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35 Terms Every Beer Lover Needs to Know

Created January 10, 2017
So, you like beer. You might say you even love it. But can you talk the talk?
Beer Me

If you’re crazy about craft beers made by small breweries with as many unique flavors as names, the next step is to build an impressive brew-lover’s vocabulary. We’ve enlisted beer expert and Cicerone, Michael Agnew, to share 35 terms that’ll rise your beer IQ to lc status.

  1. Alcohol by Volume (ABV) – The measurement of the alcohol content in beer expressed as a percentage of the total volume. The low end is around 3% in English Milds and Irish Stouts. The high end goes from 8% to as high as 15% in barley wine, imperial stout and many strong Belgian styles. Sam Adams specialty beer Utopias is a whopping 27%.
  2. Ale – Typically refers to beers fermented with top-fermenting yeast strains and at higher temperatures, commonly between 65 and 75°F. What does that mean to you? The yeast produces various flavor and aromatic compounds (including esters and phenols) that give beer fruity and spicy flavors.
  3. Alpha Acids – The chemical compounds in hops that, when isomerized by boiling, give bitterness to beer.
  4. Aroma – The fragrance that emanates from beer. Beer aroma comes from malt, hop oils and various by-products of fermentation.
  5. Balance – The proportion of malt flavor and sweetness to hop flavor and bitterness in beer
  6. Barrel – A volume measurement of beer. A US barrel equals 31 US gallons. The most common keg size is a half-barrel that contains 15.5 US gallons. Makes perfect sense!
  7. Beer – A fermented beverage made from cereal grains
  8. Bitterness – One of the five basic taste sensations along with sweet, sour, salty, and umami (a strong, meaty taste, considered one of the major taste sensations). Bitterness in beer comes from hops.
  9. Bottle Conditioned – Refers to beers that have been naturally carbonated by re-fermentation in the bottle. Bottle-conditioned beers will usually have a thin sediment of yeast at the bottom of the bottle that should be left behind when pouring.
  10. Bottom Fermenting – Usually refers to lager yeasts, which have a tendency to flocculate or form clumps at the bottom of the fermenter at the end of fermentation.
  11. Brewpub – A restaurant that brews beer primarily for consumption on the premises.
  12. Cask-Conditioned Beer – Refers to beer that has been re-fermented in the keg, usually a firkin, to create natural carbonation. Cask-conditioned beer are typically poured by gravity or pulled to the faucet with a pump rather than being pushed with CO2. They are usually served at cellar temperature and have lower levels of carbonation than draft beer. Also called “real ale.”
  13. Cellar Temperature – The correct serving temperature for most ales, between 48°F and 55°F.
  14. Cicerone – A beer expert, similar to a sommelier. Cicerone is a trademarked title of the Cicerone Certification Program in Chicago. To earn the title Cicerone, an individual must pass the certification exams of the program.
  15. Craft Beer – The Brewers Association, a trade group representing the brewing industry, defines a craft brewer as one that is: Small: Producing less than 6 million barrels of beer annually. Independent: Less than 25% ownership by an entity that is itself not a craft brewer. Traditional: Has an all-malt flagship beer or at least 50% of its volume in beer that is made with only malt or uses adjuncts such as corn or rice only to enhance flavor.
  16. Dry Hopping – Adding hops to fermenting or conditioning beer to increase hop flavor and aroma.
  17. Esters – Aromatic compounds, typically fruity, formed from alcohols by yeast action.
  18. Fermentation – The metabolism of sugar by yeast and other microorganisms that produces alcohol and carbon dioxide as byproducts.
  19. Firkin – An English quarter-barrel keg. A firkin contains nine imperial gallons. Commonly used for cask-conditioned beer.
  20. Growler – A container, usually a half gallon, for take-home beer from a brewery or brewpub.
  21. Head – The foam that forms on top of beer when poured into a glass.
  22. Homebrew – Beer brewed non-commercially, at home, for personal consumption.
  23. Hops – The cone-like flower of the perennial vine Humulus lupulus. Used in beer, hops provide bitterness, flavor and aroma. They also have preservative properties that help extend the shelf-life of beer.
  24. Hoppy – Refers to hop flavor and aroma in beer. Distinct from hop-derived bitterness.
  25. International Bittering Units (IBU) – A chemical measurement of the actual bitterness in beer. An IBU is defined as one milligram of isomerized alpha acid per liter of beer. May be different from perceived bitterness.
  26. India Pale Ale (IPA) –A beer style developed in England in the 18th-century for export to India. Higher alcoholic strength and higher levels of hopping helped the beer survive the 5-month sea voyage. The style has become one of the most popular among American craft-beer drinkers.
  27. Lager – Typically refers to beers that are fermented with bottom-fermenting yeast strains at cooler temperatures, commonly between 48° F and 55° F. Fermentation at colder temperatures inhibits the production by yeast of various flavor and aromatic compounds resulting in beers with a crisp, clean flavor profile. Lagers are typically conditioned at temperatures near freezing for periods from weeks to months.
  28. Malt – A cereal grain, usually barley, that has gone through the malting process to begin the breakdown of starches into simpler sugars. The malting process includes germination, drying, and kilning to various degrees of color and flavor intensity. Other malted grains commonly used in beer include wheat, oats and rye.
  29. Microbrewery – A small brewery that produces and packages beer for sale in retail stores for off-premise consumption.
  30. Phenols – A class of aromatic compounds formed by yeast during fermentation. Typically spicy or smoky, but can have a medicinal flavor. Phenols are often considered a flaw, but in some beers a bit of clove-like phenolic character is part of the style.
  31. Reinheitsgebot – The Bavarian purity law of 1516 that permitted only three ingredients in the making of beer; barley malt, and hops.
  32. Session Beer – A beer, usually with a low alcohol content, that allows one to drink several in one sitting without becoming inebriated or full.
  33. Top Fermenting – Usually refers to ale yeasts, which have a tendency to flocculate or form clumps at the top of the fermenter at the end of fermentation.
  34. Wort – The term for unfermented beer. Pronounced “Wert.”
  35. Yeast – A class of unicellular fungi. During fermentation yeast metabolize sugar and convert it into alcohol, carbon dioxide and an assortment of other aromatic and flavor compounds that include esters and phenols.