This piece originally appeared on VinePair.
The world of craft beer is exploding, and while we generally think that’s a good thing, along the lines of “the sudsier, the merrier,” it seems like beer culture is sort of evolving faster than we can drink it down. The more beer there is, the more there is to know, and the more commonplace a lot of weird-seeming terminology becomes. To help you navigate the intoxicating verbiage, a list of 20 beer terms you may well encounter in your continued beer career. Not that you should expect a craft beer vocab test anytime soon, but these’ll definitely help you pick out the right six pack.
Kind of a “bad word,” anything that isn’t “craft beer,” meaning beers that are made by giant companies like Anheuser Busch InBev or SABMiller (who may, it turns out, merge to form an even gianter company). Typically two-dimensional, think Budweiser, PBR, Miller, etc.
Like adding dry oregano to pasta sauce at the end of cooking, dry hopping is when you add extra hops for flavor (but not bitterness) after fermentation.
Carbonating beer by adding yeast and sugar to the bottle before capping it (as opposed to mechanically forcing carbonation into the beer—think SodaStream). Imparts some flavor and a Champagne-style mouthfeel, plus yeast sediment—yours to mix in or nix.
“International Bittering Units,” a scale that’ll tell you how bitter your beer’s going to taste (mainly as a result of the use of bittering hops). Increasingly written on bottle labels, and most important if you’re an IPA lover (or hater): anything at 10 IBUs or below should be mild, balanced pale ales should top out at around 40, and 50 and above is generally the territory of IPAs, with things getting, like, angrily bitter toward 100.
Any grain besides malted barley that’s used to make beer, e.g. corn and rice, which are often thought of as filler for cheaper macro lagers—though adjuncts like wheat and oats can impart significant flavor and character, often vital to certain styles.
Shorthand for any beer in which malt characteristics are apparent, even dominant. Malty flavors can span the gamut from biscuity and bready to toffee, caramel, toasty, chocolaty, fruity, round, etc.
Hop varieties abound, but Noble Hops refer to four types of aromatic hops grown in specific regions in Germany and the Czech Republic Europe: Saaz, Hallertau, Spalt, and Tettnang. Often used in the production of European lager-style beers.
Flavor compounds that occur far more often in ales (because they’re fermented at higher temps, good for ester production), often described simply as “fruity,” but depending on yeast used and fermentation temps, you might get specific (e.g. candy banana) flavors.
Associated with hoppy beers like IPA, which tend to have predominant bitter flavors but also characteristic pine (as in pine tree) notes, depending on the hops used. Not unlike certain junipery gins.
Not how far your beer will plummet on the moon. A measurement—done before and after fermentation—of the amount of dissolved solids as a factor of density, which helps the brewer determine ABV.
A beer style (e.g. Stout, IPA) that’s been flavor- and ABV-intensified by basically upping (sometimes doubling) the hops and malt used. Beer turned up to 11.
Not super common but getting popular, “single hopped” beers are made with one kind of hops (e.g. Cascade, Fuggle, Chinook), the idea being to showcase a particular flavor profile.
Most beer is fermented with Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast. Brettanomyces, aka “Brett,” is a wild yeast that can either spontaneously—or intentionally—participate in fermentation, yielding acidity as well as a range of funky flavors (barnyard, earthiness, spiciness) to the finished beer. As with certain phenols and esters, there are Brett lovers and Brett haters.
When a beer tastes “clean,” that basically means it doesn’t have too much complexity of flavor or texture. Not necessarily meaning “flat” or “two-dimensional,” just won’t engage your palate as much as cleanse it. Lagers are typically “clean.”
A low alcohol beer (generally 3 or 4% ABV) that can theoretically be consumed repeatedly, in one “session,” without resulting in ridiculous intoxication.
Think of it as sunburned beer, the result of a beer’s exposure to sunlight. Certain UV rays convert compounds in the beer, resulting in a characteristic “skunk” aroma and flavor. Brown glass bottles help deter the reaction.
Fresh Hopped/Wet Hopped
Harvested hops are typically kiln-dried within 24 hours before being added to beer, but “fresh hopped” beers forego the kiln and just dump freshly-cut hops right into the beer. A greener, more delicate hop flavor profile—and a rare fall seasonal style that’s coming into vogue.
Like “malty,” a term used to describe beers with (hopefully) intentionally yeasty flavor profiles, most commonly associated with bread.
Keg beer is filtered, carbonated, pasteurized, and pushed out of the keg with additional CO2 (or nitrogen). Cask beer is unpasteurized and unfiltered, allowed to go through its secondary fermentation naturally, with a small amount of yeast added to the cask, resulting in a gentler carbonation. Served directly from the vessel in which it finishes developing, cask beer is hand pumped (no forced CO2) and served at slightly higher temps to enhance flavors. Aka “real ale,” a bit of a darling of the craft industry.
Like esters, a product of fermentation, though they can also be caused by bacteria or chemicals found in the brewing water itself. Phenolic flavors can be medicinal or funky, and not unlike certain peated Scotches (think Band-Aid, plastic, etc.), but they’re not all undesirable: Hefeweizen’s (love-or-hate-it) clove-like spiciness comes from phenols.