Beer Terminology - How to Sound Like You Know What You’re Talking About

Learning about beer is a lifelong journey. I mean, it’s not like you turn the legal drinking age and suddenly become an expert at beer terminology, right? Regardless of which garage-fridge beer you started out chugging behind your parents’ back and how long it’s been since then, chances are you’re still picking up new beer knowledge.

After reading this blog post, you’re going to be several steps closer to sounding like a total pro. Or maybe a condescending a-hole? It really depends on how you play it. But you’ll know stuff, ok? Do with that what you will.

Say goodbye to feeling intimidated by the beer menu at your local hipster craft beer spot. After reading this you’ll be ready to begin an online degree in zymology. That’s the study of beer. See? You’re smarter already.

What Are the Different Styles of Beer? 

Styles of beer refer mostly to the way they’re brewed and how they taste, sometimes referring very obviously to how they look. Especially when it comes to color. This is why it can sound like brewers talk about blondes a lot, when they're actually known to love brunettes much more (don’t quote us on that).

If ever you want to find your go-to beer, choosing one of these styles is a great start:

Name

Description

Types

Lager

You may have been one of those that thought ales and lagers were the same. That ends today! The key is in the yeast. Lagers are made with strains that ferment at colder temperatures and sit at the bottom of the brewing tank. That’s one of the reasons why they’re “bottom-fermented beers.”

That’s not the only difference: lagers are more crisp and dry (see below for tasting vocabulary) and are exactly what you crave when you’re thirsty.

  • Pale lager
  • Pilsner
  • Amber and red lager
  • Dark lager

Ale

Ah, now ales prefer a warmer temperature for fermentation, or at least the strains of yeast they’re made of do, resulting in a wide variety of tastes. 

Another fun thing about the strains is they like to be on top. Don’t we all?

  • Cream ale
  • Pale ale
  • Amber and red ale
  • India pale ale (IPA)
  • Dark ale
  • Brown ale
  • Wheat beer
  • Belgian-style ale

Stout and porter

Are we cheating by separating them from the ales?

Sort of.

Technically, stouts and porters are ales, but hear us out. These beers are intensely dark with flavors like chocolate and coffee, they stray from the bitter taste associated with ales, and, like us, are sometimes quite sweet. 

  • Oatmeal stout and porter
  • Imperial stout and porter

Other Categories

Other flavors and styles of beer that you’ll find every once in a while include:

  • Fruit Beer: strawberries and cherries love to jump into beers every now and then, and so do a lot of citrus fruits. These, of course, tend to be sweet. 
  • Radler: This kind of beer is actually beer and citrus juice. The name comes from the German for a cyclist because it’s said they were given to people after a bike ride.
  • Honey beer: not as sweet as you would think, this type of beer ends up with a copper tone and a creamy feel. The taste is more like caramel than full-on honey.

What is a Beer Brewer Called? 

The head brewer or main brewer is called a brewmaster. That might be an underwhelming fact, but a female brewer has a very old-timey name. They’re called Alewives. 

Whether people are actually calling women alewives nowadays is unlikely, but it’s a fun fact you can pull out with your friends, that’s for sure. 

Brewing Terms You Should Know 

Of course, part of knowing the vocab means learning the parts that go into the system of brewing. Maybe you’ve never brewed on your own or enough times to feel confident in all the vocab. Fret not: these are the brewing terms you need to know to look good in front of beer amateurs at the very least.

Airlock (also known as the fermentation lock) - this lock allows the CO2 created during fermentation to be released.

Bottle conditioning - beer is naturally carbonated using this method when the yeast eats the sugar, making that CO2. This should be done at room temperature

Bung - no, we didn’t throw this one in because it sounds funny. Ok, a little. It’s actually what they use to close the hole of the fermentor and hold the airlock in place. That hole is actually called the bunghole. We’re gonna need a moment to hold in an incoming dad joke. Okay, we’re good. 

Carboy - we know what you’re thinking and frankly we thought it too. However, the carboy is not at all similar to the valet. It’s actually a glass or plastic fermentor used during the primary or the secondary fermentation.  

Dry hops - these are added during fermentation for flavor and aroma. They can be flowers, cones, or plants called Humulus lupulus. 

DME or Dry Malt Extract (DME) - a reduced version of liquid malt extract for those darker beers.

Final gravity - not that Sandra Bullock movie, it’s actually the amount of sugar left in the beer after fermentation.

What Are the Terms Used in Beer Tasting?

Unlike wine tasting, beer tasting is pretty straightforward and to the point. None of that pretentious wine-drinker crap you’re gonna get in some places. The only thing to know when using terms for beer tasting is that it’s perfectly normal for a beer to be more than one thing. Maybe your favorite beer is sour and a lager: that’s perfectly fine.

Here are some more things you can say about your brew:

  • Light - this means it’s around 2.6% - 4% and extra light is 1.1% - 2.5% ABV. They tend to be pale lagers, but they don’t have to be.
  • Session - there's not an exact definition for this one, but much like the previous, it’s supposed to tell you whether it’s light or low alcohol.
  • Low-carb - there’s nothing wrong with a low-carb beer! Since most beers have a lot of carbs per bottle, some brewers are killin’ it with the low carb ones. You know what that means? You can justify a couple more. It’s the BOGOF sale of beer carbs. 
  • Ice - this style of beer is achieved by lowering the temperature of the beer as it’s brewed and removing the ice crystals. It was refined and popularized by Canadian brewers because, well, it’s cold there. It’s also known for being super smooth.

Beer Vocab for Pairing with Food 

Just like how fast food goes well with Coca-Cola (don’t judge us), there are foods that pair perfectly with certain beers. If you’re looking to be the guy/gal who not just pairs food and beer well but also talks about it like a beer aficionado, here’s how to do it.

Guide your paired meal by taking into account the most pronounced notes, flavors, and textures in both your beer and your food: 

  • Texture
  • Flavor
  • Aromatics
  • Acidity
  • Sweetness
  • Fat
  • Carbonation

In addition, think about the ABV of your brew as well as the sweetness or bitterness. Specifically, think about whether your food’s sweetness needs something to compliment or contrast it.  

Now You Know What You’re Talking About

There you have it, your beer terminology course 101 on how to sound like you know what you’re talking about. If you’re on the fence when actually tasting a brew, just remember: you’ll always have Google on your side to dig you out of whatever beer conversation hole you got into. 

Plus, beer snobs are not nearly as judgy as wine snobs. 

That you can quote us on.