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There is a staggering amount of chatter about beer and not knowing some of the techhy language can make it a tad confusing.  To help we’ve explained the main terms below, but don’t be intimidated by the chatter.  Beer is very, very simple.  To make it all you need is water, yeast, a grain (barley, wheat, rice etc.) to get your malt from and some hops and despite the bewildering array of names given to the final product all of them fall into two styles; Ale or Lager.

The main difference between these two is the yeast. Ale yeasts do well in the warm and Lager in the cold.  Both are fermented and then taken down to a lower temperature to finish off, with lager being taken colder and left for longer.  As a result Lager is clean, clear and refreshing (usually served cold) and ale, complex, chewy and darker (usually served closer to room temperature).

Either way a beer is only good if you enjoy it – trust your taste buds, that’s enough to understand beer.

Here’s some common terms:-


Adjunct – Anything in a beer that isn’t hops, water, yeast or from the grain. They are added to the beer enhance one of the original 4 ingredients i.e. honey or fruit to change the taste, smell or colour.  They are very common in mass produced lager-style beers as it’s an easy way to change the end product.

Alcohol – Yay! A by-product of fermentation. It is produced when the yeast consumes the sugars in the chosen grain.

ABV (Alcohol by Volume) – The percentage of the total volume of the beer that is pure alcohol

Ale – A type of beer made with top fermenting yeast.

Altbier – A style of German beer brewed near Dusseldorf.  It’s darker than a standard lager and is top fermented before being cold conditioned i.e. lagered.  Altbier literally means Old Beer.

Aroma Hops – Hops added at the end of beer production to give it a final hoppy boost.


Balance – If you take two measures of a beer–hoppy at one side and malty at the other–a well-balanced beer would be bang in the middle with tastes of both.

Barley – A grain used to make beer.

Barleywine – A style of beer high in alcohol content and quite malty.

BarrelThe unit of measurement for used by brewers. In Britain, a barrel holds 36 gallons.

Bitter (n) – A catch all phrase for cask and bottled ale, usually referring to Amber or Golden beers

Bitter (a) – A sharp, tangy sensation that comes from the hops in your beer.

Bittering Hops – Hops added before the end of the brewing to make the beer (yes you guessed it) …more bitter!

Blending – When you put 2 or more different batches of beer to create a final product.  Rarely done in mass production as it all tastes the same but when a brewer is using the raw ingredients the end product varies because the ingredients vary e.g. a crop of hops may taste different from one month to the next.

Bock – A strong lager traditionally from Germany and brewed seasonally. Full-bodied, malty, well-hopped. It used to be a dark beer but more recently they’ve been produced light copper in colour as well.

Body – The thickness of a beer in your mouth and usually used to make claims of full, medium, or thin-bodied. Lagers are thin-bodied and Stouts full-bodied.

Bottle Conditioning – Beer that has bottled without the yeast being filtered out so sediment is still left in the bottle. This is done so the beer can continue to develop a complex taste while it waits for you to drink it.  It usually means a higher abv too.

Bottom Fermentation – One of the two basic fermentation methods and used to make lager. So-called because the yeast sinks to the bottom of the brew.

Bright beer – Beer that is ready to drink and has had the yeast etc. filtered or dropped out of it

Brown ale – Usually a British, top-fermented style of beer which has strong caramel and malt flavours.


CAMRA – The Campaign for Real Ale

Caramel malt – sweet, coppery malt which gives colour and flavour as well as a darker colour to the beer.

Carbonation – How fizzy your beer is! It can come from the yeast giving off CO2 as a by-product or by being force-carbonated with CO2 (which is usually done with keg beer.)

Cask – A barrel shaped container for beer. Traditionally wooden but now usually metal and the source of one side of the Keg vs. Cask argument.

Cask Conditioned Beer. Beer poured using a traditional hand pump rather than a CO2 tap.

Cask Conditioning – A Cask conditioned beer has continued to develop in the cask after it’s left the brewery.  As a result there are still sediments in there that need to settle to the bottom before serving.  Settling can be done by either leaving it to rest or using finings.

Chill Haze – A cloudiness in cold beer that comes from a chemical reaction when the beer drops to a certain temperature.  It disappears when the beer warms up. It’s a common occurrence and is not unsafe.

Chocolate malt – Malted barley that has been roasted to a darker colour. It gives the beer a more toasted and nutty flavour and makes it a bit darker.

Closed Fermentation – Fermentation in an airtight vat that stops anything messing with the brew.

Craft beer – An American term that has crossed The Pond – we’d call it a microbrew. This definition is still up for debate but According to the Brewers Association an American craft brewer is small, independent and traditional. But what does this mean?

Traditional: A brewer who has an all malt beer or has at least 50% in either all malt beers or beers which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavour.

Small: Annual production of less than 6 million barrels.

Independent: Less than 25% of the brewery is owned by another member of the beer business who is not themselves a craft brewer.

Crystal malt – A malt that has been is dried starts to crystallize.  When this is used it adds sweetness to the beer.


Double bock/dopplebock – A stronger bock beer, that traditionally uses double the amount of hops and malt; it doesn’t necessarily double the strength.

Draught Beer – Beer pulled from a keg or casks rather than from bottle or can

Dry Hopping – The same as Finishing Hops – Adding hops late on in production to increase hoppiness.

Dry stout – The Irish version of stout, Guiness being the most well known version.

Dunkel –Comes from the colour of the beer and literally means Dark in German rather than Helle which means pale.


Fermentation – The part of the brewing process where sugar is converted to alcohol.

Filtration — The passage of the beer through a filter to get out the final bits of yeast etc.

Fining – A substance added to beer (usually cask ale) to make the yeast and other particles settle. These materials can be isinglass, gelatine, Irish moss, and others, but Isinglass is the most common and made from fish swim bladders, making not all beer suitable for vegetarians.

Finishing Hops – The same as Dry Hopping- Adding hops late on in production to increase hoppiness.

Fresh Hopping – Also called wet hopping is the addition of hops that haven’t been dried resulting in a different flavour.


Grist – The milled grain or grains used in beer making.

Gueuze – A style of Belgian beer that blends old and young lambic ale. Highly carbonated and distinctly tart and sour.


Head Retention – The measure of how long the head on your beer lasts; measured in seconds

Hefe – German for yeast.

Helle – Comes from the colour of the beer and literally means Pale in German rather than Dunkel which means dark.

Hops – A key ingredient.  It’s a vine-like plant and the female flowers are the bit we need! Hops are what makes beer bitter and are closely related to marijuana. Hops are responsible for the bitterness in beer and there are over 100 varieties.  It is also a preservative and was the reason India Pale Ale came about as more hops was added to beer sent from Britain to India that needed to survive the long transit time.


IBU – The International Bitterness Unit  is a measure of how bitter a beer is.  IBU = Ounces of Hops x AA% x Utilization% /Gallons x 1.34

Imperial – A beer with Imperial in its name will be stronger than the base style.

IPA – India Pale Ale. A strong, hoppy Pale ale. India Pale Ale came about in the 19th century as a stronger brew and more hops and were added to beer sent from Britain to India that needed to survive the long transit time.

Irish Moss – A fining used as to clarify beer derived from seaweed

Isinglass A fining used to clarify beer made from fish swim bladders


Keg – The other combatant in the keg vs. cask debate. An 11 gallon metal barrel that contains your beer.  Keg beer is pasteurized so doesn’t develop after it leaves the brewery and therefore does not need to settle making it easier for a pub to handle.

Kölsch- A type of German beer that is top fermented and cold conditioned, i.e. lagered.


Lacing – The pattern foam makes on the surface and the sides of the glass as you drink the beer.

Lager – Lager comes from the German lagern meaning to store and is a beer made with bottom fermenting yeast. Lager is fermented at lower temperatures and therefore takes longer to ferment than ale.  Lower temperatures means a cleaner more crisp beer.

Lagering – The process of aging beer at low temperatures and can take many months

Lambic – A traditionally Belgian brew that is quite sour unless it is flavoured with fruit. It also uses open fermentation methods that rely on the natural yeasts in the air rather than adding it directly to the brewing process

Liquor – Brewer speak for water


Malt –Malt comes from the original grain used in the beer being watered and allowed to slightly germinate.  It is then dried or roasted.

Malt Liquor – An American term for beer with an alcohol content above 7%.

Mashing – The process where the grist is added to water in order to extract the sugar from the malt.

Mead – Honey beer

Microbrewery – A small brewery that produces limited quantities of beer and operates under the UK beer duty threshold.


Pilsner – A beer style traditionally from Germany and the Czech Republic. Typically crisp and refreshing, with a light to medium body and a clear gold colour.

Primary Fermentation – The initial fermentation where most of the magic happens; done in large vats and lasting for up to 3 weeks.

Priming – The addition of small amounts of sugar to beer before bottling to start another fermentation in the bottle or keg.


Real Ale – A phrase developed by CAMRA in the 1970s meaning beer that has been brewed and delivered using their recommended processes; ”Beer brewed from traditional ingredients, matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which it is dispensed without the use of extraneous carbon dioxide”

Reinheitsgebot – German Purity Law of 1516 which states that the only ingredients that can be included in beer are water, malted barley, yeast and hops.


Scotch Ale – A top-fermented beer that is very strong, very dark with a thick and creamy.

Secondary Fermentation – The second and slower stage of fermentation for top fermenting beers, which lasts from a few weeks to many months.  It is mainly done in the vessel from which it will eventually be dispensed i.e. casks or bottles.

Sediment The solid stuff that you sometimes get in beer usually a good indicator of it being a beer that has gone through secondary fermentation i.e. a bottle-conditioned beer.

Session Beer – A lighter beer that is lower on the abv scale at 3-4%, so-called because you could drink a few in a single session.

Sour Beer – A type of beer that is extremely sour to taste and usually a Lambic, Gueuze or Flanders Red ale; the oldest brand being Rodenbach

Steam Beer – First originated in California when German immigrants found a way to make bottom fermented yeast work at top fermenting yeast temperatures.  Anchor Brewing Company is the original Steam beer and therefore holds the rights to the name; however it’s pretty much used as a collective term for other producers who also use the name Californian Common


Top Fermentation – One of the two standard fermentation methods.  Top fermentation is used in the production of ale, so-called because the yeasts float at the top rather than sit at the bottom. 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.

Trappist – A beer brewed within a Trappist monastery by the monks.  Only 10 breweries (6 in Belgium, 2 in the Netherlands, 1 in Austria, and 1 in the USA) can use the “Trappist” badge: Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle, Westvleteren, Achel, Koningshoeven (La Trappe), De Kievit (Zundert), Stift Engelszell, and St. Joseph’s Abbey (Spencer Brewery)


Wet Hopping – Also called fresh hopping is the addition of hops that haven’t been dried resulting in a different flavour.

Wit – meaning “White” beer is a cloudy wheat beer that was originally developed without hops and preserved with spices or fruit.  The most common are coriander and orange and the beer is cloudy as a result.


Yeast – Yeast is what makes the alcohol in your beer. Yeast eats up the sugar and produces alcohol and carbon dioxide.