Beer labels can carry some mystifying terminology. We've decoded some English language brewing- and marketing-speak, but now it's time we expand our scope into a few other languages. Time to brush up on a little German, French, and Dutch—here are definitions for 20 terms you might encounter at your local bar or beer shop.
Alt (Say: "ALT"): Translates to "old", and is most commonly used when referring to the ale style known as altbier. The style's name acknowledges the fact that the beer was fermented in the "old" style—as an ale, albeit under colder conditions than is the norm for ales—in a time when lagers were taking over the German beer scene.
Doppel (Say: "DAW-pull"): Translates to "double", and is most commonly used as part of the doppelbock style designation. The term generally indicates considerable strength, as in its application to "doppelsticke" altbier by breweries Uerige and Freigeist.
Dunkel (Say: "DUN-kull"): This is a word you'll see all over German beer: it means dark, referring to the color of the beer. On its own, or preceded by the word Munchener (from Munich), the word refers to a style of dark lager. Preceding "weizen," it refers to a dark wheat ale.
Hefe (Say: "HEH-fuh"): Translates to "yeast." Often seen on Bavarian wheat ales, the term is typically used in conjunction with "weizen."
Helles (Say: "HELL-ess"): Means bright or light. Like dunkel, helles (sometimes just "helle"), can be preceded by "Munchener" to indicate a beer style. In this case, that's a malty lager that is light in color. It will also be occasionally used to modify beer names and styles to indicate pale color.
Rauch (Say: "ROWCH," with the "CH" sound almost like in Hebrew. This is a hard one, but you can listen to it pronounced here.): Translates to "smoke", and indicates that smoked malt has been used to impart a smoky, bacony flavor to your beer. Classic rauchbier is a malty lager style associated with Bamberg, Germany that can pack a serious smoky punch.
Schwarz (Say: "SHVARTZ"): Means black, and is usually used when discussing schwarzbier, a black lager style.
Sticke (Say: "SCHTICK-uh"): Translates to "secret", and is usually used to describe a beefed-up version of altbier. According to Phil Markowski's entry in the Oxford Companion to Beer, the name refers to the secret that the brewer has been a little extra generous with his ingredients in these beers.
Ur- (Say: "OOR"): A prefix that translates to "original"—you'll see this word attached to all kinds of German beer words.
Weisse (Say: "VICE-uh"): means white—this word is usually attached to the word "hefe". Note: Hefeweizen and hefeweiss bier refer to the same style of beer, but their translations differ; the former translates to "yeast wheat," while the latter means "yeast white beer."
Weizen (Say: "VITES-en"): Translates to "wheat" and appears in the names of any of the range of Bavarian wheat ales such as hefeweizen, dunkelweizen, and weizenbock.
Blanche (Say: "BLONSH"): Translates to "white", and usually refers to beers of the Belgian witbier style produced in the French-speaking parts of Belgium.
Bière de Garde (Say: "bee-AIR duh GARD"): This phrase means a beer for keeping/storing, referring to the beer's ability to be stored through winter and spring to be drunk in the warmer months when farmers were focused on, you know, farming. This storage of beer brewed in winter made for a better tasting product, too—beers fermented in the warmer months of the year were more prone to infection by heat-loving bacteria and yeast.
Brasserie (Say: "BHRA-sair-ee"): Means brewery. I know, you've seen plenty of little French-style "brasserie" cafes that obviously don't brew their own beer. The word has been co-opted in modern times to also refer to an upscale bistro.
Saison (Say: "SAY-zone"): Translates to "season", referring to this beer style's origin as a seasonal product produced on farms.
Brouwerij (Say: "BROW-er-eye"): This one also means brewery, and is found on Dutch beers and those made in the Dutch-speaking Flemish region of Belgium. Most people seem to skip over this word—it's kinda scary! I get it. It ends in a freakin' J.
Dubbel (Say: "DUB-ull"): This word, which means 'double', stands alone as an abbey ale style that originated at the Westmalle Trappist monastery. There remains a lot of confusion about exactly where the name came from, but it is certainly not double anything in a linear sense. The style (along with its older siblings, tripel and quadrupel) likely got its name as a rough, somewhat abstract indicator of the beer's strength.
Duvel (Say: "DOO-vull"): Translates to "devil", and is the commonly-mispronounced brand name of the original Belgian Strong Pale/Golden Ale. As the prototype of the style, Duvel is often imitated; copycats pay homage by naming their beers after imagery associated with the damned (ie Satan, Inferno, Damnation, etc.).
Tripel (Say: "TRIH-pull"): Translates to "triple". Like dubbel, this word stands alone as an abbey ale style.
Wit (Say: "WIT"): Means 'white' and refers to a style of Belgian beer made with unmalted wheat, coriander, and orange peel (also called witbier). Don't confuse wit with German white beer—that's another style altogether. What the Germans call "weissbier" refers to the similarly cloudy hefeweizens, but those beers are not spiced and typically use malted wheat.
Have you seen any more beer terminology that has tripped you up recently? Send it our way in the comments below!
Brush up on more beer terms...
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