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Amber Ale
If you don't know a bitter from a hop, use this glossary as a quick study guide.  After you pass the test, treat yourself to an ale or a lager. Above, amber ale with caramelized onion Cheddar cheese from iGourmet.






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February 2005
Last Updated February 2012

Product Reviews / Main Nibbles / Beer

Beer Glossary

So Many Types Of Beer: These Definitions Let You Know What You’re Drinking

Page 1:

A Brief History Of Beer Plus Beer Types Beginning With A


This is Page 1 of an eight-page glossary of beer terms. Click on the black links below to visit other pages. Also see our 60 other food glossaries, chock-full of information about your favorite foods.

This glossary is protected by copyright and cannot be reproduced in whole or part.



Beer History

Beer has been brewed prior to written history. But ironically, the oldest known recipe set down by man appears to be one for brewing beer, found on stone tablets in Sumer, in southern Mesopotamia, the “fertile crescent” or “cradle of civilization” between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers that includes modern Iraq, northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey, and southwestern Iran.

Beer is the most frequently-consumed beverage in the world, after water and tea! Some scholars believe that it has been brewed since the sixth millennium B.C.E. By 4000 B.C.E., the Babylonians were brewing at least sixteen varieties of beer (when you see all of the different styles in this glossary, you won’t be surprised at that number). The Pharaohs of Egypt paid their workers with jugs of beer (later, the Romans would pay their legions in salt, leaving us with the phrase, “worth his salt” rather than “worth his beer”).

For those of you who have never been exactly clear on the difference between all the beer types—ale, pale ale, bock, pilsner, and lager (only that you’re happy to drink them all)—this glossary is a tutorial in the types of beer.


A beer not necessarily made in an abbey, or by monks, but imitating the Trappist monk style. These are top-fermenting brews that characteristically add sugar in the kettle and are always bottle-conditioned. Sometimes these beers are licensed by an abbey, but there is no legal regulation of the term. See Trappist.


The abbreviation for Alcohol By Volume, the percent of the beer that is alcohol. It is analogous to % alcohol on a wine label, or the proof of a spirit (the percent of alcohol is half the proof, e.g., 80 proof is 40% alcohol by volume). Some beers, such as Imperial Stout, can approach the levels of low-alcohol wines (10%).

  Abbey Beer
Abbey-style beer with Gorgonzola and
blue cheeses, pear, walnuts and
baguette. Photo courtesy Wisconsin Milk
Marketing Board.

The abbreviation for Alcohol by Weight.

Any substitute, unmalted cereal grain or fermentable ingredient, added to the mash in order to reduce costs. It is used to produce more, usually cheaper, fermentable sugars, and/or to produce paler, lighter bodied and less malty beers. Adjuncts include corn, flaked rice, inverted sugar, glucose, maize, oats, tapioca flour and wheat. In Belgium, the amount of unmalted cereals added to the grist varies from 10% to 50%, whereas French and U.S. lager beers may contain 30% to 40% adjuncts. In Germany, the use of adjuncts was long prohibited by law; now it is permitted.


The English language term for a beer made in a cask or bottle with top-fermenting yeast (the same way Champagne is carbonated), which generally gives the beer a fruitiness. Because of the living yeast, real ales are sometimes cloudy and have a slightly yeasty character. Ales are easier and less expensive to brew than lager beers, which require precision in the brewing plus cold storage before they are ready to sell. Ales are produced in a wide variety of colors, palates and strengths: Bitter, Brown Ale, India Pale Ale, Light Ale, Red Ale, etc. The state liquor authorities of some American states wrongly apply the term to indicate brews of more than 4% alcohol. Interestingly, the term ale, once used to indicate a beer made without hops, now generally indicates a dark amber, strongly hopped malt beverage.  Serve ales with mortadella, salami and lightly smoked sausages.

  Amber Ale
Amber ale served with Cheddar cheese crock, pretzels and toasts. Photo courtesy Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.

A dark amber, hoppy pale ale brewed around Düsseldorf and the Lower Rhine region of Germany. The name literally means “old beer,” and refers to the pre-lager brewing method of using a warm top-fermenting yeast (like British pale ales). The production techniques create a cleaner, crisper ale.

Amber lager was created in Vienna, Austria by Anton Dreher of Vienna in the mid-19th century. The style balances rich, fragrant malt flavors with crisp hops. Pair it with spicy dishes, pork, sausage and robust pasta dishes.


American beer styles include amber ale, American pale ale, American-style lager, cream ale and steam beer.


American pale ale is dry and hoppy like the British original, but uses zestier American hops instead of earthier English hops. Some brewers emphasize maltier flavors rather than the conventional hoppier ones. They can also be slightly higher in alcohol.


Amber-colored beer.

  Amber Lager
Amber lager. Photo courtesy Great Lakes Brewing Co.

Continue To Page 2: Terms Beginning With B

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