Beer Terminology 101

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Questions about beer? We're here to help!

Don’t know the difference between an IBU and an IPA?  No worries, we’ve got your back!  Here’s a list of some terms you’ll need to know to get started in the wonderful wide world of craft beer.  We’ll continue to update this list as we think of new things to share!

Beer Styles according to the Hop Bunnies

We picked several “buckets” for our reviews because they make it easier to navigate our site.  Be aware, some beer “purists” will tell you there are hundreds of styles, but we want to keep things fun and simple.  Here’s the way we define our styles, and a bit about what flavors you can expect from each!

Belgian and Belgian Inspired – the name speaks for itself.  Belgian beers run a wide gamut, but are easy to find and easy to drink.  Some beers have more of a wild taste, while others are very smooth, but one common characteristic is flavor imparted by yeast.

Browns and Milds – brown ales have a bit of roasted malt that makes them have hints of chocolate.  They may or may not have hops.  These aren’t very dark beers like stouts or porters, but are a delicious way to dip your toe in the river of dark beers.  Mild ales are flavorful but very drinkable beers that normally focus on being well-rounded instead of being extreme in one flavor or another.

Fruit, Herb, and Spice – brewed with fruit, herbs, and spices, of course.  This is a great choice if you are new to beer and enjoy wine or other bold flavors.  Some popular kinds include pumpkin ales, Christmas ales (or spiced winter warmers) and all kinds of fruit beers.

Hoppy and Hop Forward – these beers are often refreshing.  Hop levels vary, which make some more bitter or give them a definite bite at the end.  Pay attention to the labels to identify the particular variety of hops used while brewing.  Since hops have their own aromas and flavors, no two hoppy beers are alike and you will find some varieties more pleasing than others.

Oddball/Uncategorized – Sometimes a beer defies convention.  When it does, we’ll review it here!

Pilsners & Lagers –Plisners and Lagers are often lighter beers; most famously, beers like Budweiser and Miller are lagers. But craft brewed lagers and pilsners (German beers made with Pilsen malt) can be very tasty so don’t let the macro-brewed, common examples of the style stop you from trying them!  These beers use yeast that ferments at a lower temperature and, generally speaking, leaves less taste, allowing the hops and malt to shine!

Sours and Lambics –Sour beers actually taste very sour, like sour patch kids! Some have fruit, and many are blended from wooden barrels.  While authentic sours and lambics can be “advanced” level beers, there are also sweetened lambics like the ones Lindeman’s makes – those are a great introduction to the style.

Stouts and Porters – stouts and porters are dark beers, but some lagers and even IPA’s can be dark so remember not all dark beers taste the same.  Stouts and porters are often a little thick but can have wonderful coffee, chocolate, and caramel flavors due to the use of roasted and caramelized malt. They can even be aged in bourbon or other barrels.

Strong Ales, Old Ales, and Barleywines - These are big beers, designed to keep you warm on a winter night.  The styles vary, but we’re talking huge alcohol levels and often very rich flavor.  Best split with your honey in front of a fire (in certain cases a good book will also do the trick!).

Wheats and Weizens – just like the name implies, these beers are brewed with wheat, which gives a unique light and refreshing taste. Wheat usually brings out a sweeter flavor with less hop bite at the end, but there are some wheat beers that are hoppy.  German beers are traditionally wheat based, and wheat beers can even be dark like dunkelweisen! These beers are often cloudy and have crisp flavor from yeast.

Terminology

ABV – Alcohol by Volume – the higher the percentage, the faster you will feel lightheaded or buzzed and should not operate a vehicle

Ale – An ale is any beer that uses yeast that ferments at a high temperature (top fermenting).  Sometimes people interchange ‘ale’ and ‘beer’ but an ale is a type of beer.  Lagers are also a type of beer, but not an ale.  A lager ferments at a lower temperature.

Barrel – A barrel can be a measurement – as in a container of beer equal to 31 gallons.  Also, a barrel can be a spirit or wine vessel (wooden) that a beer is aged in to get flavors from the wood and whatever was inside previously.

Barrel Aged – Stouts and porters can be found with a label depicting that they were barrel aged.  Barrel aged beers are brewed normally but then stored in barrels, for various lengths of time, that had previously held bourbon.  Some brewers have attempted to use rum, whiskey, champagne, and even wine barrels to age their beers, but you will most likely find bourbon barrels as the culprit in making these beers taste so yummy.  Since barrel aged beers take a good deal of time longer to brew, these are often limited releases.  Founders Brewing Company in Grand Rapids, Michigan, takes bourbon barrel aging to the extreme with their Canadian Breakfast Stout (CBS).  Founders takes bourbon barrels and stores maple syrup in them for a undisclosed amount of time.  When the maple syrup is removed, their Breakfast Stout is then added and stored again.  This beer takes a long cycle to make and is therefore, extremely limited in its release.

Bomber – 22 oz. bottle of beer – Many varieties of beer are sold in 12 oz. bottles and in your standard 6-pack.  Some beers are only sold in a 22 oz. size.  This has been coined a “bomber.”

Brewpub – A restaurant that brews and serves its own beers on premises.  We like brewpubs for fresh beer and great food!

Carbon Dioxide – A gas created from the fermentation process. Carbon dioxide gives beer its carbonation.  As the yeast eats the sugars in the wort, it creates CO2 and alcohol!  That’s right, little micro-organisms are the reason beer makes us all so happy (and makes us burp, even though some say it’s not lady-like, come on, we all do it)!

Cask – A vessel used for fermenting and serving beer. They used to be made of wood, but now most are made of stainless steel or aluminum. They are used for cask-conditioned ales, which naturally carbonate.  American brewers often add cool ingredients to casks like hops and even coffee, chocolate and vanilla beans!

Collaboration beers – Often times different brewing companies get together to create a beer.  These are called collaboration beers.  The breweries decide the style, name, ABV, etc.  Sometimes the beer is bottled in one session with one label and depicting all brewers names.  In some instances the beer is sold by all of the brewers involved, like the Saison du Buff which was a collaboration of Stone, Dogfish Head, and Victory.  All three brewers bottled the beer with slightly different labels. The beer is even slightly different because instead of truly brewing together, they created a recipe together and then replicated it at each brewery.  Tiny differences in the brewing process affected the overall taste.

Craft beer –The definition of craft beer is extremely controversial.   In my opinion, craft beer is beer that is not widely distributed or commercialized.  It cannot be found in the dive bar around the corner or at the 7-11 down the street.

Hops – The green cone-shaped flowers fused to add flavor and aromatics as well as bitter to beer.  All beer, by definition, has some hops (with a few really oddball exceptions).  But the extent to which the hops are added can change the taste considerably.  Hops added early on in the brewing process (boil) give beer bitterness, while hops added towards the end give more flavor and aroma.  Hops can taste like citrus, flowers or even green onions!

IBU – International Bitter Units – this number refers to the hoppiness of the beer.  The higher the number, the more the hops taste comes through (usually).  There’s a ceiling to how much bitterness we can taste, but some brewers claim beers with 1000 IBU’s!  To compare, some light lagers have 8 IBU’s (think Miller Lite).  Since almost every kind of beer has hops, every beer has an IBU count but sometimes brewers don’t post this information on their bottles. The higher the IBU, the more hop presence. However, it does not reveal the type of hop used in the brewing process, which can have an effect on bitterness as well. Also, there is no unit to represent the malts used during brewing.  Sometimes a high IBU is counteracted by a
high malt presence and the resulting beer is not as bitter as suggested by the percentage.  This is especially true in Double IPAs.

IPA – India Pale Ale – these beers are often light in color but tend to be bitter or hoppy in nature.  When ordering an IPA, make sure to check the IBU level.  That number will help you determine whether the beer will be a more mellow bitter or a wreck your tastebuds bitter.

Lager -A lager is a beer that uses yeast that ferments at a lower temperature (bottom fermenting).  Unlike ales, which ferment at higher temperatures, lagers tend to have little to no yeast taste and are very crisp and clean tasting!

Malt – Barley which has been placed in a kiln to make it dry and ready for beer.  Malt, hops and yeast give beer its flavors.

Microbrewery – A brewery that produces 15,000 barrels or less of beer a year (this number may rise to 25,000 or even 40,000 in the upcoming years!).

Trappist - A Trappist beer is one produced by monks that are a member of the Trappist group.  There are seven Trappist breweries: Rochfort, Chimay, Orval, Westvleteren, Achel, Westmalle and La Trappe.

Reinheitsgebot – The German beer purity law of 1516 that states that beer shall only be made with grain, hops, yeast and water.

Session Ale – A beer with lower Alcohol by Volume.  Traditionally, session beers had less than 4% ABV but some people use the term to mean a beer you can drink a lot of.  Still, these beers add up over time, so be careful!

Unfiltered – Beer that doesn’t have any use of filters, which remove yeast and make the beer clear.  But beware, just because a beer is clear doesn’t mean it’s filtered – some yeast “drops out” by itself.

Whale – A beer that you want to try and simply cannot find anywhere.  This beer is your Moby Dick!

This Post was Written by Hop Bunny G

Hop Bunny G.

Comments & Reactions from Around the Web

  • LaceyP

    Thanks for this! I think it’s so great that you guys made this site. I recently turned 21 and I’m definitely a beer gal myself and want to learn as much about it as possible, and in googling I noticed primarily men-written sites and that was just no good. Glad I found this site! Keep on it. :D

  • Jim A

    Very good and informative presentation. Too often snobs get involved and confuse most of us. Thankfully, you have cut through that. As I get older, I find my sense of smell diminishing; and, I prefer lighter, more malt-forward beers, as the hoppier ones tend to overwhelm with their bitterness. However, as you point out, sometimes a well-balanced beer can have more hops and still not be too bitter.

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