Beer Terms

(A glossary of brewing terms)

Ale (Real Ale)

Since ale was un-hopped, maybe we should be talking about 'Real Beer' technically. However, real ale has come to mean fined beer dispensed from unpressurised casks where the beer remains on a bed of yeast

Acetification

Spoilage process caused by a small bug called acetobacter which turns the alcohol in the beer, first into acetaldehyde, and then further breaks this down into acetic acid - vinegar to you. There is a potty argument that 'cos vinegar makes your chips taste nicer, then a bit of vinegar in yer beer must be a good thing. We think that's totally daft... (see also beer care)

Aspirator

A device, considered by some to be the work of the Devil, to keep a blanket of carbon-dioxide above the beer in a cask. The idea is that as the level of beer falls in a cask whilst on dispense, instead of drawing in air (and bugs), CO2 is added via an aspirator. This staves off oxidation and acetification of the beer. Some may call it the work of the Devil, but we thoroughly approve

Barrel

A 'barrel' (or 'brewer's barrel') is really a unit of measure, being 36 gallons. Whilst you could get your beer in a barrel, we now don't know of anyone who sells beer in 'barrels', anymore - not least because a barrel would be extremely heavy at about 200kg

Bittering

The component of the hops added to a brew that contributes bitterness to the beer

Brewer

Chap (and sometimes a chapess) that wanders around in a white coat issuing orders

Brew-length

The size of the batch (usually expressed in 'brewer's barrels' - a brewer's barrel being 36 gallons, or about 160 litres). Usually the grist case, mash tun, underback (if any), copper, hop-back (if any) and fermenters are a matched set. In our case our plant is 15 brewer's barrels 'long'. That's about 4,500 pints per brew

Burtonise

Before a brew the water we use is tested for calcium content and adjusted by the addition of dilute acid and gypsum-based dry treatment. The idea is to emulate the well water used in Burton-on-Trent - arguably Britain's brewing Mecca

Cask

Container - once wood but now almost always stainless steel - in which traditional 'real' ales are shipped to licensed premises. Comes in various sizes - pin, firkin, kilderkin and barrel

Chimb or Chine

Top and bottom part of a cask when 'stood up.' Now often has name of brewery embossed round it

Cold sterile filtration

Process used almost universally when bottling wine. In our case we pass the beer through a coarse sheet filter, which absorbs the worst of the suspended matter in the beer (e.g.: crocodiles &c.) before passing it through a membrane filter with a pore size of .45 micron (in other words, bleeding fine!). This effectively 'sterilises' the beer prior to bottling or kegging

Condition

The slight fizziness in the beer derived from naturally absorbed carbon dioxide produced during fermentation. Properly conditioned beer has also had time to 'age' for a while to allow flavours to meld and mellow. Without 'condition', beer tastes flat and dull

Conditioning tank

Not surprisingly, this is a tank in which beer is allowed to 'condition', and we use one for kegged and bottled beers

Copper

Vessel in which the wort is boiled and where hops are added. Used to be made of copper - hence the name

Copper hops

These are the hops added to the wort in the copper at the beginning of the boil. Their job is mainly to add bitterness to the beer

Drop bright

What happens when finings have worked and the beer becomes clear. The suspended matter and finings settle on the bottom of the vessel - hence 'drop bright'

False bottom

A perforated plate fixed just above the actual bottom of the vessel. Used in the mash tun to drain wort off the malt (which is left behind sitting on the false bottom) and used in the copper to drain wort off the hops and trub

Finings

Finings are added to the beer to get suspended matter to drop to the bottom of the vessel. Their particles have a small electrical charge that attracts the suspended matter with an opposite electrical charge. This causes the particles to flocculate and fall to the bottom. The flocculated particles may also have a sieving effect as they drop, taking other suspended matter down with them. Finings come in all shapes and sizes, and include egg whites (albumen), special clays (diatomaceous earth) and fish swim bladders (isinglass)

Firkin

A 9 gallon cask

Fluffy bottoms

Sounds like a dodgy medical condition, but it's what the brewer doesn't want when fining beer. If the finings don't work properly they can cause a fluffy haze at the bottom of the cask

Grist

According to the recipe being used for any particular beer, it is the assembly of crushed malts, and any additional adjuncts like roast barley or liquor treatments prior to being mixed with liquor to form the mash

Grist case

The hopper above the mashing head in which the grist sits, and where, if you like, the grist is assembled

Heat exchanger

Clever bit of kit through which (say) wort at 100°C is passed in one direction and cold water at 12°C passes in the opposite direction. Separated by a thin stainless membrane, the wort is cooled down to 22°C and the cold water heats up to about 75°C. In our case we collect the warm water ready to turn it into hot liquor for the next brew

Hop-back

Our copper has a false bottom to act as a hop-back, but traditionally a hop-back was a separate vessel into which the contents of the copper was drained at the end of the boil in order to filter off the spent hops

Hops

Humulus lupulus, to you. Depending on whom you want to believe, the first written account of the use of hops in beer was by the Jews during their captivity in Babylon. The Romans brought hops to Britain, but only for culinary use. It took a long time for them to be accepted in brewing. Eventually hops gained popularity not only for their bittering ability but also for their role as an antiseptic and preservative. They helped to clarify the wort, provided a good head and improved a beer's keeping power

Keg

Pressure vessel for the distribution of kegged beer and lager

Keystone

The smaller of the two bungs used to stop up a cask. The centre of the keystone has a thin membrane which is ruptured by bashing in a tap in order to get at the beer inside

Kilderkin

An 18 gallon cask

Late hops

The charge of hops added to the copper at or near the end of the boil. Their principal job is to add aroma to the beer

Liquor

'Water' everywhere other than in a brewery

Malt

Derived from barley, the malting process is the first step in turning the starch in the barley grains into fermentable sugars. Ours arrives ready crushed. Smells deliciously like Ovaltine (which is also made from malt)

Manway

Not a woman's term for the way blokes do things, but a watertight access hatch into a vessel through which a man (or woman) can crawl

Mash

The porridge-like mix of grist and liquor

Mash tun

Vessel in which the mash is kept for an hour or so to allow enzymes in the malt to work on the starch and turn it into fermentable sugars

Mashing head

Device through which the grist falls, and where it is mixed with liquor to form the mash. Important factor in its design is to ensure the best possible homogenous mash with no lumpy bits!

Mouthfeel

Nothing to do with taste, really, but a description of the sensation the beer creates in one's mouth whilst guzzling it down. Made up of a mixture of the 'prickle' from dissolved carbon dioxide, the alcohol content (alcohol is a useful solvent), the amount of unfermentable sugars (how 'sweet' or 'thick' the beer is) and, no doubt, many other factors

Pasteurize

Thoroughly idle - and horrible - method of sterilizing beer to make it 'keep' in bottle (or keg). Effectively the beer is heated for a short time - cooked, if you like - to kill off the pathogens. You can imagine what cooking beer does for its flavour

Pin

A 4.5 gallon cask or half a firkin. No, it's not a small needle

Racking cock

Not some variety of hen, but the heavy long nosed tap used to fill casks in the brewery

Racking tank

Tall narrow vessel in which the beer is allowed an overnight rest to help drop excess suspended matter prior to racking the beer off into casks (via the racking cock)

Rolling boil

What the brewer aims for in the copper during the boil. In other words, a boil so vigorous that any solid matter is kept in suspension, and a useful way of mechanically removing bitterness from the hops, for example

Secondary fermentation

A secondary fermentation is what puts the bubbles in champagne. We aim to get a bit of secondary fermentation in cask to help add 'condition' to the beer. Our beers are normally aged at least a week to allow this to happen

Shive

The larger of the two bungs used to stop up a cask, and situated in the belly of the cask. Either wood or plastic

Skunky

See Sunstruck below

Sparge

We use a rotating sparge arm (like an oversized garden sprinkler) effectively to 'rinse out' the remaining sugar from the mash after it has finished draining out under gravity

Spent grains

The contents of the mash tun after sparging has finished. Often collected by local farmers for use as feedstock

Spile peg

Peg used to stop up the hole in the shive left after the tut has been driven in. Hard spiles are solid, and keep pressure in the cask. Soft spiles are used to vent excess gas when necessary

Star bright

Description of really clear, well fined, beer that will stand being held up to a bright light source without trace of a haze

Sunstruck

Whilst you might be surprised to hear this, we suggest that you keep our beers out of direct sunlight (and even some fluorescent lighting.) In common with most proper traditional real ales we use whole hops, because of the positive quality gains in complexity and aroma. However, certain wavelengths of light can alter compounds derived from hops so that they produce a ‘skunky’ or sunstruck flavour and (to a lesser extent) a sunstruck ‘nose.’ This can happen astonishingly quickly to your pint glass sitting out in the sun - just seconds can be enough. Beer bottles are traditionally brown for the very good reason that clear or green glass will allow the ‘wrong’ wavelengths of light to affect the beer inside

Trub

Gunge, mostly proteins, formed during the boil. Gets everywhere and blocks up everything, given half a chance

Tut

Small plastic centre of a shive. Knocked in to the cask to allow it to vent, and replaced with a spile peg (if you're lucky)

Underback

Giant colander used to drain off mash or wort. We use an underback for the mash tun, but our copper has a false bottom (vain creature that it is)

Unfermentable sugars (dextrins)

Not all the sugars in the malt are fermentable - some are indigestible by yeasts. The amount of unfermentable sugar is influenced by the temperature at which the mash is allowed to rest in the mash tun, so the brewer can alter the sweetness and mouthfeel of the finished beer by adjusting the temperature at which the malt is 'struck'

Whisky
(or whiskey in Ireland)

Distilled beer (think about it!)

Wort

The usually hot, always sweet, liquid formed in the mash tun is 'wort' right through being boiled in the copper until it has reached the fermenter. Once fermentation starts it qualifies as 'beer'

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