Beer Terms


Know How to Talk the Talk Before You Drink the Drink


Adjunct: Inferior, cheap fermentable materials such as corn or rice that are sometimes used in place of fine grains in the brewing process. Most mass produced commercial beers employ adjunct materials to keep prices down and produce a less complex, easy drinking beverage.

All Malt: A term designating beer that does not employ any adjunct "filler" materials in the malt.

Barrel: Used by brewers as a unit of measurement, the US barrel holds 31.5 gallons of beer. 

Brew Pub: A pub that serves beer that is brewed on site. 

Brewers Yeast: Single-celled pure cultures essential to the fermentation process. Although wild yeasts are still used in some traditional beers, cultured brewers yeasts provide consistency and go a long way toward providing unique character to modern beers. Yeasts consume the wort sugars and create alcohol and carbon dioxide as a result. 

Craft Brew: Beer that is made using traditional methods and classic, fine ingredients. Attention to detail and quality are the hallmarks of craft brewing. 

Hops: A perennial vine plant that produces flowers that, once dried, are the bittering agent used in the making of beer. The flavors that each variety imparts are distinct and thus provide unique profiles to the beer made from them. Many beers employ a variety of hops in their recipes. Many varieties have been hybridized in order to resist pests and mildew, and to have a specifically desirable flavor. New forms of hops are changing the face of the craft brew scene worldwide.

Malt: A term used in brewing that refers to the sugars that are released in the initial stage of the brewing process. These sugars are necessary for the fermentation process, and are obtained from grains like barley and wheat. 

Mash: The process of releasing the sugars contained in the malt grains by soaking them in water. 

Micro Brew: Beer that is brewed in small quantities. In terms of production, the distinction between a brewery and a microbrewery is 15,000 barrels per year. 

Wort: The grain-sweetened liquid that is strained off after the mash process is complete. 

Zymurgy: The science of the fermentation process.


Ale: Initially a term denoting a beer made with top fermenting yeast, it has become a loose and difficult to define piece of terminology. Ales are generally fruity, but can contain any kind of hops or malt. Ales, as opposed to lagers, still use top fermenting yeast strains, but come in a myriad of styles and strengths.

Barley Wine: Not a wine at all, these beers are thus named because of their high alcohol content, which approaches that of wine. Not for the faint of heart, these beers are an acquired taste. They often have sherry or whisky-like tones, and are quite sweet. Usually bottled in small "nip" bottles, these beers are age worthy and will mature nicely for a couple or three years. Barley wine is meant to be sipped sparingly, great for sharing on a cold winter's night.

ESB: An acronym for extra special bitter. These beers differ slightly from traditional English bitter in that they usually contain a bit more hops in the recipe. Still, they have more of a malt profile than IPA does. These beers are excellent when made by American craft brew producers, but are generally thought to have not surpassed their English ancestral origins.

Hefeweizen: A light, dry, low-profile summer beer that uses predominately wheat in place of barley in the mash. These beers originated in southern Germany and have changed little in their profile since. They are characteristically yeasty and highly carbonated. Known for their refreshing nature and drink ability.

Imperial: A denotation initially used to describe beers that were popular in the czarist states, it has since become and is now a term used to designate beers that are very big in their flavor profile.

IPA - India Pale Ales: Originated in Burton, England, during the Victorian period. They were hopped at previously unheard of levels in order to protect them during travel to India. The crisp, bitter style caught on and has been produced in America for many years. This is the flagship beer of the Pacific Northwest, perhaps due to the many varieties of quality hops grown there.

Lager: Traditionally clean and easy drinking, these beers make use of a strain of yeast that works at cooler temperatures than other brewing yeasts. True lagers are extremely varied and complex. While European lagers maintain standards which lend them this degree of complexity, the term is only barely applicable to mass produced modern American versions of this beer. The major American producers usually use corn and rice in place of wheat or barley in the mash. The further use of hop pellets in place of whole hops and municipal water in place of a spring source further deteriorate the quality of these beers. That said, they are easy drinking and inexpensive.

Lambic: Made in Belgium, this is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, commercially produced beer. Using wild yeasts instead of cultivated brewers yeasts, the process is still chancy, difficult and expensive. In their pure form they are slightly sour but highly textured beers, reminiscent of sherry and great with food. Most modern forms are blended with fruit to make them more approachable. Unblended, they are the champagne of beer.

Pale Ale: A traditional English beer that is noted for its fruity, rounded flavor profile. It is not intended to be bitter, but many craft brewed American versions get the addition of more hops than the ancestral English styles.

Pilsner: Perhaps the original "light bodied" golden beer. Pilsners have a crisp and delightful floweriness and a pleasing dry character. They are generally made bitter with the addition of saws hops, the modern American strain of which is a variety known as sterling. These are the beers that many modern lagers owe their allegiance to, but are crafted with fine ingredients. Pilsners make a perfect summer drink.

Porter: Modern porters are very likely nothing like the originals. Initially they are thought to have been a lower profile, less strong version of English stout. In modern American craft brew tradition, they are generally very big, somewhat viscous and sweet beers often with roasted coffee and chocolate undertones. Some lighter versions are still produced.

Steam Beer: A term that is uniquely linked to the Anchor Steam brewery in California. Because of their rights to the process, which uses lager yeasts at ale fermentation temperatures, is not a style often mimicked by microbreweries. It is a delicious craft beer that drinks much like American pale ale.

Stout: The most notable form of stout is dry stout, the version popularized in Ireland by Arthur Guinness. While modern American stout is generally quite sweet and viscous, dry stouts are actually very drinkable, highly hopped, and relatively low in alcohol. Guinness continues to set the standard for stout worldwide.


Bottle Conditioning: A laborious and expensive process in which the beer undergoes secondary fermentation in the bottle rather than in a tank. This is thought to yield superior complexity in the final product.

Brewer's Reserve: A term used to denote the various specialty craft beers made by breweries and microbreweries. These brews are seasonal, produced in limited quantity and presumably excellent.

Cask Conditioned: A process wherein the beer undergoes secondary fermentation in a barrel on site, where it will be served. No Co2 is added to these beers, nor are they generally refrigerated. This yields a traditional flavor only lightly and naturally carbonated, but one in which the qualities of the beer are highlighted. To the uninitiated, these beers are perceived as warm and flat. To those in the "know," however, they are considered superb.

Small Beer: A thin beer that is made by saving the ingredients from a batch and using them for a "second run". Developed as a way to avoid waste, these beers were designed as a workingman's drink that would be quaffed with lunch in the field. Almost no one makes small beers now. They are similar in profile to American macro lager.