It's not easy to admit that you don’t know what a particular word means. For years, I thought “metaphysical” was a yearly checkup for the metatarsal bone in your foot. (Even after I wrote that joke, I still have no idea what metaphysical means.) Similarly, if you’ve ever been to a brewery taproom, you’ve probably seen a word or two with which you’re not quite familiar. You’re not alone -- plenty of people feel totally lost while browsing a beer menu or engaging in conversation at a beer bar.
Fortunately, we’ve taken the time to lay out the definition of every word you could possibly encounter during your next taproom visit. You won’t see phrases like ‘mash tun’ or ‘astringent’ here -- you can learn more about those if you dig deep into homebrewing (which you should, it’s crazy fun!). Instead, these are taproom words -- those that might cause you to ask out loud, “What the hell does that mean?” Read this and you’ll know soon enough!
The beers change frequently. Some breweries switch up their beer lineup seasonally, and some just change them out whenever new beers are released. So if you go to a brewery with frequently rotating taps and you love one of the beers, just be aware that it might not be on tap next time!
A cask that holds 11 gallons of beer -- which even for the smallest breweries out there is a tiny amount to produce. If a brewery has beer from a firkin available, you should order one! You’ll be getting to try something not many people will ever get to try. Many breweries use the firkin as a way to experiment with new recipes and styles.
Order a flight of beers, and the next question will be, “Which beers would you like?” Flights are frequently served in a wooden tray of some sort, with anywhere from four to six tiny servings. This is a great way to explore all of a brewery’s different beers.
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An app for your phone that allows you to keep track of the beers you drink, and see what your friends and other beer lovers are drinking. It is totally addictive.
An acronym that stands for “alcohol by volume.” A good rule of thumb is that anything from 3.2% - 5% ABV is on the lower end of booziness. Anything from 8% and beyond is on the high end. Like many barleywines. Speaking of which...
Not actually a wine! This just describes a beer style that packs a serious punch; plenty of barleywines clock in at over 10% ABV. BeerAdvocate.com describes barleywines as “lively and fruity, sometimes sweet, sometimes bittersweet, but always alcoholic.” Just know that no matter if you’re drinking a UK-style or American-style barleywine (the latter is far more common around these parts), it’s a beer best savored.
Malt is simply a shorter way to say “malted barley.” Sweet and dark beers are often described as malty. If you prefer these types of beers, you’re going to love many brews described as Belgian-style. Also be on the lookout for stouts, porters, and many German-style beers, like anything ending in -bock is a good place to start -- doppelbock, maibock, eisbock. Not to mention dunkels and schwarzbiers!
While some people might associate this word with green plants grown in Colorado, it’s actually a fitting adjective for beer nowadays, too! “Dank” is often associated with West Coast or New England-style IPAs. Before you drink a hazy IPA, stick your nose in the glass. Does the smell of delicious hops overpower your senses? That’s hella dank, bruh.
Beer drinking novices often assume that if a beer is hoppy, it will also be bitter. But beer, unlike a Marx Brothers movie, isn’t black and white. It could mean that the beer has aromas and flavors of grapefruit, pine, and, yes, bitterness. But the popular “hazy IPA” is a super hoppy beer that lacks bitterness, and packs in tropical fruit flavors instead.
This acronym stands for International Bitterness Units. If you love hoppy beers, the higher the IBUs, generally the more hoppy and bitter it is. But not always! Some beers are so well-balanced with malt that even if they have 100 IBUs (which is towards the highest end of the spectrum), you aren’t overwhelmed by the hops.
Hey look, we wrote a whole story about cask ales! As author Sam Wagner noted, a cask is a container with curved and ridged sides that holds beer. Because cask ale is unfiltered and unpasteurized, it’s naturally carbonated in the keg (CO2 comes nowhere near this beer, unlike a pint from a keg that’s typically served in a brewery). Cask ale is usually an easy-drinking, low ABV beer served at room temperature. Drink one and you’ll have a better idea of the type of beer people consumed in the 1800s!
Vroom, vroom. This device pumps beer from a cask into your glass. You’ll certainly see a beer engine or two if you go to a pub in the UK, but they’re far less frequent here in the US of A.
A beer “on nitro” has been infused with nitrogen gas. Why would a brewery do that? Nitrogen makes beers creamier and smoother than CO2 does, all while reducing bitterness -- you’ll often see breweries put stouts and porters on a nitrogen tap. Deschutes Brewery has a breakdown of the differences between nitrogen vs CO2 beers.
Imperial IPA / Double IPA
An imperial IPA and double IPA are one in the same. It simply means you’ll be getting lots of hops and lots of booze. CraftBeer.com says the range of IBUs will be between 65-100, and around 7.6-10.6% ABV. These aren’t exactly sessionable beers. If you don’t know what the word ‘session’ refers to, stay tuned...
This is a type of beer specifically designed to be enjoyed in multiples. (We prefer ours with fruit.) They’re also sometimes called “lawnmower beers,” though no one will check to see if you’ve just mowed a lawn before having one. Usually this means a lower ABV (it shouldn’t be more than 5% ABV) but the style is up to the brewer. While session stouts are certainly out there, session IPAs are seemingly one of the more popular styles. Fun fact: many Belgian-style beers, like saisons and pale ales, are naturally sessionable!
A bug -- okay fine... it’s essentially wild yeast -- that can make beer taste absolutely fantastic. A beer that contains Brett often imparts notes of “sandalwood, leathery, phenolic, and tropical fruit,” according to this helpful video from CraftBeer.com. Brett is often used as a base for beers made with fruit or other adjuncts. For example, Denver, Colorado’s excellent Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project brews Brett beers with wildly different ingredients, from white sage and lemongrass to citrus to loads of hops.
Fresh / Wet Hopped
Beer that has fresh or wet hops are here for a second...and then they’re gone. Writer Meredith Heil wrote a fantastic story about beers made with freshly harvested hops. These fresh hops enhance the hop quality of any beer in which they’re used, imparting flavors like papaya, fresh-cut grass, and pine. If you ever get the chance to drink one of these beers, do so. The complexity and drinkability of a fresh hop beer is something every beer lover should experience. (Visiting Yakima, Washington at the end of every September will ensure you’ll find plenty.)
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This refers to the layer of foam on top of a beer. LiveScience.com has a fascinating look at the science behind the reason why beer creates more foam than other carbonated beverages like soda or champagne. According to the article, beers with roughly 5% ABV have a head that lingers around longer than beers on the lower (3.2% ABV) or higher (9-12% ABV) range. Pro tip: if you want to Instagram a beer you’re about to drink, do it quickly. The head on a beer disappears way faster than you’d hope!
Words in other languages are sometimes tough to pronounce, so we’ll start there. “Hef-uh-vie-zen!” A Hefeweizen is a super drinkable German-style beer that offers plenty of banana and clove notes. As you can see in a picture on CraftBeer.com, pint glasses filled with this type of beer tend to be tall and skinny, and the beer sports a beautiful yellow color. In our opinion, these are best enjoyed outside on a sunny day.
Okay, one more pronunciation! This one’s easier, though: “say-zahn.” You know, like actor Steve Zahn. One of our favorite descriptions of this Belgian-style beer is that it smells like a horse blanket (other descriptors: “fruity, goaty, leather-like”). And this is a good thing! This style, also known as a “farmhouse ale,” can smell a little off-putting if you’re not used to it. But drinking one is an undeniably joy. Saisons often feature lower IBUs and a drinkability that’ll make you want to enjoy more than one.