You could say that craft beer nerds are the new wine snobs. They certainly talk like it. Keeping conversation with a seasoned hophead can be intimidating, between the ABVs, IBUs and all the other jargon tossed around. But have no fear. Whether you're diving into a pint or just having a discussion about beer, you can use this trusty glossary to decode some of the industry-specific terms. Before you know it, you may be the one distinguishing ales from lagers and casks from firkins.
ABV: Stands for alcohol by volume, which is the measurement of a beer's alcohol content. This figure is conveyed as a percentage, so you may pick up on craft aficionados referring to a beer as simply "5 percent" or "10 percent" without including the term ABV.
Ale: All beers are either ales or lagers, and the difference lies in how the beer is brewed. Ales are brewed with a specific ale yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) at a higher temperature (roughly 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit). These are top fermenting beers, meaning the yeast forms a layer on top of the brew as it converts sugar into alcohol. Ale styles include blondes or goldens, wheats, pale ales, India pale ales, Belgian styles, stouts and porters, among others.
Barrel: The standard measurement of beer production, equal to 31.5 gallons. Barrel will be used as a reference for the size of a brewery's production facility or the amount of its annual output. A barrel is also a vessel that holds beer.
Barrel aging: The process of letting a beer mature in a wooden barrel. Barrel aging allows a beer to pick up natural flavor from the wood and, in some cases, increase in alcohol content. Brewers usually let beers age in barrels for longer periods of time than in kegs and bottles, depending on the type of wood, the style of beer and whether the barrel previously contained wine and/or spirits. These beers are particularly flavor-intense and are coveted by beer lovers.
Body: Tasting note synonymous with mouthfeel. Refers to the thickness and consistency of a beer.
Bomber: A bottle of beer 22 ounces or more.
Brettanomyces: A strain of yeast that ferments beer, creating a wild or sour ale. Often colloquially called "Brett," the yeast can be introduced intentionally or spontaneously.
Brewpub: A restaurant and brewery that sells at least 25 percent of its beer on-site. As of the 2013 legislative session, brewpubs in Texas can brew up to 10,000 barrels of beer annually with the option to distribute a limited amount each year. There are more than 1,200 brewpubs in the United States.
Carbonation: Tasting note that refers to the amount of carbon dioxide in a beer. A lot of carbonation means a beer is bubbly or fizzy like a soda. Low carbonation means few bubbles or smoother texture. Different styles warrant different amounts of carbon dioxide.
Cask: A barrel-shaped container for holding, conditioning and serving beer; also known as a firkin. Beer from the cask is unfiltered, unpasteurized and served without additional nitrogen or carbon dioxide pressure, meaning it is less carbonated and smoother than beer from the tap. Cask beers are also served warmer to augment the flavor profile and aroma.
Crowler: An aluminum can for to-go beer, filled from the tap and sealed on-site at a bar or brewpub. A cousin of the growler, it was invented by Oskar Blues Brewery in Colorado and is most commonly available in 32 ounces. Crowlers are kinda sorta legal in Texas.
Dry-hopping: Refers to the addition of hops during fermentation, which increases the hoppy aroma of beer without increasing the bitterness. You may hear beers referred to as "dry-hopped."
Fermentation: The process by which yeast converts sugar into alcohol. The two basic types of fermentation are top fermenting, which results in an ale, and bottom fermenting, which results in a lager. Open or spontaneous fermentation occurs when a strain of yeast is introduced naturally by leaving the fermentation vessel open to the microorganisms in the atmosphere, often resulting in a sour ale. This technique was discovered by accident but is now employed intentionally. Some brewers use wild yeast in closed fermentation to achieve the same effect.
Firkin: A small cask or barrel-shaped container for holding, conditioning and serving beer; roughly 41 liters. Beer from the firkin is unfiltered, unpasteurized and served without additional nitrogen or carbon dioxide pressure, meaning it is less carbonated and smoother than beer from the tap. Firkins of beer are also served warmer to augment the flavor profile and aroma.
Growler: A glass, ceramic, plastic or stainless steel to-go beer jug filled from the tap, most commonly available in 32 or 64 ounces.
Head: The foam that forms on the top of a beer when it is poured into a glass. Head also exudes aroma.
Head retention: Refers to how long the head on a beer lasts.
Hops: A perennial climbing vine. The female plants flower and produce "hop cones," which are dried before being used in beer. Hops add flavor, providing bitterness or aroma depending on when they are added during the brewing process. There are more than 100 varieties of hops, each with a unique flavor composition. Some of the most popular include Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, Golding, Hallertau, Mosaic, Simcoe and Sorachi Ace.
IBUs: Stands for international bitterness units, a sort of Richter scale for a beer's bitterness or hop quantity. IBU is a cohesive standard adopted worldwide. Light beers, such as pilsners or witbiers, tend to reside at the low end of the IBU scale, generally less than 20 IBUs. Styles such as India pale ales tend to be much higher, anywhere from 50 to 100-plus IBUs.
Imperial: Often called "double," imperial refers to a beer that is brewed at a higher gravity, making it higher in alcohol content and bolder with ingredients. An imperial style will often have more hops or malts to bring out bigger flavors.
Lace: The traces of foam from a beer's head that are left behind on a glass.
Lactobacillus: A strain of bacteria introduced to fermenting beer to cause a wild or sour ale.
Lager: All beers are either ales or lagers, and the difference lies in how the beer is brewed. Lagers are brewed with a specific lager yeast (Saccharomyces uvarum) at a lower temperature (roughly 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit). These are bottom fermenting beers, meaning the yeast does not form a layer or head on top of the brew as it converts sugar into alcohol. Lager comes from a German word that means "to store," and these beers are often stored and aged for longer periods of time. Lager styles include pilsner, Dunkel, bock and Marzen, among others.
Malt: Barley that has been soaked and then kilned or dried; commonly referred to as malted barley. The process partially germinates the grain and converts insoluble starches into soluble sugars necessary for brewing. Malts roasted longer tend to be darker and bring out chocolate and coffee notes in a beer, whereas pale malts produce a beer lighter in body and color.
Microbrewery: A brewery that produces less than 15,000 barrels per year and sells at least 75 percent of it off-site. There are more than 1,400 microbreweries in the country.
Mouthfeel: Tasting note synonymous with body. Refers to the thickness and consistency of a beer.
Randall: Device invented in 2002 by Dogfish Head Craft Brewery (Milton, Del.) that spontaneously infuses a beer as it pours. Brewers fill the device's chamber with ingredients and hook it up to a keg. As the beer exits the keg, it runs through the Randall and picks up flavors from whatever ingredients are inside the chamber.
Saccharomyces: Known as brewer's yeast, this is the most common yeast strain used in beer brewing.
Session: A beer that is light in body and alcohol content, usually less than 5 percent ABV. A beer described as "sessionable" means drinkers can consume more than one in a sitting without overdoing it.
Yeast: A microorganism that is used to ferment beer and turn sugar into alcohol. Different styles of beer mandate different strains of yeast.
Looking for more hoppy reading? Visit our craft beer page.
Sources: This glossary was compiled using Charlie Papazian's The Complete Joy of Homebrewing (Third Edition), the Brewers Association professional and consumer websites (brewersassociation.org, craftbeer.com), a university course called Chemistry of Beer and interviews with local brewers.