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This is the A to Z of Brewing terms
To see the A to Z of pub names click here... a to z

ABV: Alcohol by volume as a percentage. 3.5% is 'session' beer. Beers of 5% and above are strong. White Lightening Cider is 7.5% and will make you fall over and black out if you drink too much! Winter ales and Barely wine can be as high as 9% and should be treated with respect.

Ale: Historically, an unhopped malt beverage, now a generic term for hopped beers produced by top fermentation, as opposed to Lagers, which are produced by bottom fermentation

Barley: The principal grain used in brewing, usually after malting (see below). Roasted barley is used in making Irish-type Stouts

Barley Wine: A very strong beer, normally drunk in nips (a third of a pint) or halve a pint.

Barrel: is a generic term for a cask, but the list below is specific.
  º Firkin: A 9 gallon cask (72 pints).
  º Kilderkin: A 18 gallon cask (144 pints).
  º Barrel: A 36 gallons cask (288 pints)
  º Hogshead: A 54 gallon cask (432 pints).

BCA: See Bottle Conditioned Ale

Bitter: A highly hopped beer and the most common type of draught ale. Bitters can range from below 3.5% up to 5% ABV.

Burton Union: A method of fermenting beer in which yeast is transferred from large casks into subsequent brews. The system was once used in the brewing of Draught Bass but now only Marstons use the system to brew their Pedigree ale.

Blanket Pressure: A low pressure of CO2 or Nitrogen added to a cask. Can make the beer fizzy and is not recommended.

Bottle Conditioned Ale: A bottled beer where some or all of the secondary fermentation takes place after bottling.

Bright:Clear. Real ale normally "drops bright" a day or so after being racked. (2) Can be used to describe beer that has been filtered to improve the "polish". Keg beers are always bright, having been filtered and pasteurised before being put in a the metal barrel-shaped kegs and delivered to the pub.

Brown Ale: A bottled, lightly hopped and sweetish mild ale. Usually lower in gravity though there are exceptions.

Carry keg: A plastic container with a pressure safe top designed for the transport of small (typically four pints) amounts of real ale.

Cask: Generic term for what most people would call a beer barrel. A cask doesn't specify any particular size. See Polypin, Hogshead for sizes.

Cask Conditioned: Yeast works on remaining sugars after being casked. This produces alcohol and carbon dioxide. The latter dissolves in the beer and gives it life when served. Typically it takes a week for this process (also known as secondary fermentation) to happen.

Condition: The amount of carbon dioxide in the beer. Excessive carbon dioxide will produce a beer that is too gassy and sharp. Too little will result in a flat insipid drink.

Copper Finings: Irish moss, a seaweed extract added to the copper (i.e., to the boil after mashing) to help the beer to fall bright and clear by coagulating unwanted proteins in the wort.

Crystal Malt: Malt that has been kilned until the sugar has crystallised. Needs only hot water to release the sugar, which is used for body, colour, and flavour modification. Contains no active enzyme.

Fining: The process of clearing the beer by adding 'FININGS'. The finings act to clump together fine particles so they fall to the bottom of the cask. A typical dose might be 1.5% by volume, normally added before the cask leaves the brewery. (One possible reason for cloudy beer is that either the original dose was too little for the amount of yeast sediment generated during secondary fermentation or the cask has been repeatedly shaken up and the finings have as a result of this become tired.)

Finings: Thick liquid derived from seaweed or fish bladders which precipitate fine particles.

Firkin: A 9 gallon cask.

Free House: A pub that is not bound by any agreements to sell any particular brewers products.

Gravity: (1) Serving method. A tap is hammered into the end of the cask and glasses filled directly from it. (2) Until recently the strength of beer was quoted by "OG" or Original Gravity (now it's ABV). This was determined by how much sugar was dissolved in the liquor before the yeast was added. The more sugar the more alcohol will be present after fermentation. Hence a "high gravity" beer is a strong one.

Green (Green beer): Fresh from the brewery and not yet matured in the cellar. Most beers come to no harm at all by being left for at least a week before tapping. (See Cask Conditioned)

Guest Ale: A beer from another brewery. (Possibly, in the case of a free house, a beer out of the ordinary run.)

Gill: Old name for half pint glass. Possibly a derivasion from the word Gyle (below).

Gyle: A batch of beer in a single brew.

Hops: The dried flowers of the hop plant, used to give beers their characteristic nose and flavour; hops also act as a preservative for the beer. There are many varieties; Continental hops are more effective than UK hops, weight for weight, as they are seedless due to the eradication of male plants.This means that the same weight of Continental hops contains more of the flower and the active agent, Lupulin, that makes hops useful to the brewer

Hand Pump: Bar mounted hand pull. (NOT a tiny tap or connected to one.) The handle is connected to a piston which draws beer from the cask along a pipe to the spout.

Heavy: A Scottish and North East term for a medium strength beer usually light in colour !

Hogshead: A 54 gallon cask (a rarity in the 21st century).

IPA: India Pale Ale. Strictly speaking a high strength pale ale for export but the term is commonly used for light bitter ales.

Keg: Pasteurised, filtered and artificially fizzed up beer.

Kilderkin: A 18 gallon cask. Also called Kil and Kill.

Landlord: A publican. Confusing as a pub landlord might actually be a tenant ! The term originates from the days when an inn would provide lodgings.

Lager: A British term for a continental beer made with a bottom fermenting yeast using different malt and hops than most bitters. They undergo a long secondary fermentation at a low temperature. Most British lagers are weak, inferior versions of their mainland Europe namesakes. To lager (German) is to store (in a cellar).

Licensee: A Publican. Licensing magistrates give licences to serve alcohol. The implication is that publicans can lose their licence if the magistrates think they are not a suitable person to run a pub. Possibly because they have been known to flout licensing laws or otherwise come to the frequent notice of the local constabulary.

Licensing Laws: The sale of alcohol has been controlled for 300 years though the basis for current laws came about during World War I.
A rough summary of the current rules for pubs is:
º Can't serve alcohol to anyone under 18 (with certain exceptions).
º Mustn't serve outside set licensing hours. i.e generally not after 11pm weekdays and 10.30pm Sundays or before 12 mid day on Sundays.
º Mustn't serve people who, in the landlord's opinion, have had too much to drink already.
º In the early years of the 21st century the laws were been relaxed in larger towns and cities. Pubs and clubs can apply for extentions to open until 1am or 2am (usually at weekends) similarly to Bank Holiday extentions.

Light Ale: A low gravity bottled ale. Scottish light ales are usually dark coloured!

Malt: Barley that has been germinated and then roasted to varying degrees.This releases enzymes, mainly diastase, that can convert starches to simpler sugars that the yeast can feed on and produce alcohol, and the roasting stops the process of growth. Normally sold according to the degree of colour from the kilning, e.g. Pale Malt,Amber Malt.

Malt Extract: Is a syrup or powder made from malt. Widely used by kit manufacturers, and by home brewers to save 'mashing' the malt. In effect, it is concentrated wort.

Maltose: The primary sugar obtained from malt by the mashing process.

Mild: A lightly hopped beer, often dark in colour and usually low in strength but high in flavor, mild was the preferred drink of workers in industrial Britain, who gulped gallons of the stuff as a restorative after long hours in coal mines, iron foundries, and other sweaty sites. The style remains popular in the British regions most associated with this thirsty work: specifically, the area near Birmingham called the Black Country.

Mash: Coarsely ground malt and hot water, cooked slowly to activate the enzymes, and convert starches to sugars

Mash Tun: The container in which breweries mash, as above. Homebrewers substitute large pans, Burco boilers, and similar suitable containers.

Nitrokeg: Variation on 'Keg' using Nitrogen as well as or instead of Carbon Dioxide. Used to produce 'creamy heads' ala Guinness. Not real.

Old Ales: See Winter ales.

Original Gravity: See Gravity

Pale Ale: A medium gravity bottled ale. The term is used in the South West to refer to low gravity draught ales.

Pin / Polypin: Four and a half gallons. A polypin is a collapsible polythene bag inside a cardboard cube. Often non returnable. A good bet for a party at home.

Porter: A dark and sweetish but well hopped beer.
An urban myth says that Porters at hotels would be allowed to drink the contents of the drips trays (a mixture of bitter and stout) at the end of the night.

Publican: Person in charge of a particular pub.

Priming: The Addition of a small amount of sugar or malt extract to a brew to give it condition after bottle fermentation, or a protective layer of gas in the pressure barrel that helps dispense it through the tap.

Racking: The process of transferring beer from one container to another. In the brewery it refers to the transfer of the beer from a holding or conditioning vessel into the cask. Siphoning the beer off the deposit of surplus yeast etc. into a clean container or containers.

Real Ale: Real ale MUST be alive when you drink it. This is the fundamental definition. The alternative is pasteurisation. (i.e. killing off the yeast before the beer leaves the brewery.) Real ale continues to ferment in the cask or bottle after leaving the brewery. This process is known as secondary fermentation. As the fermentation proceeds after putting into casks (cask conditioned) or bottles, (bottle conditioned) the carbon dioxide produced is dissolved into the liquor and gives the beer a natural measure of 'Condition'. If you have killed off the yeast before casking you have to add CO2 to make the beer fizz. In the majority of cases real ale will be brewed with traditional (or variations of) recipes using traditional techniques.

Re-racking: The transfer from the cask to another vessel - usually after the beer has been left to settle so the beer can be served bright in situations where traditional cask beer can't be served.

(Re) Racked-beer: Beer that has been transferred from a cask to container after being allowed to settle, leaving the sediment behind. The remaining beer can be safely transported, for example in a carry-keg for a party.

Spiling: For transit and storage a cask is sealed. A vent hole is provided on the top of the cask. Some while before being served the peg sealing this hole (the spile hole) is knocked through to open up the beer to the atmosphere. This is spiling. Once done the cask will have to be used within a few days.

Stillaging: The process of setting up the cask on a stillage (usually in the pub cellar) ready for venting and tapping.

Stout: Usually very dark, heavy and well hopped beer. Dry tasting with a creamy head. Milk Stout is no longer sold. The nearest equivalent is Sweet Stout. Milk Stout is thought to have been so named because it contained lactose, a sugar derived from milk.

Tapping: Fitting the tap, like spiling, consists of knocking through a seal and inserting a tap. Unless this is a gravity system the tap will then be connected to the pump ready to draw.

Tenant: Publican. Many publicans are essentially operating a franchise. They pay rent to the brewery as well as being tied to take their beer.

Tied House: A pub owned by a brewery (or pub company) that is tied to selling what the brewery says. There are many pubs who claim to be free but have done deals (such accepting loans on generous terms) in return for guaranteeing to take certain brands.

Ullage: Waste beer left at the bottom of an empty cask or overflowing into a drip tray. It should not be filtered back into the cask. Most brewers allow for a proportion of 'lost' beer. Also known as Spillage.

Wheat Beer: A beer originating from Bavaria where it is known as Weizen. The wheat is added to the mash and results in a refreshing summer drink. Both pale and dark versions are available, some are brewed to be drunk hazy, some brewed to be drunk clear. Hoegartten is a current popular version in the UK at the moment (2002).

Winter Ale: Usually a high gravity and full-flavoured beer sold during the winter months. The name is now synonymous with "Old ale" - Old Tom (Robinsons) / Old Peculiar (Theakston's).

Yeast: Microscopic fungi that attack sugars, giving up ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide gas. Top-fermenting yeasts (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) are used for British beers and ales, bottom fermenting yeasts (S. c. carlsbergensis) are used for lager beers

Zymurgy: The art and science of using selected yeasts for fermenting sugary liquids to make alcoholic drinks. Also the title of the American Homebrew Association magazine.