Beer glossary

Don’t know your sparge from your spile? Think that mash has something to do with spuds? All these brewing terms can leave your head spinning even before that first pint of 80/-, but help is at hand with our cut-and-paste guide to brewing lingo.

An organism, such as top fermenting ale yeast, which needs oxygen to metabolise.

Beers distinguished by use of top fermenting yeast strains, which perform at warmer temperatures than those yeasts used to brew lager. Fruitiness and esters are often part of an ale’s character.

Traditional unit of volume in the British beer industry – equivalent to 163.66 litres (288 pints if that’s your next question).

The taste component added by hops. The perception of a bitter flavour from iso-alpha-acid in solution, is measured in International Bitterness Units (IBU).

Secondary fermentation and maturation in the bottle, creating complex aromas and flavours.

Non-cask conditioned beer – dispensed using carbon dioxide or nitro-gas. The majority of the beer drunk round the world is ‘bright beer’.

The stopper that closes the hole in a keg or cask through which the cask is filled and emptied.

Short for the Campaign for Real Ale, CAMRA is a campaigning organisation for fans of real, ie cask conditioned, ale.

Sparkle caused by carbon dioxide, either created during fermentation or injected later.

A closed, barrel-shaped container for beer. They come in various sizes and are usually made of metal. The bung in a cask of proper beer or ale must be made of wood to allow the pressure to be released, as the fermentation of the beer continues in the cask.

Draught beer brewed from traditional ingredients, matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which it is dispensed, and served without the use of extraneous carbon dioxide. (The proper stuff, in other words).

A condition occurring in some beers at near freezing temperatures caused by proteins in the beer becoming cloudy. Not an indication of bad beer.

A vessel in which beer, principally lagers and Copper

A copper is basically a large pan in which the wort is boiled up with the hops. The pan has a round bottom to maximise the effect of the boil. Boiling the liquid has three effects: firstly it stabilises the colour, secondly it concentrates the sugars (about 6% of the liquid will evaporate), and finally it releases the flavour of the hops, which also sterilises the liquid. Coppers got their name because they were traditionally made from copper, which is a good, even conductor of heat. This was particularly important when most were directly heated by coal fires. Today most coppers used by breweries are made of stainless steel and heated by a coil in the same way as a domestic kettle. We brew our beer using the last direct-fired open coppers in the UK.

The addition of dry hops to fermenting or maturing beer to increase its hop character or aroma.

Esters are organic compounds that result from the interaction of acids and alcohol. The presence of esters can cause the fruity flavours and aromas like banana, blueberry, and pear that intentionally or unintentionally occur in some beers.

Conversion of sugars into ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide, through the action of yeast.

Finings (pronounced fine-ings) are often used in wine and beer to clarify the liquid. Finings are a gelatinous semi-transparent substance obtained by cleaning and drying the air bladders of the sturgeon, cod, hake, and other fishes. Bizarre but true. Finings attract the fine yeast particles suspended in the beer till they are large enough to sink to the bottom of the cask and thus clarify the beer.

Brewers’ term for milled malt grains to be used in a particular brew. Derives from the verb “to grind”.

A device for dispensing draught beer using a hand-operated pump. The name’s a bit of a giveway to be fair. The use of a hand pump allows the cask conditioned beer to be served without the use of pressurised carbon dioxide.

A large, medieval beer barrel – equivalent to 54 gallons which is 249.54 litres or 432 pints.

The hop is a tall climbing plant, with only the female flowers used for brewing to add the bitter flavour to beer. The modern hop has been developed from a wild plant that was originally used as a medicinal herb in early Egypt. UK hops are harvested in September. The hops are then dried in a kiln or roast house, where the moisture content is reduced from about 80% to 10%.

Also called finings, material made from fish bladders used to clarify beer.

The name given to the aluminium barrels in which beer is now delivered to pubs. Several standard sizes exist with 9, 11 and 18 UK gallons being the most common. These are equivalent to 72, 88 or 144 pints.

The word lager comes from the German word lagern which means ‘to store’. Lagers are brewed with bottom-fermenting yeast that works slowly at around 34°F, and are often stored at cool temperatures for a further period to mature. Lager yeast ferments more sugars, leaving a crisp clean taste which produce fewer by-product characters than ale yeast.

The quality of the water that is used to brew is an important factor in the flavour of the beer. Brewers refer to the water they work with as liquor.

Malt is grains of barley that have been steeped in water and allowed to partially germinate. The grains are then dried or roasted to stop germination. The longer they are roasted the darker their colour, which is then imparted into the beer.

Giant stainless steel pan in which the cracked, malted barley is mixed with boiling water to release the sugars from the grain. The porridge like mixture is known as ‘the mash’ (see above).

Literally the way a beer feels in the mouth of the drinker. I bet you’d never have guessed that. Somewhat subjective – drinks may be described as thick and creamy, tingly, bubbly, chewy or smooth.

Also known as mixed gas. It is used to dispense ‘bright beers’ and is usually a combination of 70% nitrogen and 30% carbon dioxide. Nitro-gas has largely replaced carbon dioxide in beer dispensing as the mixed gasses produce a thicker, creamier head and softer flavour.

Carried out on beer sold in kegs, bottles and cans. The beer is heated to 60-79°C to stabilise it microbiologically. Flash-pasteurisation is applied very briefly, for 15-60 seconds by heating the beer as it passes through the pipe. Alternatively, the bottled beer can be passed on a conveyor belt through a heated tunnel. This more gradual process takes at least 20 minutes and sometimes much longer.

Standard measure in which beer is served in the UK. Equivalent to 0.568 of a litre.

Adding yeast to the wort in the fermentation tank.

Occurs after pitching the yeast and during the first three days, during which time the sugars are converted to alcohol. Fermentation time can vary from three to seven days, depending on the type of beer.

Stage of fermentation occurring in a closed container from several weeks to several months.

Yeast material at the bottom of the bottle formed as a result of conditioning the beer in the bottle. Not a sign of bad beer.

When hot water is sprayed over the mash in the mash tun to ensure that all the sugars in the grist are extracted.

The weight of a liquid relative to the weight of an equal volume of water. Specific gravity must be checked before and after fermentation. Used as an indication of the amount of alcohol present in the finished beer.

A plug used to close a hole in a barrel, cask or flask.

The porridge-like mixture produced when the grist (milled malt) is steeped in hot water, a process that extracts the sugars in the malt that will be converted into alcohol during fermentation. The clear sugary liquid that runs off to the next phase of brewing is called the wort.

Beer in Scotland was traditionally categorised in shillings by the invoice price of a hogshead barrel containing 432 pints. 40/- ale was a very light beer often supplied to farmhands, 50/- and 60/- beers were also reasonably light and mild, while 70/-, 80/- and 90/- were progressively stronger, export quality beers. Though the price of a hogshead barrel became much higher than the original 40/- or 80/-, the shilling terminology continued to be used to indicate the beers’ quality and the system was legally recognised in 1914.

Large vessel used in brewing. In America, tub is often preferred.

Once cask conditioned ale is delivered to a pub it must be set up in its serving position and then left undisturbed until the cask is empty. The publican must also ‘vent’ the cask – allowing it to breathe and secondary fermentation to take place. Secondary fermentation of the beer in a closed cask ensures that the beer becomes completely saturated with carbon dioxide. The soft spile is made of porous wood and can allow exchange of gases between the cask and the outside world. At this point the beer is still generating CO2 so no air enters the cask. The soft spile serves to ensure that the beer does not become over-carbonated. Once CO2 generation has ceased air could enter the cask so at this point the soft spile is replaced with the hard spile.

Wort is the concentrated liquid that is drained from the mash tun. It contains all the soluble elements from the milled malted barley.

Yeast are micro-organisms which activate the fermentation process, converting the malt sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Most breweries raise their own strains of yeast to guarantee the consistency of their beers.