fruit involved.

Wort: the sugary liquid derived from mashing malt and water. This is fermented by yeast into beer.

Yeast: the cause of fermentation, a single-celled micro-organism that turns sugars into carbon dioxide and alcohol.

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