So, you want to make some beer at home? Great! You log onto the web, read some articles and you have no idea what these words mean that other home-brewers are using. The first challenge for most budding brewers is to decipher what everyone else is talking about.
So if you want to learn your ‘sparge’ from your ‘wort’, read on.
The vocabulary I will cover in this articles will include:
Yeast requires oxygen with the wort mixture in order to operate effectively. It’s important to introduce air, or aerate, your wort before fermentation. This can be done by agitating the wort in the fermenter before yeast has been added by rocking the carboy side to side. Aeration can also be achieved by splashing the wort as it is transferred into the fermenter. Another option involves the injection of O2 into the wort through a specialized system or air diffusion stones as used in aquariums.airlock
Attenuation refers to the most important process in brewing when yeast converts sugars in the wort into alcohol and carbon dioxide. If a beer is referred to as more attenuated then it is more alcoholic and drier than the same beer made from the same wort which has undergone more less attenuation.
Brew in a bag or BIAB is a fairly new technique which enables you to use an all-grain recipe and eliminate the sparging stage in the brewing process. After mashing has been achieved, you just have to remove the bag of grain and you have your ‘sparged’ wort ready for the next stage of the process.
Some of the advantages of the BIAB process is that it is less complicated, quicker and requires less space and equipment for the less experienced brewer.
Bottle condition refers to the natural method to carbonate beer opposed to the forced carbonation method used for kegs. By adding a priming solution of sugar into the flat beer in the bottle you restart the fermentation process and CO2 produced by the yeast is absorbed into the bottled beer.
One error that can result in bottle exploding is know as over-carbonation. Check out my article on what to do if you have this issue with your home-brew.
This is a phenomenon that occurs when the wort is chilled after mashing and sparging it. If done so quickly in a wort chiller, as is recommended for a better end product, proteins, tannins and hop matter will gather and foam during the temperature change around 140 °F. This helps improve the clarity, stability, and flavor of the beer.
This is a process used to minimize the presence of diacetyl in beers, especially lager varieties. By inducing a temperature rise just before the end of fermentation makes the yeast metabolism more energetic and it will reabsorb the diacetyl and convert it into something another compound with less of a pronounced taste. By also delaying racking by up to a week and keeping the freshly brewed beer in contact with the yeast will help the process as well as ensuring cold storage and high levels of sanitation of the fermentation process.
Dry-hopping involves adding hops to an already fermenting beer in order to enhance its flavor with the aroma and taste of the hops. By not actually boiling the hops you do not release the bitterness held within its natural oils. This process can be used in many types of beers but most notably in IPAs and pale ales.
Plan your next Beer Creation?
Get your brewing supplies directly from
Fermentation is the process in which viable yeast converts sugars in wort (unfermented beer) into ethanol and carbon dioxide. It is the most important step in making beer as without this process it is impossible to get the alcoholic content of the beverage as well as several of the byproduct flavoring. The temperature of fermentation depends on the beer being made but generally should not exceed approximately 68 °F for most ales or 48 °F for most lagers.
Check out my article on fermentation here
Fining beer refers to improving its clarity. Beer can become hazy for many different reasons and generally a clearer beer is preferred both for its appearance but also because of the high stability it will have. Cloudy beer can start to deteriorate faster than a clear beer.
Filtering is the process of removing yeast, tannins and other materials such as large proteins from beer. This can help to remove off-flavors and haze. Although many of these impurities will be naturally removed in the process of aging or lagering, that can take several weeks instead of minutes. However, for most home-brewers filtering is not an option when using the bottle condition method as the yeast is necessary to provide the carbonation from priming. Filtering is used mainly when kegging or forced carbonation is available to the brewer.
a hot break refers to a process in the initial boiling of the wort during mashing where proteins from the wort join together in a foam. It’s important that this foam doesn’t boil over as we want those proteins to collect and become heavy enough to sink back into the wort. This is a desirable part of the process so if your wort looks like someone has dropped an egg into it, that’s perfectly normal!
Lautering is the process of rinsing off wort and separating the sweeten wort from a grain bed. It is more of a commercial term as it is often associated with the pumping of the wort into a separate chamber for the process of lautering. For most home-brewer, sparging would be the better term to use for the action which is carried out.
Mashing refers to a steeping process where barley, or other grains, are placed in hot water in order to transform starches in them into usable sugars in the brewing process. Without this stage of brewing, fermentation would not be possible. However, for many beer recipes, it is possible to use LME or DME which has already taken care of the mashing stage for you.
Pitching refers to the addition of yeast into wort in order to stimulate the fermentation of sugars into ethanol and carbon dioxide. Unlike with wine production which relies on wild yeast, beer brewing requires the active addition of a yeast mixture to the wort before any fermentation can take place.
Priming is the act of adding sugar to a newly fermented beer before bottling it. This priming sugar solution effectively initiates a second fermentation which takes place in the bottle and gives the beer its carbonation.
Racking is a term which basically means moving your wort/beer from one container to another, often into bottles or a keg. Although a simple enough procedure, it needs to be done quickly and efficiently to avoid damage to the beer or overexposure to the elements.
Siphoning your beer, or racking it, is the transfer of beer from one vessel to another, often bottles or into a keg. It can be a crucial stage in the brewing process as it can expose the beer to bacteria or oxygen.
In an all-grain brewing (without the use of a prepared extract), sparging is the process of rinsing your grain bed in order to extract all the possible sugars you can into your wort while extracting it into a kettle for the next stage of brewing. There are different methods to do this:
Fly sparging involves slowly adding water to the top of the grain bed while draining the same amount of liquid into a kettle. It takes time to do this but is very efficient in extracting more sugar. It’s a very old technique which has been used for centuries of beer making.
Batch sparging is a little quicker than fly sparging and involves pouring all sparge water over the grain bed in a couple of actions. You don’t need any additional equipment but it’s certainly less efficient than the alternative.
Steeping, unlike mashing which is designed to release usable sugars, is a process to extract color and flavor from grains before adding a malt extract later. Usually, the grains used have already been used to extract sugars from their starches, so add no or few extra sugars to the wort.
Vorlauf is a process of recirculation of the wort which occurs as a stage of lautering which is designed to clear the wort of excess debris and clarifying it as well as setting up the grain bed for sparging.
ABV stands for alcohol by volume. It is the measurement of the percentage of ethanol, or alcohol, present in an alcoholic beverage such as beer. You can calculate the ABV by calculating the Original and Final Gravity.
An adjunct refers to a non-malted source of sugar used in the fermentation of beer. It can refer to candy syrups used in Belgian style beer or unmalted grains as well as honey, other syrups, and fruit. Some popular beers which use adjuncts are double IPAs, Lambic beers, and light-bodied lagers.
Refers to a malt based beer where the wort is made with a particular type of yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which ferments from the top of the fermenter (called a top-fermenting type) rather than the bottom and will make a yeast head by the time fermentation has ended. Lager is generally associated with bottom-fermenting yeast such as Saccharomyces uvarum.
Alpha Acids are a chemical compound found in hops which is itself used to flavor beer. They are the source of the bitterness associated with hops and are strongest in a younger beer or when the dry-hopping method is used.
Brett refers to Brettanomyces and is known as “wild” yeast. It is the same sort of yeast which grows naturally on the skin of fruit and is used in certain types of wine.
Usually in beer is can give a tart or undesirable taste if the wort is allowed to become “infected” with this strain of yeast. However, in recent years some brewers have been actively using this yeast in their primary fermentation and have been getting some very interesting and tasty results. Check out my article on a Brett IPA recipe which uses this type of yeast.
This is a term that some more ‘hipster’ brewers use to refer to the yeast. I suppose that they are living organisms but aren’t to be confused with computer bugs because generally, they cause no problems for me!
It is a chemical that is a natural by-product of the fermentation process and can also be produced by a bacterial infection in beer. It gives a buttery flavor and has been used in other foods to give off this taste. Generally brewers do not want excess amounts of diacetyl in their brew, however, it is one popular off-flavor variety used nowadays.
DMS stands for Dimethyl Sulfide and is a by-product of the mashing and fermentation stages of brewing beer. This means that all beers have DMS in them to some degree. DMS gives off a cooked corn aroma. The majority of DMS is produced in the mashing phase and is subsequently boiled off, so if you have an issue with DMS, look at this part of your process.
Esters refer to a byproduct of fermentation which produces fruity flavors and can be both desirable and undesirable in brewing. Generally, the proportion of esters in beer will depend on the strain of yeast used and the temperature of fermentation. Lager beer intentionally has fewer esters in it while ales generally have more as they are fermented at higher temperatures.
Flocculation refers to the amalgamation of single cell yeast into clumps which gather together and drop to the bottom of the fermenter. It is most desirable for this to happen at the end of the fermentation process as it will leave a clear more attenuated beer. If flocculation happens too early or not at all it can leave you will an underattenuated and sweet beer or cloudy yeast tasting beer. Flocculation is usually measured in terms of low to high and different types of beer are characterized by their level of flocculation.
Gravity refers to the specific gravity of beer, or its density. It’s important for the brewer to know the Original Gravity (OG) of the beer, its density just after mashing, and its Final Gravity (FG), its density after the process of fermentation has ended. These measurements can be obtained by a hydrometer or refractometer.
Hops are the green cone-shaped flower taken from a female hop plant and used in flavoring beer. They are packed full of alpha acids and give beer a bitter taste which works to counteract the sweeter taste given off by grain, both malted and unmalted. There are many different varieties of hops and each strain will bring with it different flavors and aromas.
IBU stands for International Bitterness Unit and is used to demonstrate the bitterness of beer. It’s calculated on the proportion of isohumulone found in beer by parts per million.
Krausen (Kroy zen) is associated with fermentation. It describes the foamy head that develops when fermentation is in full swing and can help a brewer to determine the progression of their brew. When it develops we can be sure that fermentation has indeed begun, when it falls this is a good sign that fermentation has ended and the beer is now ready for the next phase.
Lagering is a relatively new development in brewing beer and has led to the explosion in popularity of lager beers. Its process depends on a lower temperature of fermentation and the use of larger strains of yeast. A lager home-brew is often considered more challenging than an ale for most beginner brewers.
Lambic beers are native to Belgium in a region known as Pajottenland. Unlike most beers, they are brewed with “wild” yeast and bacteria from local sources. Lambic beers have a particular flavor which is described as dry, cidery, wine-like and comes with a sour aftertaste. It usually has a very yellowy appearance and a strong ABV%.
Invented by Joseph Lovibond in the 1860s, the Lovidbond scale, abbreviated as “L”, is a measurement of color. It is used by brewers when selecting grains to use for brewing.
Malt refers to the process of soaking grains, such as barley, to instigate germination of its starches and then stopping that germination with heat. In this way, the barley can now be used in the brewing process more effectively.
SmaSh beer means “single malt and single hop”. It is a beer which isn’t made from blended ingredients and relies on a single base malt and only one hop variety.
SRM is an abbreviation of Standard Reference Method and is used as a measurement of finished beer and its malt color. This is particularly used by home-brewers when purchasing LME or DME.
Stuck fermentation is a term which refers to the process of fermentation which began as expected but then stopped before the expected final gravity was reached. In short, the yeast didn’t successfully convert the bulk of sugars in the wort into ethanol or carbon dioxide. This can be problematic for the brewer and can result in a failed beer.
See my article on what can cause stuck fermentation.
6-row refers to the barley and its arrangement of 6 kernels per lateral row. This can have an effect on the absorption of water during the brewing process.
2-row refers to the barley and its arrangement of 2 kernels per lateral row. This may result in the absorption of water being more even during the brewing process.
Wort is the name that unfermented beer is given. As soon as fermentation has occurred wort is then on referred to as beer.
zymurgy is defined as the practice and study of fermentation in processes such as brewing, winemaking as well as distilling.
Brewing equipment/ ingredients
An airlock is a device used during fermentation which allows gases to escape without oxygen being introduced into the fermenter. It’s essential in avoiding bacteria from being introduced into the wort and for limiting the risk of the fermenter exploding.
It is a rigid, often transparent, container with a narrow neck and mouth which is used in brewing for the fermentation of wort. Often they can be cumbersome to move when filled to their capacity and so it’s recommended to use a carboy handle to save energy and risk of injury. Check out my recommended gear for my suggestions.
DME stands for Dry Malt Extract and is made by following the conventional process of mashing and extracting sugars from the converted starch of grains. It is then dehydrated into a powder and made available to brewers who want to save time on the mashing stage.
A fermenter is any receptacle in which wort is allowed to ferment. For home-brewing it is usually an airtight transparent container so that the brewer can monitor the progress of fermentation. Fermenters are also used in conjunction with an airlock to ensure a lower risk of bacterial infection.
A hydrometer is an instrument which is used to measure the density of liquids. It is a longish device with a stem and bulbous bottom which is left to float freely in a sample of beer. It is used to measure the specific gravity of your beer at different stages of the brewing process.
See my article on what a hydrometer is and how to use it here.
LME stands for Liquid Malt Extract. Like Dry Malt Extract, it is made through a conventional mashing process and then the resulting sugary wort is dehydrated to produce the extract. Unlike DME, LME has about 20% water added to it and is perhaps easier to dilute in the brewer’s own wort later on. It’s also possible to buy brands which have already been hopped, so this can really help an inexperienced brewer or one with limited time.
Yeast is single-celled fungi that are used in the process of brewing to convert sugars in the wort into usable ethanol and carbon dioxide during the fermentation process.