With the rise of craft beer, things have changed. Where you could once walk into a bar, order “a beer” and receive pretty much the same thing all over the country, you can’t do that today. In order to actually enjoy your beer drinking explorations, you need to know the language of the new world of beer. A great deal of the new lingo was influenced by craft brewers, but you’ll find that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Many of these terms have been around for years. Americans simply didn’t know them because they were too tightly tied to big beer and their 12-ounce bottles of lightly colored water.
Whether you’re unsure what a brewpub is, what to do with a bomber or whether you’re drinking an American or an imperial pint, this guide is for you.
Below, you’ll find some of the more common terms used in the world of beer and brewpubs, brewing and craft experimentation in no particular order. Of course, new words will be added to the language as the industry continues to evolve and more people get on the craft bandwagon.
Lager – Lagers are the most dominant type of beer. Budweiser and Coors are both lagers. That doesn’t mean all lagers are bad, though. Lagers include styles like pilsners and bocks, dopplebocks and rauchbier.
Ale – Ales are fermented in a different manner from lagers, and tend to be darker in color. You’ll find that this family includes styles like stouts and porters, as well as pale ales, lambics, tripels, rye beer and red ales.
Stout – Stouts are a type of ale, usually dark in color (the actual color can range from deep ruby red to pitch black depending on the style).
Flight – Flight is a term used to describe a series of sample brews served to one person at one time. Flights are generally only a few ounces (up to half a beer but sometimes more) and are great ways to branch out.
Bomber – A 22-ounce bottle of beer. In the craft-brewing world, these are generally more expensive. Big beer bombers average 99 cents to $1.99, but craft brewed bombers can cost $10 each or more depending on variety and rarity.
Microbrewery – A term applied to very small breweries that has fallen out of use in most of the US, in favor of the term “craft”. However, there are still companies that call themselves microbreweries, and the government uses the term as well.
Pint – There are two types of pints served in the US. The American pint is 16 ounces, while the imperial pint (carried over from England) is 20 ounces. Most bars serve American pints, but more brewpubs are beginning to serve imperial pints.
Brewpub – A brewpub is a combination restaurant and brewery. However, in order to claim that title, 25% or more of the brewery’s product must be sold on the premises, not delivered to resellers.
Growler – Growlers have evolved over time, but have been around since Colonial times (originally pails or buckets used to carry beer home). Today, growlers are glass bottles of varying sizes used to carry home beer from the tap.
Bitterness – Generally a sign of a hoppy beer, bitterness varies by style. Malty beers are less bitter, with more sweetness to them.
Mouth Feel – The texture and sensation of a beer in the mouth and on the tongue.
Body – The thickness or consistency of the beer. This also plays into mouth feel.
Cask Conditioned – This term is becoming more and more common as craft brewing increases in prevalence. It means that the beer was carbonated in a cask, rather than in a bottle. It’s also used to denote “real ales”.
Real Ale – Beers that have gone through a secondary fermentation in their serving container and that have not been carbonated with forced CO2.
Bottle Conditioned – Beer that is carbonated by adding yeast and/or yeast and sugar to the bottle for carbonation after capping, rather than being carbonated through a forced CO2 system.
Open Fermentation – Fermentation in an open fermenter, in the style of some traditional English breweries that use large, open stone fermenters.
ABV – A measure of the alcohol content within a beer by volume (alcohol by volume). The higher the ABV percentage, the higher the alcohol content of the beer will be. High ABV beers have become very popular in the craft-brewing world.
Saison – A pale ale with fruity notes and a high alcohol content, originating in Belgium.
Session Beer – Session beers have low alcohol content, although they can be of almost any style. With the low ABV, more beers can be consumed during a “session” without becoming intoxicated.
Milk Stout – A type of stout brewed with milk sugars (lactose). These do not contain actual milk, but they do have a very smooth mouth feel.
Oatmeal Stout – A type of stout brewed with oats to give it more body and a smoother mouth feel. These are often sweeter, similar to milk stouts.
Smoked Beer – Smoked beer is produced by drying the green malt over an open flame. There are many styles of smoked beer, but smoked stouts and porters are becoming more popular in the US.
Fresh/Wet Hopping – The addition of fresh hops to the beer during the brewing process, rather than dried, pelletized hops, which is the norm for the industry.
Color – The hue of a beer. Color can range from pale to golden to amber to dark to black. There are numerous color distinctions in the world of craft beer, and they are not all tied to specific styles. For instance, India pale ales can be black. It also does not equate to alcohol content, although it can often predict some aspects of taste.
These are only a few of the many different terms used in today’s beer world. Hit a brewpub near you to learn more.