Craft Beer 101: Basic Craft Beer Lingo

by: Tierney Pomone
January 9, 2015

If one of your 2015 resolutions was to learn new things or get into craft beer then this post is for you. Class is in session, and this week we’re going to discuss basic craft beer lingo for the beginning craft beer lover. At one point I know I had to Google a few of these terms, so don’t feel ashamed if any of them are new to you. I want you to be able to talk the talk while you walk the walk.

Sample trays at Milkhouse Brewery at Stillpoint Farms.

Sample trays at Milkhouse Brewery at Stillpoint Farms.

Let’s start with the most basic of basic. What is craft beer anyways? By definition of the Brewers Association, an American Craft Brewery is “a brewery producing 6 million barrels of beer or less per year, with no more than 25% of the brewery being owned by someone besides themselves, whose flavor derives from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation.” Craft beer would be the product created by said breweries.

ABV: Alcohol By Volume

This is a basic term that you need to know regardless of your booze of choice. Alcohol by volume refers to the amount of alcohol in a beverage based on its volume. The higher the number, the more potent the beverage. For example, a Miller Lite is usually around 4.5% ABV which is fairly low. A hearty barleywine can be anywhere between 7-12+% ABV. Most wine is around 11-12% ABV, liquors can range from 22% ABV – 60% ABV. Keep in mind that just because a beer may only be around 8-12% doesn’t mean that it can’t get you just as tipsy as a bourbon. Be careful!

IBU – International Bittering Units

You’ll see this number mostly associated with IPAs and hoppier beers, but it technically applies to all styles. The number of IBUs a beer has helps indicate how bitter a beer will taste. The higher the number, the more bitter the beer will taste. For example, Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA is 60 IBU and Troegs Dreamweaver Wheat is 15 IBUs. Bitter doesn’t always mean bad, but if you’re trying to avoid super bitter beers, look for the lower IBU numbers.

Cask Conditioned/Bottle Conditioned/Conditioned

No, this has nothing to do with what you put in your hair. When people discuss to how a beer was conditioned, this refers to the timeframe used to mature a beer, usually in conjunction with the carbonation process. If a beer is bottle conditioned, this means that it matured and carbonated in the bottle you received it in which can sometimes leave sediment at the bottom of the bottle. Sometimes this can even cause high pressure inside the bottle, like a champagne. If a beer is cask conditioned, this beer was matured in a cask allowing for very light carbonation. Usually these beers are served on hand-pulled taps or in firkins. Barrel conditioned (also called barrel aged) come to maturation in a barrel, usually whiskey, bourbon, tequila, rum, or wine. This is done to impart the flavors of the barrel into the beer.

Aroma/Body/Mouthfeel/Finish

These terms are used to describe the beer itself. The aroma would be the scent of the beer. The body of the beer would be a term used to describe the thickness and mouth-filling feeling of a beer, usually thick or thin. Mouthfeel is, well, how the beer makes your mouth feel. Is it cloying, viscous, crunchy? The finish would be the end of the beer including the aftertaste. When describing beer, it’s helpful to others to be as descriptive as possible. If a beer is hoppy, try finding a specific flavor within that such as piney, citrus, floral, or herbal. If it’s malty try looking for bready, biscuity, caramel, chocolate, coffee, or toffee flavors within.

Lager vs Ale

Beers fall into two basic divides: lagers and ales. Lagers are produced with bottom fermenting yeast strains, at colder temperatures than ales. This cooler environment allows for the the natural production of esters creating a crisper tasting beer. Lagers include bocks, pilseners, traditional amber lagers, and California Common/Steam Beers. Ales, on the other hand, use top fermenting yeast strains at warmer temperatures allowing for fruitiness and esters. Ales would include the IPA (India Pale Ale), pale ales, barleywines, stouts, porters, sours, and wheat beers. Now, this isn’t to say that some beers aren’t challenging the traditional constrictions of styles, because what would craft beer be if not a revolution?

Categories: Craft Beer

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