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Brewing Basics: Terminology

Beer

An alcoholic beverage usually made from malted cereal grain (such as barley), flavored with hops, and brewed by slow fermentation.

Ale

Ale is a type of beer brewed using a warm fermentation method, resulting in a sweet, full-bodied and fruity taste. Historically, the term referred to a drink brewed without hops.  As with most beers, ale typically has a bittering agent to balance the sweetness of the malt and act as a preservative. Ale was originally bittered with gruit, a mixture of herbs or spices boiled in the wort before fermentation. Later, hops replaced gruit as the bittering agent.

Lager

Lager beer uses a process of cool fermentation, followed by maturation in cold storage. The German word "Lager" means storeroom or warehouse. The yeast generally used with lager brewing is Saccharomyces pastorianus. It is a close relative of the Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast used for warm fermented ales.

Hops

Hops are the flowers (also called seed cones or strobiles) of the hop plant Humulus lupulus. They are used primarily as a flavoring and stability agent in beer, to which they impart bitter, zesty, or citric flavors; though they are also used for various purposes in other beverages and herbal medicine. These can be flowers or palletized.

Specific Gravity

A liquid with a Specific Gravity of 1.030 is 1.03 times the density of water, for instance. In the case of your beer, there are several factors which can contribute to the density of your wort before fermentation and of your beer when it is finished fermenting.

Pitching

This is simply a brewer's term meaning to add the yeast to the primary fermenter.

Primary Fermentation

This stage starts as soon as you add your yeast to the cooled wort. During this stage the yeast population is growing rapidly. During this time your airlock will be bubbling like crazy. This is the most active and productive phase of fermentation. In fact up to 70% of the total amount of alcohol is produced during this stage which only lasts about three to five days. 

Secondary Fermentation

A secondary fermentation in beer brewing is more like a settling period to clear up the finished product and to let the beer mature as a batch before bottling. Usually finishes in about seven days.  This stage is not necessary in beer brewing, but is recommended.

Priming

The addition of sugar to fermented beer for the purpose of carbonation.

Racking

Transferring wort or beer from one vessel to another.  Racking is typically done through the use of a siphon. 

Sanitize

To treat your equipment with a chemical solution that will eliminate virtually all spoilage organisms (molds, wild yeasts, bacteria).

Wort (wart or wert)

Wort is  the sweet, amber liquid extracted from malted barley, and usually hops, that the yeast will later ferment into beer.

 

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