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The Brewing Enthusiast’s Guide to 25 Beer Terms


Beer is one of those beverages that unites people from almost all walks of life. Whether you only enjoy it freezing cold and golden on a hot day or you’re obsessed with trying all kinds of brew, understanding some basic beer terminology could come in handy.

So, if you want to brew at home or impress your friends at the bar — or even make a career out of beer — familiarize yourself with the following 25 beer terms.

A man stands in front of a tank of beer writing on a clipboard

Descriptive Beer Terminology

Most people’s relationship with beer starts as a consumer. Let’s start by covering some basic words and phrases used to accurately describe beer’s unique tastes, styles, and qualities.

1. ABV

ABV stands for “alcohol by volume” and varies significantly according to beer style — and even within styles. This is a universal measurement that indicates the “strength” of the beer, describing the total volume of liquid in a beer that is made up of alcohol.

2. Maltiness

Maltiness refers to how sweet a beer tastes — more malt means more “sweetness.”

3. Body

“Body” refers to a drink’s mouthfeel. A low-body brew feels thinner and goes down easily, while a high-body beer coats your mouth and lingers.

4. Head

The “head” of a beer is the foamy, frothy white top that appears when poured. It is caused by the carbon dioxide bubbles rising to the top. A robust head is desirable because it prevents the beer from going flat and contains much of the aroma from the brew.

5. IBU

This stands for “international bitterness units.” IBU measures the parts per million of isohumulone in the beer, which is the acid that gives it its bitter bite. The higher the IBU, the more bitter the beer will taste.

Brewing Terms for Beginners

Maybe you’re ready to take a deeper dive into the world of beer and want to learn how to make your own. Brewing science can be incredibly complicated and involves a lot of precise measurements, careful biochemistry and impeccable sterilization methods. Keep reading for some basic brewing terminology to help you get started.

6. Mash

“Mashing” is the process of soaking malted grains in water to release their sugar. And mash refers to the slurry mixture itself.

7. Hops

During the brewing process, flowers from the hop plant are added to enhance bitterness, flavor and aroma to the beer.

8. Yeast

This is a microorganism that “eats” sugars and produces alcohol as a result.

9. Wort

Wort is the liquid extracted from the mashing process. It contains all the sugars that will be turned into alcohol with the help of yeast and fermentation.

10. Fermentation

Fermentation is the process by which yeast consumes the sugars in wort and produces alcohol and carbon dioxide.

11. Gravity

In brewing terms, “gravity” is a measurement of density. It indicates the number of dissolved sugars in a beer wort before fermentation. Brewers measure the original gravity (OG) to understand how much alcohol will be produced and approximate the final ABV for the batch.

12. Conditioning

After fermentation is complete, the beer must go through a “conditioning” period where it is allowed to mature and carbonate.

13. Lautering

This is the process of separating sweet liquid wort from spent grains after mashing.

Common Beer Styles

Generally speaking, most beer falls into one of two main styles: ale and lager. But what’s the difference between ale and lager?

Ales ferment in warmer environments (60–75°F). Because the yeast works faster at high temps, ales are often faster to produce — some take as little as two weeks. Lagers, on the other hand, ferment in “low and slow” environments (40-50ºF) and are typically ready in two to five weeks.

There are thousands of kinds of beer in the world — every culture puts its own twist on this ancient beverage. Below are just a few popular beer styles commonly found in the U.S.

14. Pale ale

Pale ales are typically golden in color and have a pleasing balance of malty and hoppy flavor.

15. India pale ale (IPA)

IPAs are easily one of the most popular beers in the U.S., and these ales pack a punch of bitter hops. Many brewers choose to add fruity notes to their IPAs to round out the strong taste.

16. Wheat beer

These beers stand out because their main grain is wheat rather than barley. They have a heavy mouthfeel, are low in bitterness, and are often flavored with juicy fruits.

17. American lager

American lagers are slightly malty, with low IBU and smooth body that makes them very drinkable.

18. Sour beer

As you can guess from the name alone, this type of beer is noticeably sour and acidic. To attain this signature taste, brewers add bacteria that eat up the sugar in the brew. Many sour beers have a “funky” taste that is complemented by fruits of all kinds, including citrus and berries.

19. Dunkel

This smooth lager comes in many shades of brown and is dependably high in malty flavor. Many brewers add notes of coffee or rich, sweet additives like chocolate and caramel.

20. Porter

Porters are noticeably dark in color because the malted grains are roasted before brewing. They are typically heavy-bodied and sweet.

21. Stout

Stouts are another wonderful dark brew that may look similar to porters but are made with un-malted roasted barley and are typically more bitter.

Popular Marketing and Promotion Terms for Beer

Even if you don’t end up brewing and selling your own beer, the following terms can help you make informed decisions about your beverage choice at the store or the bar.

22. Craft beer

The Brewer’s Association defines craft beer as being produced in small, independent breweries that emphasize quality, flavor and innovation.

23. Microbrewery

A small brew operation that typically produces less than 15,000 barrels of beer per year.

24. Session beer

A “session” beer typically has low alcohol content (around 5% ABV or less) and is very refreshing and light-bodied. The goal is to make a beer that is extremely drinkable and can be enjoyed “in a quick session.”

25. Seasonal beer

Seasonal beers are designed to coincide with holidays (or the changing of the seasons). You might see eggnog-inspired stout for the winter or summer shandy during hot months.

Take Your Brewing Enthusiasm to the Next Level

If you read through all of the information above and are still thirsty for more knowledge, perhaps more formal education is in your future. With an online certificate in Brewing Science and Operations from Saint Louis University, you can launch your beer career in just one year.

Our local experts will teach you all about the scientific processes of brewing, beer style and evaluation, brewery management, and the significant impact of fermented beverages on society. Learn more by visiting our program page today!

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