• ABV: Alcohol by volume. A standard method of measuring the percentage of alcohol in a beverage.
  • Acetaldehyde: A byproduct of fermentation that produces green apple flavors. It’s also a product of alcohol metabolism that’s thought to be more harmful than the alcohol itself and could be the cause of hangovers.
  • Adjunct: Fermentable materials sometimes used as a brewing supplement. Large breweries often use adjuncts like corn and rice to make their beers lighter and cheaper. Craft breweries sometimes use adjuncts to enhance flavor.
  • Ale: One of the two major types of beer (the other being lager). Ales use top-fermenting yeast strains that perform at warmer temperatures and produce flavorful, complex beers such as barleywines, IPAs, porters, stouts, and many more. For more info, check out this article.
  • Amber: A general term for ales between pale and dark in color. Ranges from popular, light-bodied ambers like Fat Tire to big, hoppy reds such as Bear Republic’s Red Rocket Ale.


  • Bacterial/Infected: Terms used to describe a wide range of undesirable flavors or aromas associated with microbiological malfunctions in beer.
  • Barleywine: Although barleywines share some characteristics with wine, including alcohol content (usually around 10-12% ABV), they are beer. The style can be challenging, so try out a few before settling on an opinion. Beginners can start with Anchor’s Old Foghorn or Rogue’s Old Crustacean. The names aren’t a coincidence; barleywines do tend to get better with age.
  • Berliner weisse: A sour German-style wheat ale. Traditionally, these beers are so tart they’re sweetened up with fruit juices or syrups. 
  • Bière de Champagne: Also known as bière brut. These delicate, fizzy, potent ales are often brewed in Belgium and then matured, sometimes in Champagne, France, before the traditional yeast removal process. Miller High Life has been dethroned.
  • Bière de Garde: A funky Belgian style ale, copper to gold in color with moderate to high alcohol content. Try out a Bière De Mars from Jolly Pumpkin.
  • Bottle-Conditioning: Beers that undergo fermentation in the bottle. This can occur in unfiltered beer (the final conditioning takes place in the bottle — the brewer will sometimes add priming sugar before bottling) or when the brewer adds more yeast after filtering (which triggers a second fermentation). This practice can produce extremely flavorful, complex beers.
  • Bottom-Fermenting Yeast: Strains of yeast associated with producing lagers. These yeasts earn their name from their relatively lengthy fermentation time, during when they don’t create as much suspensive foam and end up settling at the bottom of the fermentation vessel. They typically ferment at around 40 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit and produce crisp, clean flavors.
  • Brown Ale: Dark, malty, full-bodied ales. Some even have nutty flavors. The style is often used nowadays as a catch-all for dark American and English ales. Encompasses a wide variety of flavors and potencies.


  • Craft Brewery: A small, independent brewery that brews beer using traditional methods and high-quality ingredients. When they do experiment with adjuncts, they typically do so to enhance beer.
  • Chili Beer: A standard, light-colored lager or ale with hot pepper juices (or a pepper itself) added to spice it up. Spiciness can range from subtle to terrifying.


  • Diacetyl: A compound that contributes buttery flavors. Can be a sign of bacterial infection.
  • Doppelbock: A big brother to the bock beer. These dark, intense lagers often have big malt flavors and a thick, almost syrupy body. Many of my favorite lagers are doppelbocks. For a start, try a Sam Adams Double Bock, and if you like it, move on to an Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock.
  • Dubbel: A dark brown ale associated with Trappist breweries. Usually rich and malty with a slightly lower ABV than its big brothers, the Tripel and Quad.
  • Dunkel: The German word for dark. As you might expect, this term often refers to dark German beers (typically lagers, but it can also describe dark wheat ales). Typically smooth and malty. Not to be confused with Schwarzbier.


  • Eisbock: A style of beer created when a brewer uses freeze distillation to concentrate the flavors and alcohol content of a doppelbock.
  • Ester: A fragrant and flavorful organic compound created as a by-product of yeast fermentation. Often comes across as sugary, spicy, or floral.
  • Extra Special Bitter: ESB. Despite the name, these copper-colored English ales usually aren’t all that bitter; they’re more aggressive than traditional English bitters but still well-balanced. You’ll find way more bitterness in other styles, such as IPAs.


  • Fermentation: The process by which living yeast convert sugar to alcohol, which also produces carbon dioxide (carbonation!).


  • Glassware: The glass is an important part of enjoying beer. You don’t really need to buy every glass on display at your local Bevmo, but a nice selection of weizen glasses, pint glasses, goblets, etc., can definitely enhance your drinking experience. For example, Belgian ales are often best served in a tulip or snifter, which funnel the fruity aromas up into your nostrils — and make the beer look damn sexy.
  • Gravity: A term used in chemistry when measuring the density of a liquid. In brewing, it usually refers to a brew’s density relative to water, which is measured in degrees Plato. You might see terms like “original gravity” and “final gravity”; these refer to a beer’s gravity at different stages during the brewing process. Original gravity measures the sugar in the wort before fermentation, and final gravity measures the sugar left afterward. A higher final gravity usually means you’re getting a sweeter beer, whereas a lower final gravity often indicates crisper, dryer flavors.
  • Grey market beer: Beer imported into a country or market without the brewery’s official authorization. Because the beer must be carefully preserved during transport across long distances, the costs associated with shipping grey market beer often exceed the cost of the beer itself.
  • Growler: A half-gallon glass jug used to transport draught beer.
  • Gueuze: A Belgian-style ale that blends lambics of different ages, then lets them age in the bottle. This is an intense, sour style that will probably stun new drinkers. It’s usually pronounced “gooz-ah” in America, but pronunciations vary, especially overseas.


  • Hefeweizen: German for “wheat with yeast”; hence, it’s a German-style unfiltered wheat ale. Expect a light body, cloudy appearance, flavors of bananas and cloves, and average alcohol content. My personal favorite is Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier.
  • Hops: A flowering plant used in brewing that acts as a preservative and gives beer its bitter aroma and flavor.
  • Hybrid Beer: A beer that cannot be clearly defined as a lager or an ale. Usually a hybrid beer is made by blending brewing techniques; for example, when a brewer employs bottom-fermenting lager yeasts (which usually perform at cooler temperatures) at abnormally warm temperatures, which is how steam beers are made (AKA California common beers). Brewers might also use adjuncts to create new flavors, which means hybrid beer styles include fruit beers and spiced beers.


  • IBU: International Bitterness Units. A scale used to measure hop bitterness in beer. Often indicates bitterness of flavor, but not always: A stout may have a higher IBU than a pale ale but taste less hoppy because its maltiness balances things out. Generally speaking, though, an IBU around 40-50 or above indicates a beer with intense bitter flavors, probably a flavorful IPA, stout, barleywine, etc. Less potent but still noticeable hop flavors lie in the 20-40 range, and anything below that shows very little hop bitterness.


  • IPA: India Pale Ale. American IPAs are usually hop monsters, and thus many newbies aren’t fond of them. Try the Dogfishhead 90 Minute IPA and then move on to Bear Republic’s Racer 5. Belgian brewers have also taken a crack at the style, creating dryly bitter beers that often taste like an American IPA blended with a Belgian tripel.


  • Kräusening: Before bottling a beer, brewers will sometimes discover that it’s gone flat. The yeast became inactive (a brewing term that means either “dead as crap” or “in a micro-coma”), and when that happened, they stopped excreting all those delicious by-products. Kräusening fixes this problem. It’s the act of pouring new wort – with active yeast – into a beer that’s ready to bottle, which stimulates continued (or second) fermentation. This method gives the beer a more lively, carbonated character and can reduce flavors of diacetyl and acetaldehyde. Lagers require kräusening more often than ales because their colder fermentation temperatures make yeast work slower and extend the lagering process, which gives the yeast more time to fall asleep. Note: Kräusen can also describe foaming during early fermentation.
  • Kriek: A tart lambic that’s fermented with sour cherries.


  • Lace: If the glass is clean and the beer is poured properly to produce head, the foam will leave a spiderweb trail down your glass as you drink. This is called lace.
  • Lager: One of the two major types of beer (the other being ale). Lagers use bottom-fermenting yeasts that perform at cooler temperatures and often produce dry, crisp beers such as pilsners, märzens, and many others.
  • Lambic: Tart, crisp ales that ferment spontaneously via exposure to strains of wild yeast that live in the Senne valley in Belgium. Because of this, it’s traditionally a Belgian style. Sometimes fruit is added during fermentation to impart additional flavors.
  • Light-Struck: A beer is light-struck when exposure to ultraviolet light chemically alters its hop compounds. This produces a sulfurous odor and flavor, which is why light-struck beers are often described as “skunked.”


  • Macrobrewery: The big boys in the brewing industry. BMC: Bud, Miller, Coors. The word has a derogatory connotation in some beer communities because these breweries use cheap ingredients to mass-produce cheap beer and seem fond of using shady tactics to suppress smaller breweries’ share of the market.
  • Malt: Short for malted barley (or another cereal grain like wheat or rye). The base ingredient of beer, aside from water. Contributes flavor, color, and body.
  • Mashing: The stage in brewing when milled grains are mixed with hot water in a mash tun (an insulated vessel) to extract starches and convert them into fermentable sugars (so that yeast may later go to town on them).
  • Metal Turbidity: An old brewing term used to describe flavor contamination in beer that has come into direct contact with a reactive metal like tin or aluminum.
  • Mouthfeel: The way a beer feels … in your mouth. Influenced by body, carbonation, etc.


  • Nitro: Sometimes a bar will use phrases like “nitro conditioned” or “on nitro” to sell their beer, particularly draught stouts. Upon seeing this, you might think, “Someone’s ad campaign has gone horribly awry, because that sounds like something that will explode in my mouth.” Don’t worry. Nitro refers to a combo of CO2 and nitrogen that propels the beer from barrel to tap. Nitrogen produces tiny bubbles and gives beer a smooth, creamy texture. This is why Guinness on draught usually tastes like a burnt creamsicle (and because most bars serve it way too cold).


  • Old Ale: This commonly refers to dark, malty English ales. Alcohol content ranges from mild to very strong. Sometimes also called stock ale.
  • Oxidation: The process by which oxygen (or other oxidizing substances) interacts with chemicals in a beer. It can make a beer taste stale or produce a variety of other undesirable flavors. Heat and movement can accelerate the process, which is why beer should be stored in a dark, cool area like a fridge or cellar.


  • Pale Ale: A popular, well-balanced ale of British origin. Flavors vary depending on the ingredients used; many American pale ales tend to have crisp, hoppy flavors, whereas British pales are often balanced with more malt.
  • Pilsner: A pale Central-European lager. Gets its name from being developed in Pilsen, Bohemia, which is now Plzeň, a city in the Czech Republic. Expect spicy floral hops and grassy notes with a light body. This is what some Americans call “normal” beer nowadays.
  • Porter: A dark ale that resembles a stout but is often a bit lighter in body and color. Expect moderate bitterness with flavors of roasted malts, chocolate, and coffee. For more info, check out this article.


  • Quadruple: A dark, powerful Belgian-style ale. Expect huge malt flavors, high alcohol content, and a full body. There’s no easy way into this style; swing for the fence with a Trappistes Rochefort 10 or St. Bernardus Abt 12.


  • Reinheitsgebot: The Bavarian Purity Law of 1514. It states that beer may contain only 4 ingredients: malted grains, hops, yeast, and water. It’s also the oldest food purity law on the books, and most German brewers still adhere to it, despite it being struck down in 1987 after a European court labeled it an enemy of free trade.


  • Saison: A traditionally Belgian style that’s also known as farmhouse ale. These complex golden ales are usually a bit dry and tart with nice fruit flavors. Try Ommegang’s Hennepin.
  • Schwarzbier: “Black beer” in German. These dark German lagers often look and taste a lot like stouts but are typically a bit tamer on the tongue.
  • Scottish Ale: A type of beer from Scotland known for its dark brown color and rich malt flavors. Also called Scotch ale or wee heavy.
  • Sediment: A by-product of yeast fermentation composed of fats, proteins, and inactive yeast that is found in bottle-conditioned and unfiltered beers. Sediment is not harmful (some people even believe it’s good for you!), but it can be a bit of a turn-off in terms of appearance and mouthfeel. You can limit the amount of sediment in your glass by opening and pouring the bottle gently and leaving a small amount of beer (with the sediment) at the bottom of the bottle.
  • Session Beer: A low-alcohol beer with mild, balanced flavors. Typically designed to encourage drinking of multiple beers in a single sitting (or “session”) without destroying the palate or getting the drinker totally hammered. The name possibly originated during World War II in Britain, when the government imposed allowable drinking times on shell makers.
  • Steam Beer: Also known as Common beer, the steam beer is an American-style lager brewed with special yeast that ferment at warmer temperatures than normal lager yeast, producing lagers that are medium-bodied, malty, and even hoppy. 
  • Stout: About as dark as beers come. The term stout encompasses an incredibly varied list of beers, so depending on the sub-style you can expect a light, medium, or full body and flavors of roasted malt, coffee, and chocolate. For an introduction, a dry stout like Guinness will do the trick (preferably on tap or in a bottle marked Extra Stout) — but if you’re in the mood to explore other variations, try a Rogue Chocolate Stout, a Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout, or if you’re feeling brave, a Russian imperial stout like North Coast Brewery’s Old Rasputin. For more info, check out this article.


  • Top-Fermenting Yeast: Strains of yeast associated with producing ales. These yeasts earn their name during fermentation, when they rise and foam at the top of the wort. They typically ferment at around 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Trappist: The word Trappist refers to a Roman Catholic religious order. In the beer world, however, it usually refers to robust ales produced by Trappist monks, who sell the beer to fund their monasteries and drink it as a means of sustenance during fasts (and, I’m sure, for personal enjoyment).
  • Tripel: A style of strong pale ale often associated with Trappist monasteries. Characterized by fruit, spice, and caramel flavors; a golden hue; and high alcohol content. For a place to start, try a La Fin Du Monde, a St. Bernardus Tripel, or something with Trappist on the label.


  • Vintage: The year of a beer’s production. Many beers can be aged like wine, so some craft breweries have started printing the vintage on the label.


  • Weizenbock: A dark German wheat ale. These often possess flavors of rich, dark fruits and a high ABV. Try out Aventinus.
  • Wheat Beer: Any beer brewed using a large amount of wheat as malt. The term encompasses hefeweizens, witbiers, wheatwines, and more.
  • Wheatwine: A strong American style similar to barleywines but brewed with larger amounts of wheat malt.
  • Wild Yeast: When a beer is brewed in open air, it’s usually done to allow exposure to natural yeast strains. These natural yeasts, also called wild yeast, produce beers that are, um … wild.
  • Witbier: A Belgian-style wheat ale, often spiced with coriander and orange peel. Blue Moon is a popular example, but if you want the good stuff, go with a St. Barnardus Witbier or Allagash White.
  • Winter Warmer: A traditional English-style ale whose rich malty sweetness makes it a winter favorite. Sometimes spiced, sometimes hopped, these beers tend to be fairly well-balanced with a nice, subtle alcohol warmth.
  • Wort: A sweet liquid extracted from mash during the brewing process. Basically, beer before fermentation.


  • Yeast: A micro-organism classified as fungi. These little guys create beer (and most other alcoholic beverages) by breaking down sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide. In brewing, adding yeast to wort or beer is called “pitching” the yeast.


  • Zymurgy: The chemistry term for the study of fermentation. Also known as zymology. If you brew, you’re a zymurgist! Or a zymologist. I think the latter sounds better.
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