The Palate Deck uses beer industry terminology that often requires further explanation. Below you’ll find some common and not-so-common beer terms, along with a plain English description of what they mean. Some of these can get quite technical, so if it seems complicated, you’re getting a glimpse of the science behind the pint.

Beer styles themselves aren’t defined here. For those, check the Beer Style Reference.

ABV

Or Alcohol By Volume, this is the common measurement of how much ethanol (alcohol) is present in a beer. It’s measured by the total volume’s percentage of alcohol. Another standard exists, ABW (Alcohol by Weight), but it’s far less common these days.

Acetaldehyde

A naturally-produced yeast by-product that is thought to be a contributor to hangovers and should always be cleaned up near the end of fermentation. Often perceived as green apple, raw squash, or freshly-cut grass. If present, it may indicate a young or rushed beer. It can possibly clear up given time.

Boil / Kettle Boil

After mashing but before fermentation, a beer is boiled 60-90 minutes for numerous reasons: sterilization, promotion of extra malt complexity through carmelization and melanoidin production, and extraction of bitterness and aroma from hops.

Brettanomyces (Brett)

A wild yeast strain increasingly valued for its funky, earthy characteristics. Very commonly paired with lactobacillus and pediococcus to clean up unwanted bacterial by-products. Found in Lambic, some Saisons, and even IPAs more recently.

Carmelization

When sugars and starches are heated, they undergo a transformation. Simple sugars will darken and increase in rich flavor, resulting in more complex caramel. Beer gets its caramel flavors from a few processes, but most commonly through the use of pre-carmelized malts.

Chocolate Malt

A darker roasted malt that offers, you guessed it, roasty chocolately character to a beer. Expect more of a bittersweet cocoa powder and even coffee-like roast character instead of creamy milk chocolate.

Crystal Malt

Also known as Caramel malt, these variably-colored malts add sweeter flavors and body to a beer. Lighter versions produce honey and caramel sugar notes, whereas darker-colored versions add nuts and dark fruits like plums and raisins.

Diacetyl

A naturally-produced yeast by-product that is usually cleaned up near the end of fermentation. Generally perceived as buttery, like movie popcorn, with an accompanying slick texture. If present it might indicate a young or rushed beer, but isn’t always considered a fault, particularly in English ales and Czech lagers.

DMS

Or Dimethyl Sulfide, a sulfur compound reminiscent of corn or cooked vegetables that is created while boiling malt-derived sugars. It’s quite volatile so brewers take steps to ensure it blows off during the boil, but sometimes these efforts are not successful. Low levels are sometimes found in various lagers due to the higher concentration of DMS-producing chemical compounds in Pilsner malt.

Ester

Esters are essential yeast-produced compounds that allow various yeast strains to create differing flavors and aromas. Often quite fruity in nature, some beer styles are more ester-forward than others. Cleaner beers like lagers should show very little ester character.

Ethyl Fenchol

A compound produced by micro-organisms that results in a pronounced soil-like aroma in a beer. Very uncommon.

Fermentation

The controlled process in which yeast consumes simple sugars and produces alcohol and CO2 as by-products. A typical beer fermentation might take between 5 and 10 days after brewing.

Fining

A substance used to remove haze and clarify beer. Some finings like isinglass and gelatin are animal-derived and problematic for vegetarians, whereas others are plant- or plastic-derived. Larger breweries will instead use filtration or a centrifuge to separate out haze-causing compounds.

Filtration

A mechanical process for removing microparticles from a beer to prevent haze and promote clarity.

Fusel

Complex alcohols that result from yeast stress during fermentation. Generally perceived as harshly solvent-like or excessive hot alcohol character. A light presence is sometimes acceptable in higher-ABV beers, but is often better avoided.

Geraniol

An essential oil found in hops, this compound will produce vaguely floral notes in low concentrations, and may become distinctly rose-like in high concentrations. It’s generally regarded as pleasant.

Hops

The spice in beer, hops are flowers of a climbing perennial that are used to add bitterness, aroma and flavor to all beers.

Lactobacillus

A bacterial strain responsible for lowering pH and producing clean sourness in many beer styles, including Gose, Lambic, and even kettle-soured beer.

Linalool

A natural compound responsible for pleasant floral aroma found in many flowers, spices, soaps, and in beer, hop essential oils.

Kettle

The vessel a beer is boiled in. In commercial breweries this is a specially-designed stainless steel vat, but it can be as simple as a big pot when brewing at home.

Malt

Generally speaking, malt is the barley used to brew most beer. The malting process more specifically refers to forced germination of a grain kernel — which may be grains other than barley — to encourage enzyme production that will be used during the beer mash. But usually it just means barley malt.

Mash

The process a brewer uses to convert malted barley’s starches into sugary wort. By holding a mix of water and malt within a certain temperature range (typically between 63°C/146°F and 70°C/156°F) for 60 minutes or more, enzymes present within the malt will do the rest of the work.

Melanoidin

A rich bready, toasted and roasted flavored compound formed when sugars are subjected to higher temperatures, and responsible for the browning of bread when toasted, the char on meat when seared, and the roast in coffee. In beer, melanoidins are produced when malts when kilned or roasted, as well as during extended kettle boils.

Off Flavor

A flavor or aroma in a beer that is considered inappropriate. Some styles allow for mild off flavors, for example light diacetyl in English ales or faint DMS in lighter lagers.

Pediococcus

Another bacterial strain responsible for lowering pH and producing clean sourness in many beer styles. Due to its more untamed character, pediococcus freqeuently accompanies lactobacillus and brettanomyces and is rarely used alone.

Phenol

Like esters, phenols are compounds often produced by yeast during fermentation which are responsible for differing flavors and aromas from different yeast strains. Phenols tend to be spicy, smokey, and earthy when a positive flavor addition. Some phenols are unpleasant, and can be experienced as more medicinal or chlorine-like.

SRM

or Standard Reference Method, the scale commonly used in North America to measure beer color. As it’s primarily a measure of light absorption, the typical range spans yellow, gold, amber, brown, and black but doesn’t take into account colors produced by other sources like fruit additions.

Wort

The sugary liquid a brewer produces during a mash and then boils with hops. The sugars in wort are consumed by yeast to produce alcohol during fermentation.

Yeast

Single-celled organisms that do the work to convert sugars in wort into CO2 and alcohol. Brewers yeast strains number in the hundreds, each with their own unique characteristics.
< Back to Tasting Library

Coming Soon

Sign up for an email notification when the Palate Deck is available for purchase.