Wading into the waters of beer geekery can be a bit more confusing than you might expect. Whether it's the lady in the Three Floyds shirt at the bar outlining the benefits of Triskel over Strisselspalt, or the bearded dude at the homebrew shop playing devil's advocate in a debate about dough-in temps, there's a lot of jargon out there that can be a bit intimidating.
Here are five basic (but essential!) funny-sounding words that should be a part of every beer drinker's lexicon:
Wort is the product of every brewer's labor. At the end of the day, while he's drying the sweat from the inside of his Wellington boots or she's picking spent grain from behind her ear, the brewer still has not created beer. Despite their back-aching efforts, that brewer has just created wort. Wort is the term beer folks use to describe beer before it has undergone fermentation. Until yeast has worked its magic, creating alcohol and carbon dioxide, the liquid remains wort. Pro Tip: wort probably isn't pronounced how you think it is. Here's a hint: it rhymes with "hurt."
A whole lot of liquor goes into making beer. And no, I'm not talking about the hot new bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout on your bottle shop's shelves. Nor am I talking about the gallons of whiskey I've seen brewers put down at the bar. When brewers talk about brewing with liquor, they are talking about something a little less exciting: water.
When used in beer, water is referred to as liquor, or, more commonly, "hot liquor" once it's been heated. This is done in a piece of brewing equipment known as the hot liquor tank, which is commonly abbreviated to HLT.
The term "sparging" is the brewing term that seems to elicit the most amount of immature giggling from first timers. Once their minds are pulled out of the gutter, though, they'll learn that sparging is simply a part of a larger process called lautering. Sparging happens after the sticky sweet wort is drained from the grain after mashing (when hot liquor is added to grain to begin the brewing process). There's still a lot of good, fermentable sugars sitting on that grain, so the brewer sprays water over the grain bed to rinse some of that off. That process is called sparging.
Lautering describes a group of processes used to extract the wort from the grain after mashing. There are a few steps involved. First, the brewer mashes out. This is when the temperature of the mash is raised to thin the wort and make it easier to drain from the grain bed. Next, the brewer recirculates the first portion of wort that is drained from the bottom of the mash or lautering vessel. This is because the first wort to drain from that grain is murky and full of a fine sediment—stuff you don't particularly want in your wort as the process progresses. Lastly, the brewer sparges...you already know what that is. Stop giggling.
Once the beer is finally fermenting, brewers look forward to seeing their beer develop a healthy kräusen. If you haven't realized it by now, there's a funny word involved with just about every step in the brewing process. This one is a German term that refers to the foam that develops on a beer as it undergoes its most aggressive period of fermentation. Kräusen, too, has a surprising pronunciation; it rhymes with poison.
Heard any odd sounding beer terminology recently? Let me help it all make sense in the comments below.
About the author: Mike Reis is a Certified Cicerone and Co-Director of Beer at the Monk's Kettle and Abbot's Cellar restaurants in San Francisco. Follow him on Twitter @beerspeaks or find him behind a pint near you.
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