Glossary of Beer Terms
There is a distinct language for beer and it’s full of terms that speak to the history of the brewing process, the unique mix of ingredients that change an ale to a lager and make the difference between a porter and a stout, and ultimately to the refreshing and aromatic reasons it’s enjoyed so thoroughly by its fans. But you don’t have to be a brewmaster in order to speak “beer.”
Abbey (Abbaye) – An Abbey beer is typically from Belgium, France or the Netherlands and is made in the style of the Trappist beers (which are brewed by monks in one of seven recognized Abbeys). Unlike the Trappist beers, Abbey beers are not actually made in an abbey, brewed by monks or under license by one of the official Trappist monk breweries, but may share some of the same characteristics of the strong, lightly coloured Blonde Ales, Dubbels and Tripels made at the official Trappist breweries.
Adjunct – While it’s traditional to make beer from the essential ingredients of malt, water, hops and yeasts, many brewers use adjuncts to aid fermentation. An adjunct is any starch other than malt or wheat that is added by the brewer to aid fermentation. The most common adjunct is corn, which is used extensively in large-scale American breweries. The use of corn increases the fermentable sugars, but it generally doesn’t offer much character; hence the subtle character of most American lagers. Other adjuncts include rice and sugar. Adjuncts are often associated with less expensive beers but the Belgium Trappist/Abbey brewers (whose beers are generally more pricey) often use a type of caramelized sugar syrup to add richness and strength to their ales.
Ale – Ale is one of the two major categories of beer. Ales are fermented at warm temperatures with top-fermenting yeast (the yeast rise to the top of the tank during the fermentation process). There are a number of sub-categories of ales, such as Brown, Red and Pale Ales.
Balance – All good beers strive for balance in their flavour profile. In general, beer should have a balance of malt and hop character to create an overall harmonious combination of flavours. A good combination is not necessarily an equal balance of malt and hops, as many styles of beer veer to stronger malt or hop character, which is what distinguishes them from other styles.
Bitter – Bitterness is the sharp sensation felt toward the back of the tongue when tasting beer and other beverages. Bitterness in beer is the result of adding bittering hops during the brewing process.
Cask Conditioned – Before modern refrigeration, ales were traditionally served from cellars located below the bar or pub. These cask-conditioned ales were unfiltered beers that had undergone a desired secondary fermentation in the cask (or barrel). This fermentation process created a naturally carbonated beer. The pressure created by the carbon dioxide meant there was usually enough pressure to allow bartenders to serve the beer by way of a hand pump or by gravity alone. These unfiltered and unpasteurized beers differ from keg beer as keg beer doesn’t go through a secondary fermentation in the keg and are typically filtered and pasteurized.
Keg beer is by far the most popular style of draught, however an English group known as CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) has successfully reintroduced cask-conditioned real ale into many pubs throughout England. Cask-conditioned ales are also becoming increasingly popular at brewpubs in Canada. There are also bottle-conditioned beers which undergo a second fermentation in the bottle. These are generally high quality artisinal beers where the process is often noted on the front or back label of a bottle.
Draught Beer – Draught beer refers to any beer served on a tap. Traditionally draught beer was served directly from a cask using the natural pressure of the carbon dioxide created during the fermentation process to get the liquid from the cask to the glass. Today, most draught beer is associated with keg beer, which is not naturally carbonated. Keg beer is artificially carbonated with the addition of carbon dioxide or a mix of carbon dioxide and nitrogen.
Dry Hopped – Dry hopped refers to the process of adding hops after the end of the fermentation process to achieve increased hop aromas in a beer. This practice has become increasingly popular amongst craft breweries who often want to maximize the intensity of the hop aromas in their beers.
Esters – The term esters refers to the aromatic components created by yeast during the brewing process. While breweries will rarely use the word ester for the description of their beer on a back label or website, the fruity character found in many types of ale is thanks to these esters. Ales, as a rule, have more esters than lagers.
Export – The term Export is traditionally found on German beer labels, and indicates a lager beer that is fuller in body compared to a normal Pilsner, but not as dry. On other products, such as beers from Canada, the use of Export more often means a slightly stronger beer that has higher alcohol content and sometimes strong hop content. The extra hops and alcohol make the beer more stable for shipping; hence the name Export.
Fermentation – The process of converting the natural sugars found in the wort (which is the sweet liquid made from steeping ground malt in hot water) into alcohol through the addition of yeast. Fermentation can be carried out at different temperatures depending on the type of yeast selected and the beer style.
Grist – Grist is malt that has been delicately ground by the brewmaster to expose the grain starches that will eventually become fermentable sugars during the mash process. These sugars will then be converted to alcohol during the fermentation process.
Head – The layer of foam found on top of a beer is known as the head. Technically speaking, it is the result of the proteins forced out of the beer through carbonation. The sign of naturally carbonated beer is a stable head (one that doesn’t dissipate quickly), which helps keep the aromas of a beer around longer.
Hops – Hops are the flower cone of the hop vine and are one of the building blocks of any beer. Originally used in beer as a natural preservative, hops have evolved into an important flavouring agent. Hops are used to add aromatic complexity to a beer and the bitterness derived from hops balances out the sweetness of the malt. A wide variety of hops are grown throughout the world; each possessing its own distinctive character.
Lager – Lager is the other of the two major categories of beer. Lagers are fermented at relatively cool temperatures with bottom-fermenting yeast. There are a number of sub-categories of lager worth discovering, including Light Lagers and Pilsners.
Malt – Malt is another of the key building blocks of any beer. Malt is made through a process of soaking grain, such as barley, in water and halting the germination process by heating the soaked grains with hot air. This process exposes the fermentable sugars required to transform the sugar into alcohol (beer) through fermentation. The process of heating or drying the grains is used to determine the eventual style of malt. Malt can range from pale malts, often used in lager production, to black malts, which offer the burnt, roasted coffee and chocolate notes you find in rich ales such as Porter and Stout. In addition to flavour, malt also lends body in the form of alcohol and sweetness to a beer. Great beers balance malt sweetness with dry hop character.
Mash – Mash is an important part of the brewing process. Brewers will add hot water to the grist (ground malt) to convert the grain starches into the sugars needed for fermentation.
Oktoberbest – Oom-pah!! Germany is famous for hosting a two-week or longer celebration of Bavarian culture, where naturally food and beer play a significant role. Hearty Bavarian fare such as Weisswurst, Sauerkraut and a range of other traditional dishes are served with generous portions of local beer. The popularity of Oktoberfest has spread past Germany’s borders as today hundreds of versions of the festival are celebrated around the world.
Pasteurization – Many breweries heat their beer to 60-80°C to ensure the beer is microbiologically stable. This process is known as pasteurization.
Reinheitsgebot: German Purity Law – Many German beer bottles will sport a reference to the Rheinheitsgebot, or “German Beer Purity Law”. It is one of the most famous regulations governing the production of any beverage alcohol. Originally developed in 1516, the law states that beers produced in Bavaria must be made from only water, barley and hops. Yeast, the other recognized building block of beer, was not mentioned as it would be a few centuries before Louis Pasteur would discover how microorganisms (yeast) aided fermentation. The original law was developed in part to regulate the use of grains in Bavaria. Wheat and rye were seen as more valuable for baking, leaving barley for the brewers. The Rheinheitsgebot continued to be used well into the 1980s when the law was changed to allow brewers in Bavaria to utilize other ingredients beyond those listed in the original law.
Wort – Wort is the sweet liquid made from steeping ground malt (grist) in hot water, which converts the malt’s starches into fermentable sugar. Wort is converted into alcohol/beer through the fermentation process.
Yeast – Yeast is the unsung hero of beer production. These microorganisms convert the fermentable sugars found in the wort into alcohol. Historically, yeast were wild organisms and brewers had no knowledge of their existence or purpose in the brewing process. Since Louis Pasteur’s discovery of yeast in the 19th century, brewers have become ever increasingly aware of the role of yeast and the potential benefits of its use to the brewing process. Almost no breweries rely on wild yeasts anymore as most use cultured yeast strains to achieve the desired beer qualities.