Homebrewing Terms

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The Peculiar Vernacular of Those Who Brew Beer at Home

Here are some terms that describe the ingredients, equipment and processes necessary to make beer at home.

Adjunct: Any unmalted fermentable ingredient, such as honey or Belgian Candi sugar, that you add to beer; often used to add flavor or alcohol.

Adjunct grain: Any unmalted fermentable grain, such as corn or rice, that you add to beer; often used to lighten or cheapen the product.

Airlock: An inexpensive plastic device that enables carbon dioxide to exit the fermen-ter without contaminated air entering.

All grain: Refers to beers brewed with barley, barleymalt, and specialty grains and without extracts. Also used in reference to homebrewers who make their beer by using nothing but grain.

Alpha acid: One of two resins found in hop lupulin glands. Alpha acids convert to bitterness during the boiling process. (See also Beta acid.)

Attenuate: To make thin; to dilute. With regard to fermentation, this term refers to the yeast’s consumption of fermentable sugars, transforming them into alcohol and carbon-dioxide gas.

Balling: One of two basic scales found on hydrometers that is used to measure the density of beer, named for its inventor, Carl Joseph Balling. (See also Specific Gravity.)

Base grain: The major source and contributor of fermentable sugars, flavor, and overall beer character.

Bottle-conditioned: Aged and naturally carbonated in the bottle (by priming or reyeasting), as in homebrew.

Break: Precipitation of proteins and resins in the wort during boiling (hot break) and cooling (cold break). (See also Trub.)

Carboy: A large-volume (5–15-gallon) glass vessel typically used by homebrewers as fermenters and conditioning tanks.

Carragheen: A synonym for Irish moss. (See Irish moss.)

Chill haze: A precipitation of proteinaceous matter and tannin molecules in beer if you cool it too quickly or for too long. (It then disappears after the beer warms.) You can reduce chill haze by using clarifying agents.

Cider: An ancient drink made from fermented apple juice.

Conditioning: Maturation of beer; a slow process of clarifying and carbonating.

Conversion: Changing starches to sugars, as in the mashing process.

Decoction: A highly involved process of mashing that requires the removal of a portion of the mash to boil it; you then return the boiled portion to the mash tun. Decoction mashes are rarely done at the homebrewing level.

Dextrin: An unfermentable and almost tasteless carbohydrate derived from starches during the mashing process. Dextrins contribute body and mouthfeel to the finished beer.

Dextrose: A synonym for corn sugar.

Dry hop: The addition of hops directly to a vat of fermenting beer with the intent of imparting additional hop aroma to the finished beer.

Endosperm: The starchy interior of a kernel of cereal grain.

Enzyme: An organic protein substance produced by living cells that acts as a catalyst for biological and biochemical changes, as in the mashing of grain.

Fermentation: The natural conversion of sugars to ethanol and carbon dioxide gas by yeast.

Finings: Natural agents of beer clarification; Irish moss and isinglass are finings.

Finishing hops: Hops that you add to the kettle late in the boiling process, intended to imbue hop aroma rather than hop bitterness in the beer.

Fusel alcohol: Higher alcohols produced by certain yeast strains and at higher fermentation temperatures.

Gravity: Density or thickness of a liquid; a measure of the fermentable sugars in beer.

Gypsum: Calcium sulfate; CaSO4.

Husk: The protective outer surface of cereal grain. (Although wheat kernels don’t have husks.) You must crack the husks before steeping or mashing.

Hydrometer: A fragile glass instrument used for measuring the density of liquids.

Infusion: A simple, one-temperature mashing technique for making Ales. (See also Step infusion.)

Ion: An electrically charged component of a molecule. Molecules may break down into atoms — or clumps of atoms — each with its own polarity (positive or negative).

Irish moss: A natural fining agent that you use to clarify beer. (Also known as Chondrus Crispus and Carragheen.)

Isinglass: A natural fining agent that you use to clarify beer. (Isinglass derives from the swim bladders of sturgeon.)

Isomerize(ation): To make soluble (or to dissolve) the hop’s resins in liquid by boiling.

Lactose: Milk sugar unfermentable by beer yeast. Often used to make Sweet Stout.

Lauter(ing): From the German word that means to clarify; separating the wort from the grain by using a straining apparatus (a lauter tun).

Lovibond: A system of color measure-ment for grain, wort, and beer that assigns numbers to color depth; the scale runs from 0 to 500+. It’s gradually being replaced by the Standard Reference Method (SRM).

Malt: Grain (barley, wheat) that undergoes the malting procedure.

Malt extract: Sweet wort that’s reduced and concentrated to syrup or powder by dehydration.

Mash: The collective name for grist infused with water.

Mashing: The process of infusing malted grain with hot water to extract the soluble sugars and proteins needed to make beer. The syrupy-sweet liquid that results from mashing the grain is called wort.

Mead: An ancient drink made from fermented honey.

Modification: The degree to which grain is malted; the more modified the grain is, the more starches are available for conversion to sugars during the mashing process.

Noble hops: Varieties from Germany and central Europe, including Hallertauer, Tettnanger, Styrian, Saaz, and Spalt.

Perry: An ancient drink made from fermented pear juice.

pH: Stands for parts hydrogen/percent hydrion (take your pick). A 14-point logarithmic scale used to express the level of acidity or alkalinity in liquids. (A pH of 7 is neutral.)

Pitch: To add yeast to wort.

Plato: The liquid-density scale invented by Carl Balling was later corrected and modified by a Dr. Plato of the German Imperial Commission; the Balling scale now reads in degrees Plato.

Prime(ing): Adding additional fermentable material (usually corn sugar) to an enclosed vessel to induce a secondary fermentation and carbonation.

Propagate: To multiply by natural reproduction; to increase in number, as in yeast propagation.

Protein: Complex organic molecules found in all living things. Proteins break down and precipitate during the mashing, boiling, and cooling phases of the brewing process.

Protein rest: A temperature rest during the mashing process that you use to eliminate chill haze in the finished beer (typically 20 minutes at 125° F).

Racking: Transferring beer from one vessel to another to avoid off-flavors caused by yeast and trub.

Runnings: Diluted wort that you drain from the grain bed during the sparging process (first runnings, second runnings, and so on).

Runoff: The wort that you drain from the mash at the beginning of the sparging process.

Slurry: A suspension of a solid in a liquid; a high concentration of yeast cells in solution.

Sparge(ing): Spraying hot water on the grain bed to recover malt sugars remaining in grain husks.

Specialty grain: Grains that you use to add flavor and color enhancements to beer without adding measurable fermentable sugars. Without specialty grains, few individual beer styles would exist.

Specific Gravity: One of two basic scales found on hydrometers, which you use to measure the density of beer. Abbreviation: sp. gr. (See also Balling.)

SRM: Standard Reference Method. A measurement of beer color achieved by using a spectrophotometer (similar to, but more precise than, the old Lovibond scale).

Starch: Complex carbohydrates converted to sugar during the mashing process.

Trub: Coagulated protein, oils, and tannins produced during the boiling and cooling phases of beer production. Also called hot break and cold break.

Tun: A vessel for holding liquids, such as a mash tun or a lauter tun.

Underlet: Adding water below the grain bed during the sparging process to facilitate a more controlled and thorough sparge. Underletting keeps the grain bed from compacting down upon itself by causing the grain to float.

Wort: The syrupy-sweet liquid that results from mashing the grain; unfermented beer.

Zymurgy: the science of fermentation.

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