The Language of Beer
Beer: A fermented cereal beverage, which is traditionally made from malted barley, hops, water and yeast. Most beer styles are derivatives of ales and lagers. Other ingredients, such as wheat, fruit and spices, are used for unique styles of beer. Corn and rice are used as adjuncts but primarily as cheaper sources of fermentable sugar.
Ales: Beers distinguished by use of top fermenting yeast strains that perform at warmer temperatures than do yeasts used to brew lager beer. Their by-products are more evident in taste and aroma. Fruitiness and esters are often part of an ale’s character. Ales range in color from very pale to black opaque, and styles include white, pale, India pale, hefe, brown, porter and stout.
Lagers: Beers produced with bottom fermenting yeast strains at colder fermentation temperatures than ales. This cooler environment inhibits the natural production of esters and other by-products, creating a crisper tasting beer. Today, lagers represent the vast majority of beer produced, the most famous being the pilsner.
Lambics: Lambics are a spontaneous fermented, unblended ale. The use of a large portion of wheat brings out the crispness, with the flavor dominated by a unique tartness or slightly sour taste. Fruit or flavored syrup may be added to flavor the beer before it undergoes a long aging period, ranging from three months to three years, to ensure that the tartness has mellowed.
Witbier: Witbier, or white beer, is a Belgian-style ale that is very pale and cloudy in appearance because it is unfiltered with high levels of wheat. It is always spiced, generally with coriander, orange peel and other spices and herbs.
Barleywine: An extra strong style of ale, originally English, but now produced by many U.S. breweries.
Trappist Beers: Beers brewed in a Trappist monastery. For a beer to qualify for this category, the entire production process must be carried out by Trappist Monks on the site of the monastery. The traditional “Holy Trinity” of beers includes dubbels, tripels and quadrupels.
Abbey Beers: Abbey beers are brewed by commercial brewers and license their name from Abbeys, some obsolete, some still operating. Abbey beers were developed to take advantage of the public’s interest in the Trappist beers. Like the Trappist beers, Abbey beers do not describe a beer style, but rather a marketing term.
Dubbel: The term dubbel stems from using up to twice the amount of malts than the standard Trappist ale. They are a rich, malty beer with some mild alcoholic characteristics and a mild hop bitterness, but no strong, lingering hop flavors.
Tripel: Traditionally the strongest of the Trappist beers. Brewers use up to three times the amount of malt than a standard Trappist ale. Traditionally, tripels are bright yellow to gold in color with a fruity, sweet flavor. Tripels are notoriously alcoholic, yet the best crafted ones hide this character well, making them sipping beers.
Quadrupel: An ale of great strength and bold flavor, the name stems from brewers using up to four times the amount of malts than standard Trappist ales. Typically dark and full-bodied with a rich, malty taste.
Porters: A family of very dark beers characterized by dark chocolate malt flavors and assertive hop bitterness.
Stout: A dark style of beer, usually top fermenting, that is made with highly roasted grain.
Wheat Beer: Pale and cloudy with suspended yeast particles, creamy textured and sweetish.
Pilsner, Pils: A popular style of golden lager pioneered in the Czech town of Plzen, or Pilsen.
IPA: India Pale Ale, a robust and heavily hopped beer that was originally made to withstand the rigors of export by sea to India from Britain.
Saison: Originally a Belgian beer style, a dry strongish ale, traditionally brewed in winter for drinking in summer.
Session Beer: Term describing an easy-drinking beer that is relatively low in alcohol and thus suitable for drinking in quantity.
IBU: International Bitterness Units. This scale provides a measure of the bitterness of beer, which is provided by the hops used during brewing. An IBU is one part per million of isohumulone – the higher the number, the greater the bitterness. The bittering effect is less noticeable in beers with a high quality of malt, so a higher IBU is needed in heavier beers to balance the flavor.
Malt: Specialty malts, such as crystal malt, chocolate malt, and black malt, can be added to extract brews to create different styles of beers, like pale ales, porters and stouts. It is possible to brew without any extracts by mashing malted grains. All grain brewing involves mashing base malts, such as pilsner or pale ale malts, in place of the extract. Unmalted grains, such as oats, wheat, or roasted barley, are sometimes used in the brewing process as well.
Hops: Flowers used to season beer. Bittering hops, meaning adding hops early on in the boil process, provide bitterness to the beer to balance the sweetness of the malt. Hops added at the end of the boil, referred to as finishing hops, add flavor and aroma to the beer. Adding hops directly to the fermenter, or dry hopping, lends additional hop aroma to the beer. Hops also serve as a natural preservative, helping to prevent spoilage in beer. There are many varieties of hops available, allowing for great diversity of flavors and aromas.
Yeast: The fermenting that makes beer by converting sugars from malt or malt extract into alcohol and carbon dioxide. There are two major classes of yeast, ale and lager. Ale yeasts tend to produce fruity flavors and aromas, which vary depending on the yeast. Lager yeasts tend to be neutral in flavor and aroma and thus do not produce the fruity esters found in ale yeasts. Beers fermented with lager yeasts are usually cold stored at temperatures below 45 degrees F (7 degrees C), following primary fermentation for a period of a few weeks to several months – a process known as lagering.
Water: Making up 90 – 95 percent of beer, water is an important ingredient in the brewing process. Factors such as mineral content and pH of brewing water can have a significant effect upon the final product.