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Alpha acid to wet hopping: A craft beer terminology guide

The glossary craft beer enthusiasts need

Beer pint
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Speaking the language is a big part of knowing a trade. Craft beer, like art, snowboarding, or whiskey, has its own lexicon. Important words are assigned to a specific beer’s nature, from how it is made to how it tastes.

The best beers in the land are all the better when you understand a bit of the context surrounding them. When you can identify things like the importance of certain ingredients and the differences in various brewing styles, you’re well on your way to greater appreciation. And that’s an invaluable thing in the world of craft.

As we tend to do in these situations, we looked up somebody who knows way more than us on the subject. We reached out to our friends at Redhook Brewery in Seattle for some answers. Head brewer Joel Kosic delivered. Read on for some helpful craft beer terminology. We combined his words with some general info to help paint a better picture of your favorite brews.

Barley for brewing
uirá uirá / Pixabay

Beer making terms

Adjuncts

Un-malted grains are employed in the brewing process, as in things like corn or rice. These days, with so many other ingredients going into flavored beers and other styles like sours, it can mean a whole range of ingredients (like fruit) so long as they offer fermentable sugar.

Alpha acids

As you may have guessed, there’s an alpha element here or a dominating force. It’s “the primary acid type in hops that are isomerized into bitterness,” says Kosic. What’s isomerized? Think of a change in the molecular structure of something.

Conditioning

“Aging beer cold to develop clean flavor and clarity,” he says. It also allows carbonation to form in the bottle naturally as the liquid re-ferments in its vessel.

Dry-hopping

This one is pretty straightforward. “Add dry hops to your beer at any point post-knock-out,” he says. It’s a very common practice as hops are often dried for year-round use.

Grist

Sorta like the beer equivalent of the mash bill in whiskey. “All a recipe’s chosen grains before they are mashed in,” he says.

Lautering

“Separating hot wort from the leftover grain material,” Kosic says. The word is related to a German equivalent that roughly translates as “to rinse off.”

Mash

Think of it as an important goo. Kosic, however, has a better way of putting it. He dubs it the “giant bowl of porridge that converts starches to sugar and a lot of other complicated conversions.”

Noble hops

“The finest European aroma hops,” he says. “Call them fine, call them choice, whatever, they are historically the hop of choice for historic European beer styles.”

Resin

“The concentrated oils of hops,” our expert says. If you’ve had a double IPA, you’ve likely tasted that big and dank flavor. Fun fact: In the early days of hop farming, pickers often got really tired or even napped after experiencing the tranquilizing effects of hop resin (a sibling of cannabis). This happened when they would inadvertently wipe their faces with their hands during harvest.

Top fermentation

Okay, so something is clearly happening above here. Kosic says the “yeast types that ferment on the warm end of the scale and crop at the top.”

Wet-hopping

“Like using fresh herbs in your cooking, add fresh hops to your beer for a unique flavor,” he says. In other words, the hops are so freshly harvested that they’re still wet and practically alive. Fresh hop beer season is a wonderful thing and tends to occur every September and October.

Hands holding tulip beer glasses offering a cheers.
Yutacar/Unsplash / Unsplash

Beer tasting terms

Biscuity

A common term for describing the cracker-like, grainy flavors in certain beers. Think darker beers especially, such as brown ales, porters, and stouts.

Clean

No noise or distractions in a beer, just balanced and pure flavor with nothing really standing out to throw off the harmony at work. Pilsners and other lagers are famous for offering clean flavor profiles.

Dank

A substantial aroma or flavor in a beer is usually found in hyper-hopped IPAs. The fragrance can be like cannabis, with that vegetal, earthy, citrus, and pine thing going on.

Draught

More commonly referred to as “draft” these days, referring to when a beer is served from a cask or a keg as opposed to a bottle or can. Many argue that draught beer tastes better.

Esters

“Yeast derived flavor in beer,” he says. “Often fruity, but not always in a good way.” Think candied banana, which can be interesting in smaller doses. It can also come off like nail polish remover, typically a flaw.

IBUs

“The formal way of measuring the bitterness of a beer,” he says. Like Scoville units for spicy things, IBUs offer a scale ranging from five to over 100 (although most palates can differentiate much once you get into the triple digits).

Thirsty for more thirst-related knowledge? Check out our guide to whiskey terminology and our helpful wine terminology feature. You’ll sound like a pro and know more about what you’re enjoying. That’s a win-win.

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Mark Stock
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon. He fell into wine during the Recession and has been fixated on the stuff since…
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