Beer and Wine Terminology
Craft Beer Kings is the premier online wine store and the best place to buy craft beer online. As such, we like to educate our customers. Your satisfaction is our only goal.
To help aid you in selecting and purchasing the perfect craft beer or fine wine, we put together an extensive list of beer and wine terminology. Before you buy wine online, make sure you read this list and know what you're getting.
Take a second to read our terms before you begin ordering wine and beer online.
ABV: Alcohol by volume, the conventional method of measuring alcohol content in beer.
Acetobacter: An aerobic bacteria that produces acetic acid in a beer, generally undesirable except in a few styles, such as lambic and Flemish red or brown ales.
Ale: Family of beers that ferments at warmer temperatures, also called "warm-fermenting" or "top-fermenting" because of the action of ale yeast attenuation: the degree to which fermentable sugars are converted into alcohol as influenced by yeast, mash conditions and ingredients, among other things.
Bottom-fermenting: A term for the lager family of beers, based on the tendency of lager yeast to be active at the bottom of a fermentation tank.
Barley, two-row and six-row: refers to the number of kernel rows in the head of the stalk, two-row is the more commonly used, whereas six-row is employed when extra amylase enzymes are required to convert other grains.
Brettanomyces: A yeast that produces horsey, cheesy or barnyard aromas, and flavors, generally undesirable in beer except in lambics and a few others.
Cask: The traditional container for all beer, in modern times it has come to mean a barrel-type container that is used for real or cask-conditioned ale, dispensed via gravity or hand pump at cellar temperatures.
Decoction: A traditional German procedure where a portion of the mash is heated to boiling separately and returned to the main mash to raise the whole process through ideal enzymatic ranges.
Drum kiln: A cylindrical kiln used to produce malts of myriad colors and properties without the application of direct heat.
Fermentation: The process by which yeast metabolizes simple sugars into alcohol.
Gravity: Short for specific gravity, or the measure of the density of liquid.
Grist: Crushed or milled grain before it is mixed with hot water to form a mash.
Hops: The cone-shaped flowers of the vine Humulus lupulus, used to give beer its bitterness and aroma, and as a preserving agent.
Hydrometer: An instrument that measures the specific gravity of a liquid; in the case of brewing, it enables brewers to gauge the concentration of sugars in wort or the progress of fermentation as the sugars are converted to alcohol.
IBU: International Bittering Units, measure concentrations of various hop compounds in a beer, an indication of the beer's bitterness.
Lactobacillus: An anaerobic bacteria that produces sour notes in a beer, generally undesirable except in a few styles, such as lambic and Flemish red or brown ales.
Lager: Family of beers that ferments at cooler temperatures, also called "cold-fermenting" or "bottom fermenting" because of the action of ale yeast.
Malt: Grain (usually barley) that is allowed to germinate, with the process stopped by heat. The amount and duration of the heat determine the color and other qualities of the malt, which govern the color of the beer and many flavor components.
Mash: A mixture of milled grain (grist) and water used to produce fermentable liquid.
Mashing: The process by which a mash undergoes temperature dependent enzymatic changes to create wort for fermentation by breaking down proteins and converting starch into both fermentable sugars and non-fermentable dextrine.
Melanoidins: Heat-catalyzed chemical reactions that enhance color, aroma, and flavor of malt or wort via the interaction of sugar and protein components.
Modified/under-modified: The degree to which barley starches are converted by a malt-producer. Under-modified malt requires more manipulation by the brewer during mashing than highly-modified.
Noble Hops: Hop varieties, including Hallertauer Mittelfruh, Tettnang Tettnanger, Spalt Spalter and Czech Saaz, prized for their aromatic qualities parti-gyle: an ancient brewing practice where successive beers are produced by draining the mash and re-saturating several times to create incrementally weaker beers from a single mash.
Reinheitsgebot or the Bavarian Purity Law of 1516: A law that mandated that beer could be made only from malted barley, hops, and water; amended later to include yeast.
Sparge: The process where hot water is sprinkled on the top of the mash at the same rate as it is drained into the boiling kettle to leach all of the components out of the grist.
Top-fermenting: A term for the ale family of beers, based on the tendency of ale yeast to be active at the top of a fermentation tank.
Yeast: In the making of beer, the microorganism that ferments sugar into alcohol.
Acetic: A vinegar-like smell and taste caused by acetic acid.
Acidity: Natural acids in wine. A critical element of wine, it is essential for freshness, flavor and aging. The term generally applies to the citric, malic, tartaric and lactic acids in wine and is essential to balance contrasting elements.
Aeration: Letting a wine "breathe" before drinking it to soften the tannins, smooth out the wine, and allow the bouquet and flavors to open up. Young red wines benefit most from aeration, which is accomplished by decanting the bottle into another container; or else, by swirling the wine in a glass.
Aftertaste: Some make a distinction between a wine's finish and its aftertaste. The aftertaste is simply the taste sensation that remains after swallowing.
Aggressive: A somewhat negative connotation relating to a harshness of taste, sometimes caused by excessive acid.
Alcohol: Often tasting hot or peppery, a wine in which a high level of alcohol overwhelms the fruit and balance.
Appellation: A system developed by the French to regulate the authenticity of their finest wines. Appellation applies specifically to the region where the grapes were grown. The French also regulate what grapes can be grown where; what winemaking methods can be used; how large the yields can be; etc. Other countries have adopted their own versions of controlled appellations with varying success.
Aroma: The scent wine derives from its grape variety (as opposed to scents that result from the wine making process).
Aromatic: Having a highly evocative aroma; often used to denote a floral or spiced quality.
Astringent: A result of tannin content (and sometimes high acid), it is the aspirin-like, tea-like quality that causes a dry, puckering sensation in the mouth.
Austere: An uncompromising, almost spartan quality that can result from tannin or acid, often in wine that needs more time to mature.
Balance: A good wine is said to be well-balanced. The reference is to the symbiotic interrelationship and desired harmony between the major components of a wine fruit, sugar, acidity, tannins, alcohol and oak aging.
Barrel-Fermented: Wine that is fermented in small barrels rather than large tanks.
Bite: A lively sharpness resulting from a wine's acidity.
Bitter: Often caused by too much tannin, this is most often not a desirable trait in wine. However, many Italian red wines feature an appealing amount of bitterness that balances wonderfully with pasta and tomato sauces.
Beefy: Descriptive for a big, solid red.
Body: Light-bodied, medium-bodied, full-bodied; the term takes into account a wine's density and viscosity concerning the impression of fullness or weight on the palate.
Bouquet: As opposed to aroma (the scent of the grape), bouquet refers to the smell a wine acquires with aging in oak and in the bottle.
Brilliant: A wine of absolute clarity. This is not important to most experienced tasters, since highly filtered wines will always be excellent yet the process of filtration can strip much of the flavor and character from an excellent wine. Most of the finest wines available deposit sediment with aging
Brix: A technical term that refers to a system of measuring the amount of residual sugar in the wine.
Buttery: Usually associated with chardonnay, it denotes the rich, creamy vanilla flavor derived from the wine's contact with new oak.
Caramel: The taste of caramelized sugar.
Character: Complimentary term for wine indicating distinction and individuality.
Chemical: Refers to unpleasant smells or tastes from fermentation (often of sulfur or nail polish).
Chewy: Excessive tannin in a wine, but also enough flavor to sustain it.
Clean: A positive trait indicating a simple, direct flavor without serious flaws.
Closed: Qualities in a wine that have yet to present themselves. Often, complex wines open up once poured or decanted.
Complex: A critical aspect of fine wine, it refers to a variety and range of aromas and bouquets and multiple layers of flavor.
Corky: A wine that smells and tastes musty or moldy with the unpleasant qualities of a bad cork is said to be corky or corked.
Coarse: A rough texture, opposite of a smooth wine.
Creamy: A rich, smooth texture (often a quality of excellent chardonnay or champagne).
Crisp: A positive attribute denoting a white wines sharp, zesty acidity.
Delicate: Light, distinctive and refined, but not timid.
Depth: Full-flavored, multi-dimensional taste.
Distinguished: Characterized by excellent quality.
Dry: No sugar or sweetness remaining; a fruity wine can be dry.
Earthy: A vegetative, damp earth smell.
Elegant: Describes beautiful, well-balanced wines that are graceful, but not necessarily full-bodied.
Estate-Bottled: Wine made exclusively from grapes grown on a winery's property and produced by the winery, which must be located in the same AVA where the grapes are grown.
Fat: An overly heavy, awkward and poorly made wine.
Finesse: Delicacy and refinement in structure and texture.
Finish: The residual flavors and aroma of a wine on the palate after swallowing. A long or lingering finish is a desirable attribute.
Firm: Assertive, but not unbalanced, acidity, particularly in wines requiring more aging.
Flabby: A great descriptive for a wine without enough acidity.
Flawed: A wine that is poorly made and shows mistakes.
Fleshy: Flavorful and soft, generally with relatively little tannin.
Flinty: A metallic tone, more often an aroma than flavor.
Floral: Suggests the aroma or taste of flowers.
Freshness: An aromatic quality, often floral or fruit-like.
Fruit: Even though the actual flavor may be of black currants, apples, etc., the term refers to the amount of grape (i.e. fruit) taste in a wine.
Full-bodied: A wine with rich, mouth filling texture and weight on the palate; as opposed to thin.
Grassy: Aromas and flavors of fresh cut grass or herbs.
Green: Unripe, tart, sometimes harsh flavors and textures.
Hard: A wine (particularly red) with lots of tannins that needs time to mature.
Harsh: Unbalanced wine that is tough on the palate.
Herbaceous: A vegetal, grassy tone in aroma and flavor.
Hot: A relatively high alcohol content resulting in a taste that is peppery.
Jammy: A cooked or stewed, sweet-ish quality.
Lean: Not enough fruit and too much acidity, although not always a term of derision.
Legs: Swirl the wine in a glass and then observe the liquid running down the inside of the bowl these are the legs and are a good measure of a wine's body.
Length: Used as a qualifier for a wine's finish, which is either long or short or medium.
Lively: A young, fruity wine with vivacious flavors.
Malolactic: A secondary fermentation occurring in most red and some white wines used to convert the grapes primary malic acid into a softer lactic acid.
Mellow: A soft, but well-balanced wine.
Meritage: A red or white wine made from blending classic Bordeaux grapes. The word itself is a condensation of Merit and Heritage.
Must: Grape juice and crushed grapes before or during fermentation.
Nose: A wines aroma.
Nutty: A characteristic of some dry whites.
Oaky: Wines aged in oak take on a bit of the barrel taste and smell, often of a vanilla or toasty quality.
Plummy: Often a variety of big, ripe red wines.
Reserve: Often used to identify a winery's better quality wines, the term has no quantifiable or legal meaning.
Residual sugar: The amount of sugar not converted to alcohol during fermentation that indicates a wines relative sweetness.
Rich: Deeply flavorful and textured.
Robust: Big, assertive and full-flavored.
Round: A wine with smooth flavors and textures; well balanced.
Silky: A texture that's as smooth as silk.
Simple: A wine that is light with limited aromas, flavors and texture.
Smokey: A smokey taste generally resulting from aging in charred oak barrels.
Soft: A term characterizing texture and referring to the amount of, and relationship between, a wine's acid and tannin.
Spicy: Spice flavors including cloves, mint, pepper, cinnamon and others.
Steely: The clean, acidic, almost metallic taste in whites.
Stewed: Like overly cooked fruit from which the aroma has dissipated.
Supple: A wine that is smooth and soft textured.
Tannin: Derived from the skins, stalks, and seeds of grapes, as well as the oak barrels used for aging, it accounts for a wine's astringency, which is reduced over tim. It is an essential element for aging.
Tart: Lots of acidities resulting in a green-tasting wine.
Terroir: A French word reflecting the expression in a wine of the soil, climate and farming methods of a vineyard site.