FAQs About Beer

  • What is beer?
  • Beer is an alcoholic beverage made from malted grains, hops, yeast, and water. The grain is usually barley or wheat, but sometimes corn and rice are used as well. Fruit, herbs, and spices may also be used for special styles. In the distant past, the terms "beer" and "ale" meant different things. "Ale" was originally made without using hops, while "beer" did use hops. Since virtually all commercial products now use hops, the term "beer" now encompasses two broad categories: ales and lagers.
  • What are ales?
  • Ales are brewed with "top-fermenting" yeasts at close to room temperatures, 50-70F (10-21C). Ales encompass the broadest range of beer styles including bitters, pale ales, porters, stouts, barley wines, trappist, lambic, and alt. The British Isles are famous for their ales and it is a popular style with home-brewers and micro-breweries.
  • What are lagers?
  • Lagers are brewed with "bottom-fermenting" yeasts at much colder temperatures, 35-50F (2-10C) over long periods of time (months). This is called "lagering". Lagers include bocks, doppelbocks, Munich- and Vienna-style, Maerzen/Oktoberfest, and the famous pilsners. Pilsner beer originated in the town of Pilsen, now in the Czech Republic and was the first non-cloudy beer. Most popular beers produced by the large North American breweries were originally of the pilsner style. These have diverged a great deal from the original style and succeed now by the force of the mass-marketing prowess of the brewers rather than any remarkable qualities of the beers themselves.
  • What are lambics?
  • Lambics are a type of ale brewed in parts of Belgium by exposing hot wort (unfermented beer) to the outside air. Indigenous, wild yeasts and other microorganisms settle on the exposed surface of the wort as it cools and begin spontaneous fermentation. They are often sweetened with fruit flavorings and generally prized the world over.
  • What is "bock" beer?
  • Bock is a style of lager beer which originated in Germany. It was traditionally brewed in the fall, at the end of the growing season, when barley and hops were at their peak. It was "lagered" all winter and enjoyed in the spring at the beginning of the new brewing season. Bocks can be pale (helles) or dark (dunkles) and there are double(doppel) bocks which are extra strong.
  • What is "porter"?
  • From: The Guinness Drinking Companion by Leslie Dunkling (1992) Guinness Publishing; ISBN 0-85112-988-9 "In the London Ale-Houses and taverns of the early 18th Century it was common to call for a pint of "Three threads", meaning a third of a pint each of ale, beer, and twopenny (the strongest beer, costing twopence a quart). A brewer called Harwood had the idea of brewing a beer that united the flavours of all three. He called this beer "Entire". This was about 1720. Harwood's Entire was highly hopped, strong, and dark. It was brewed with soft rather than hard water. Within a few years Entire was also being referred to as "Porter" (short for porter's ale) because the porters of the London street markets were especially fond of it. Porter that was extra strong was known as "Stout Porter", and eventually "Stout"."
  • What are "dry" beers?
  • "Dry" beer was developed in Japan. Using more adjuncts (like corn and rice) and genetically altered yeasts, these beers ferment more completely and have less residual sweetness, and hence less aftertaste.
  • What is "draught" (draft) beer?
  • Technically speaking, draught beer is beer served from the cask in which it has been conditioned. It has been applied, loosely, to any beer served from a large container. More recently, it has been used as a promotional term for canned or bottled beer to try to convince us that the beer inside tastes like it came from a cask. See also "Real Ale".
  • What does "Dubbel" mean on a beer label?
  • Belgian ales often carry additional wording on their labels indicating their strength. This applies to their original malt strength not their alcoholic strength.

Beer Glossary

Ale

Ales are beers fermented with top fermenting yeast. Ales typically are fermented at warmer temperatures than lagers, and are often served warmer. The term ale is sometimes incorrectly associated with alcoholic strength.

Barley

A cereal grain derived from the annual grass Hordeum vulgare. Barley is used as a base malt in the production of beer and certain distilled spirits, as well as a food supply for humans and animals.

Bitterness

In beer, the bitterness is caused by the tannins and iso-humulones of hops. Bitterness of hops is perceived in the taste. The amount of bitterness in a beer is one of the defining characteristics of a beer style.

Blending

The mixing together of different batches of beer to create a final product.

Bomber

A 22-ounce bottle of beer.

Bottom Fermentation

One of the two basic fermentation methods characterized by the tendency of yeast cells to sink to the bottom of the fermentation vessel. Lager yeast is considered to be bottom fermenting compared to ale yeast that is top fermenting. Beers brewed in this fashion are commonly called lagers or bottom-fermented beers.

Brewpub

A restaurant-brewery that sells 25% or more of its beer on site. The beer is brewed primarily for sale in the restaurant and bar. The beer is often dispensed directly from the brewery’s storage tanks. Where allowed by law, brewpubs often sell beer “to-go” and /or distribute to off site accounts.

Cask

A barrel-shaped container for holding beer. Originally made of iron-hooped wooden staves, now most widely available in stainless steel and aluminum.

Colour

The hue or shade of a beer, primarily derived from grains, sometimes derived from fruit or other ingredients in beer. Beer styles made with caramelized, toasted or roasted malts or grains will exhibit increasingly darker colours. The colour of a beer may often, but not always, allow the consumer to anticipate how a beer might taste. It’s important to note that beer colour does not equate to alcohol level, mouthfeel or calories in beer.

Draught Beer

Beer drawn from kegs, casks or serving tanks rather than from cans, bottles or other packages. Beer consumed from a growler relatively soon after filling is also sometimes considered draught beer.

Dry Hopping

The addition of hops late in the brewing process to increase the hop aroma of a finished beer without significantly affecting its bitterness. Dry hops may be added to the wort in the kettle, whirlpool, hop back, or added to beer during primary or secondary fermentation or even later in the process.

Ethanol

Ethyl alcohol, the colorless primary alcohol constituent of beer.

Fermentation

The chemical conversion of fermentable sugars into approximately equal parts of ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide gas, through the action of yeast. The two basic methods of fermentation in brewing are top fermentation, which produces ales, and bottom fermentation, which produces lagers.

Filtration

The passage of a liquid through a permeable or porous substance to remove solid matter in suspension, often yeast.

Grainy

Tasting or smelling like cereal or raw grains.

Grist

Ground malt and grains ready for mashing.

Growler

A jug- or pail-like container once used to carry draught beer bought by the measure at the local tavern. Growlers are usually ½ gal (64 oz) or 2L (68 oz) in volume and made of glass. Brewpubs often serve growlers to sell beer to-go. Often a customer will pay a deposit on the growler but can bring it back again and again for a re-fill. Growlers to-go are not legal in all U.S. states.

Head Retention

The foam stability of a beer as measured, in seconds, by time required for a 1-inch foam collar to collapse.

Hops

A perennial climbing vine, also known by the Latin botanical name Humulus lupulus. The female plant yields flowers of soft-leaved pine-like cones (strobile) measuring about an inch in length. Only the female ripened flower is used for flavoring beer. Because hops reproduce through cuttings, the male plants are not cultivated and are even rooted out to prevent them from fertilizing the female plants, as the cones would become weighed-down with seeds.

International Bitterness Units (IBU)

The measure of the bittering substances in beer (analytically assessed as milligrams of isomerized alpha acid per liter of beer, in ppm). This measurement depends on the style of beer. Light lagers typically have an IBU rating between 5-10 while big, bitter India Pale Ales can often have an IBU rating between 50 and 70.

Keg

A cylindrical container, usually constructed of steel or sometimes aluminum, commonly used to store, transport and serve beer under pressure. In the U.S., kegs are referred to by the portion of a barrel they represent, for example, a ½ barrel keg = 15.5 gal, a ¼ barrel keg = 7.75 gal, a 1/6 barrel keg = 5.23 gal. Other standard keg sizes will be found in other countries.

Lace

The lacelike pattern of foam sticking to the sides of a glass of beer once it has been partly or totally emptied.

Lager

Lagers are any beer that is fermented with bottom-fermenting yeast at colder temperatures. Lagers are most often associated with crisp, clean flavors and are traditionally fermented and served at colder temperatures than ales.

Lightstruck (Skunked)

Appears in both the aroma and flavour in beer and is caused by exposure of beer in light coloured bottles or beer in a glass to ultra-violet or fluorescent light.

Malt

Processed barley that has been steeped in water, germinated on malting floors or in germination boxes or drums, and later dried in kilns for the purpose of stopping the germination and converting the insoluble starch in barley to the soluble substances and sugars in malt.

Malt Extract

A thick syrup or dry powder prepared from malt and sometimes used in brewing (often used by new home-brewers).

Microbrewery

As defined by the Brewers Association: A brewery that produces less than 15,000 barrels of beer per year with 75% or more of its beer sold off-site.

Mouthfeel

Synonym for body of a beer, weight on the tongue, perceived carbonation (sensation), perceived warmth (alcohol) and perceived astringency.

Musty

Moldy, mildewy character that can be the result of cork or bacterial infection in a beer. It can be perceived in both taste and aroma.

Quaff

To drink deeply.

Reinheitsgebot

The German beer purity law passed in 1516, stating that beer may only contain water, barley and hops. Yeast was later added after its role in fermentation was discovered by Louis Pasteur.

Sediment

The refuse of solid matter that settles and accumulates at the bottom of fermenters, conditioning vessels and bottles of bottle-conditioned beer.

Sour

A taste perceived to be acidic and tart. Sometimes the result of a bacterial influence intended by the brewer, from either wild or inoculated bacteria such as lactobacillus and pediococcus.

Sulfur

Aroma reminiscent of rotten eggs or burnt matches; a by-product of some yeasts or a beer becoming light struck.

Tannins

A group of organic compounds contained in certain cereal grains and other plants. Tannins are present in the hop cone. Also called “hop tannin” to distinguish it from tannins originating from malted barley. The greater part of malt tannin content is derived from malt husks, but malt tannins differ chemically from hop tannins. In extreme examples, tannins from both can be perceived as a taste or sensation similar to sampling black tea that has steeped for a very long time.

Top Fermentation

One of the two basic fermentation methods characterized by the tendency of yeast cells to rise to the surface of the fermentation vessel. Ale yeast is top fermenting compared to lager yeast, which is bottom fermenting. Beers brewed in this fashion are commonly called ale or top-fermented beers.

Turbidity

Sediment in suspension; hazy, murky.

Yeast

During the fermentation process, yeast converts the natural malt sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide gas. Yeast was first viewed under a microscope in 1680 by the Dutch scientist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek; in 1867, Louis Pasteur discovered that yeast cells lack chlorophyll and that they could develop only in an environment containing both nitrogen and carbon.

Zymurgy

The branch of chemistry that deals with fermentation processes, as in brewing.