If you have ever read beer reviews, you are probably familiar with some of the terms that are used to describe beer. While some of the terms are pretty straight forward, others may seem a little weird. How can a beer be biscuity and have good lace anyway?
Brewer Fal Allen has taken the time to compile a list of beer tasting terms and what they mean. I think just reading the list can make you a better beer taster because you will recognize some of the characteristics that you have experienced in beer but didn’t have a word for. You may also want to read our beer tasting primer: How to taste beer.
Thanks to Jay Brooks for posting this list and Fal’s thoughts about beer tasting.
Throughout the later 20th century wine makers have done a fantastic job of convincing people that wine is the complex, sophisticated drink for erudite people with discerning taste – and during that same time period beer marketeers have done just the opposite for their product. It turns out that these marketeers did all of us (brewers and consumers alike) a great disservice. Many people really believe that beer is just a one dimensional pedestrian beverage, suitable only for chugging on a hot day at the beach – well – a big part of my job is to change their minds about that.
Beer can be many things; from thirst quenching, sprightly and light to complex, full and contemplative – and everything between. Today in America (of all places) there is more diversity in beer and more breweries making beers than any other country. From traditional style from around the globe, to experimental style using unusual ingredients, to barrel aged beers that take years to make – Beer in all its complexity is blossoming to its full expression. And this passion for a greater beer diversity is spreading around the world.
For all those who are part of this, for all those who want to elevate beer to its proper place, I have gathered together some terms that will help you in your quest. Below is my list of beer tasting terms (those of you familiar with wine terms will recognize some of these terms, but you will also quickly realize that many of these can not be applied to wines. This is because as good as wine may be, wine just does not have the same breadth of flavors and aromas that beer does. Beer has a bigger palate).
I hope you enjoy
Beer Tasting Terms
Accessible A beer that is easy to drink
Acetaldehyde A green apple aroma or taste. A yeast (or bacteria) by-product. Often a constituent of young beer
Acetic Aroma or flavor similar to vinegar formed by aerobic bacteria producing acetic acid
Acidic A beer with a noticeable sense of acidity. In beer where acid is appropriate the acid should not come from excessive aerobic fermentation (producing acetic acid)
Aftertaste A term for the taste left on the Palate after beer has been swallowed. “Finish” is a synonym.
Aggressive A beer with pronounced or over the top flavors. The opposite of a beer described as “smooth” or “soft”
Alcoholic A beer that has a noticeable or an out of balanced presence of too much alcohol. Often noted as hot or spicy
Almondy Aromas of almonds or Marzipan
Astringent An overly dry or astringent beer or a beer with harsh grainy flavor. Often perceived in the aftertaste
Aroma The smell of a beer. The term bouquet can also be used
Autolytic or Autolysed Aroma of “yeasty” or acacia -like floweriness commonly associated with beers that have been aged on yeast too long. It can also sometimes be described as meaty
Baked A brewer with a high blood alcohol content that has remained so for too long. Often the result of over-consuming their own products.
Balanced A beer that incorporates all its main components in a manner where no one single component stands out. This usually refers to a Hop vs. Malt balance
Banana Aromas like banana or notes of Bazooka Joe Bubble gum – from Isoamyl acetate; a fermentation by-product
Barnyard Used to describe the earthy and sometimes vegetal undertones (often with hints of sweat or urine mixed in). These aromas are most common in spontaneously fermented beers. At low levels some beer drinkers may find this appealing, for others it may offend .At higher levels most people find these notes unpleasing (see Farm Yard)
Big A beer with intense flavor, or that is high in alcohol.
Biscuity A beer descriptor often associated with malt flavor. It is sense of yeasty or bread dough aroma and flavors.
Bite A firm and distinctive perception of hops, tannins, husk or acidity. This can be a positive (as in controlled hop bit) or negative attribute depending on whether the overall perception of the beer is balanced.
Bitter A noticeable flavor of hops, can denote lack of balance (but not always).
Black Currant An aroma or flavor of black currant, raisons or Cassis
Body The sense of feeling in the mouth. The sense of fullness from malt or alcohol in the beer. Some common descriptors are thin, winey, delicate, light, medium, balanced, robust, full, heavy, dense, viscous, overwhelming
Boozy An exaggerated alcohol aroma. Commonly associated with barleywines or other high gravity beers
Bouquet The layers of smells and aromas perceived in a beer.
Bright When describing the visual appearance of the beer, it refers to high clarity, very low levels of suspended solids. Lacking haze
Brussels Lace or Lace When the tracks of liquid that cling to the sides of a glass after the contents have been swirled display a delicate pattern that resembles lace. (see also Legs)
Burnt Having an aroma or flavor of smoke or burnt wood. A negative component that can be caused by excessive temperature during boiling (heating with a gas ring or electrical elements) or from fouled heating surfaces
Buttery A beer with a noticeable yet acceptable level of Diacetyl – giving a rich, creamy mouthfeel & flavors reminiscent of butter. Too much of this flavor is considered a defect. (also see Diacetyl)
Butyric Aromas of rancid butter. Always a flaw
Caramel Aromas or flavors of caramel, browned or burnt sugar, toffee.
Carbonated/Carbonation The amount of carbon dioxide dissolved in the beer (usually between 4.5 and 6 grams per liter). This is what gives beer its effervescence. Some common descriptors are spritzy, sprightly, zesty, prickly, gassy, sharp, round, smooth, creamy, delicate, piquant, champagne-like
Cardboard or Wet Cardboard Having an aroma of wet cardboard (see papery)
Catty Having an aroma of cat urine – always a flaw in beer (similar to skunky)
Chalky having a mouthfeel that is powdery dusty, chalky, or of particulate
Chewy The sense of malt that is tending toward overwhelming on the palate.
Cheesy An aroma of cheese – an element characteristic of aged hops. It is caused by the use of old and improperly stored hops.
Chill Haze A haze formed by protein complexes when the beer is chilled, effects clarity and can effect flavor at higher levels
Chocolaty A term most often used to describe rich brown beers such as Porters and Stouts, it describes the flavors and aromas associated with chocolate or dark malts
Cigar-box A term used to describe aromas of tobacco
Citrus A beer with the aromas and flavor from the citrus family of fruits (grapefruit, orange, lemon, etc), these notes are usually derived from hops .
Clean A beer that is not demonstrating any obvious faults, flaws or unwanted aromas and flavors.
Clear A beer with no visible particulate matter.
Closed A beer that is not very aromatic.
Clovey An aroma associated with German wheat beers that give the perception of cloves spice (Syzygium aromaticum). It is caused by the yeast’s creation of esters and is due to the brewer’s choice of yeast strain.
Cloying A beer with a sticky or sickly sweet character that is not balanced. Often associated with too much malt or not enough hops to balance
Coarse A term for a beer with a rough texture or mouthfeel. Usually applies to the perception of tannins, husk flavors or a harsh bitterness.
Coconut Aroma perception of coconut derived from treatment in American oak in barrel aged beers.
Coffee Having a roasty aroma and or flavor of coffee. Roasty with out being burnt
Color Listed here to reduce entries; a beer’s color can range from light yellow through golden to red , brown, black and even deep inky black.
Compact Opposite of “open”. A beer with a dense perception of flavors and aromas.
Complex A beer that gives a perception of being multi-layered in terms of flavors and aromas.
Cooked A term where the fruity flavors of the beer seem like they have been cooked, baked or stewed.
Cooked Vegetables An unfavorable characteristic in beer. Aromas and flavors of cooked cabbage, parsnip, broccoli or celery. See vegetable below
Corked A tasting term for a beer that has cork taint (only to be found in cork finished beers)
Creamy A term to describe the perception of a smooth, creamy mouthfeel. The perception of creaminess is generally picked up at the sides and back of the throat and through the finish of the beer.
Crisp A pleasing sense of bitterness in the beer.
Crust or Sediment The detritus, generally yeast and protein precipitates, that adhere to the inside (usually bottom) of a aged bottled beer
Definition A beer that is the perfect or original example of the style
Delicate A term that relates to the more subtle notes of a beer – – usually in relation to hops and / or ester aromas, but not always.
Depth A term used to denote a beer with several layers of flavor. An aspect of complexity.
Diacetyl (“D”) A buttery, butterscotch or buttered popcorn flavor or aroma. Acceptable at very low levels (0.1 ppm or less) but considered a fault at higher levels. One of the vicinal diketones (VDK) it is detectable by some people as low as 0.05parts per million. The source can be yeast metabolism or at higher levels may indicate bacterial contamination (esp when coupled with sourness) (also see Buttery)
Dimethyl Sulfide (DMS) A sulfur aroma of cooked corn or rancid cooked cabbage. A yeast or bacteria by-product.
Dirty A beer with off flavors and aromas that most likely resulted from poor hygiene during the fermentation or packaging process
Dry A beer that is lacking the perception of sweetness, especially those beers that finish clean on the palate
Earthy A beer with aromas and flavor reminiscent of earth or soil –such as forest floor or mushrooms.
Edgy A beer with a noticeably level of sharpness that heightens the flavors on the palate.
Elegant A term to describe a beer that possess finesse with subtle flavors that are in balance.
Enteric A term to describe the vinegar-like sourness common to a young lambic.
Estery Aromas of yeast esters from fermentation, often fruity (peach, apple, pear, passion fruit, etc.)
Ethyl Acetate Aromas that are light fruity, pear or solvent-like
Expansive A beer that is considered “big” but still accessible.
Expressive A beer with clearly projects its aromas and flavors.
Farmyard A generally more positive term than “Barnyard” used to describe low levels of the earthy and vegetal undertones of some spontaneously fermented beers. It may develop after maturing in the bottle. (see Barn Yard)
Fat A beer that is full in body and has a sense of viscosity. A beer with too much fat is not balanced and is said to be “flabby” (also see Full)
Finish The sense and perception of the beer after swallowing.
Finesse A very subjective term used to describe a beer of high quality that is well balanced.
Firm A stronger sense of flavor (see tight) .
Flabby Lacking sense of balance, too full or overly thick. The opposite of tight
Flat In relation to carbonated beers flat refers to a beer that has lost its effervescence. In all other beers it denote a beer that is lacking complexity and finesse
Flowery Aromas of fresh flowers often from hops or a combination of hops and yeast esters.
Fresh A beer with a noticeable perception of liveliness
Fruity The high perception of fruit characteristics – including but not limited to pineapple, apricot, banana, peach, pear, apple, mango, prickly pear, nectarine, raisins, currant, plum, dates, prunes, figs, blackberry, blueberry, strawberry
Full or Full Bodied A term usually used in context of beer with heavy weight or body. It can also refer to a beer that is full in flavor as well
Gassy over carbonated with excessive dissolved carbon dioxide (CO2)
Goaty Having the musky aroma of a goat.
Grainy Aromas or flavors of raw grain or cereals, usually a negative descriptor
Grapefruit Aromas of grapefruit and citrus. Hop derived
Grapey A beer with the aromas and flavors reminiscent of fresh grapes
Grassy A term used to describe an herbaceous element in a beer ranging from freshly mown lawn grass to hay, alfalfa, straw or open fields.
Gravity (high or low) The original sugar content of a wort before the yeast ferments it into beer
Green Typically used to describe a beer that is not yet finished maturing in its flavor and aroma profile
Harsh Similar to “coarse” but usually used in a more derogatory fashion to denote a beer that is unbalanced in tannins, husky notes, phenols or acidity.
Hazy Having haze, particulates or cloudiness. Not bright
Head This refers to foam on the top of the beer. The foam head should be thick, dense and tight for most beer styles. Some terms for describing a beers head are; persistent, rocky, fluffy, dissipating, lingering, frothy, tight, dense, smooth
Heavy A beer that is alcoholic and has a big sense of body
Herbaceous The herbal, vegetal aromas and flavors
Hollow A beer lacking the sense of malt or body.
Hoppy Having the character of hops. It can refer to high hop aroma, flavor and bitterness. Hop aromas can range from flowery to fruity, to herbal, but aromas should be clean and fragrant. Hop Flavors have a wide range as well. Bitterness should be clear, clean and sharp
Horsey / Horse Blanket An aroma of mustiness with earthy undertones and often a hint of horse sweat. Usually a by-product of Brettanomyces yeast and is a character of some beers – notably lambic beers.
Hot An overly alcoholic beer.
Husky a flavor of harsh astringent bitterness from grains
Inky A term that may refer to a beer’s dark coloring and opacity – associated with Stout beers
Intense Strong in character, aroma and flavor
Intensity The degree of character or strength of a beer. Some common descriptors are assertive, mild, delicate, refined, balanced, complex, hearty, robust, bold, intense,
Jammy A beer that is rich in fruit flavors
Lean The sense of thinness, somewhat lacking in overall complexity, a kinder term than watery (see watery)
Leathery Having an aroma of leather
Legs The tracks of liquid that cling to the sides of a glass after the contents have been swirled. Often said to be related to the alcohol content of a beer.
Lemony A term referring to the tangy hoppiness of a beer with fruit flavors reminiscent of lemons.
Lightstruck A tasting term for a beer that has had exposure to light causing “skunky” type aroma and flavor.
Linalool The characteristic flowery-peach aroma. Derived form yeast ester production
Liquorice A term used to describe the concentrated flavor from rich sweet beers, some times with hints of wood or Anis.
Luscious Similar to “voluptuous” but more commonly associated with sweet beers that have a rich, concentrated mouthfeel.
Meaty A beer with a yeast bit, also can be described as brothy, cooked meat, meat extract, peptone, yeast broth – often from autolysis of yeast cells
Medicinal Having an aroma of medicine, phenols, plastics or disinfectants. Sometimes referred to as “band-aid” aroma
Mellon having an aroma of ripe melons
Mellow A beer with a soft round texture that is nearing or at the peak of its maturity having had any hard edges rounded out.
Mercaptan Aromas of mercaptans, rotting garlic, dirty drains, fecal, or an outhouse stench. Uncommon in beer and always a flaw.
Metalic Aroma or flavors of metal or rust, especially that of iron
Midpalate A tasting term for the feel and taste of a beer when held in the mouth.
Minerality A sense of mineral notes in the beer, flavors of slate, rock or minerals. Usually from hard water in the brewing process
Molasses Aromas and flavors of raw sugar cane, molasses, or black treacle, treacley, also sometimes referred to as Cracker Jack flavor. Molasses notes may occur in sorghum-based beers (used for making gluten-free beers).
Moldy Aromas that are Cellar-like, leaf-mold, woodsy notes of decay
Mouthfeel A tasting term used to describe the feel of a beer in the mouth. Some common descriptors are creamy, smooth, silky, velvety, opulent, voluptuous, tingly, warming, viscous, oily, coating, thin, watery
Musky A complex aroma of sweat, sweetness, and earthiness, with light under tones of the sea, sandalwood and hair, but lacking the sharper acidic note of horse blanket
Musty Aromas of mold, mildew or decay. A defect at medium or high levels. (see moldy)
Nose A term for the aroma or bouquet of a beer.
Nutty Flavors and aromas of various types of nuts (Brazil nut, hazelnut, walnut, etc.)
Oaky A beer with a noticeable perception of the effects of oak. This can include the sense of vanilla, butteriness, sweet spice, diacetyl , toasted flavor or woodiness.
Oily A generally full bodied beer with a viscous mouthfeel. Unusual in beers.
Opulent A rich tasting beer with a pleasing texture and mouthfeel that is well balanced.
Over Carbonated An excessive amount of carbon dioxide dissolved in the beer (usually over 6 grams per liter). This will cause a carbonic bite and or excessive fizziness
Overtones The more obvious characteristics, aromas and flavors of beer.
Oxidized A negative term describing a beer that has experienced too much exposure to oxygen giving it the typical “wet cardboard” or papery type aroma and flavor. On occasion in aged beers that has been mildly oxidized, it may not be considered a fault if it exhibit sherry like aromas.
Palate A term used for the feel and flavor of a beer in the mouth.
Papery Having an aroma of paper (see Oxidized)
Peppery A beer with the aromas and flavors reminiscent of the fruit from the pepper family of plants such as peppercorn
Perfumy A generally negative term used to describe an aspect of a beer’s aroma or bouquet that seems artificial or overly flowery.
Phenolic Aromas of plastic, burnt plastic, Bakelite or tar. In low levels it is acceptable in certain beer styles (like German Wheat beers)
Phenylethanol Aromas of a Rose-like nature
Plummy A beer with the fruit flavors of plum, more common in aged and darker beers
Powerful A beer with a high level of alcohol that is not excessively alcoholic.
Raisony A beer with the aromas and flavors reminiscent of dried grapes
Resinous Aromas of resin, cedar wood, pine, pinewood, sprucy, terpenoid, sap
Rich A sense of depth or fullness in the beer that is not excessively sweet.
Robust A full bodied beer
Round A beer that has a good sense of body and balance
Salty Mouth coating and slick feel (uncommon in beer)
Sharp A term normally used to describe the acidity of a beer though it can refer to the degree of bitterness derived from a beer’s hops.
Silky A rich mouthfeel of smoothness
Sherry like A term used to describe a beer that exhibits sherry like oxidized aromas
Skunky Aromas like a skunk, see light struck
Smokey A beer exhibiting the aromas and flavors of the various types of smoke, either from smoked malt or from roasted malts or a toasty smoke derived from oak influences.
Smooth A beer with a pleasing texture. Typically refers to a beer with soft notes and flavors and a creamy texture
Soapy Having the aroma or flavor of soap
Soft A beer that is not overly hoppy or overly carbonated
Sour A tart flavor, often acidic, sometimes puckering. Appropriate in some beer styles (Belgian browns, Lambic beers, etc)
Spicy A beer with aromas and flavors reminiscent of various spices. While this can be a characteristic of the yeast strain, many spicy notes are imparted from hop influences or even the use of spices in the beer. Also may be from high alcohol content
Stale Aromas and flavors of old and oxidized beer, flat and papery, possibly over aged, or over pasteurized
Stalky A woody, green herbaceous note in a beer.
Structure A term used to describe the solid components of a beer’s balance; malt sweetness, yeast notes, hop aroma & flavors, all in relation to the overall balance and body of the beer.
Sulfur Aromas of sulfur– when obvious a defect in all beer styles but at very low levels it can add to fullness
Sulfidic Having aromas of strong sulfur, rotten eggs, or natural gas – a defect in all beer styles
Sulfitic Having noticeable aromas of a burnt-match or burnt rubber – a defect in all beer styles
Supple A beer that is not overly dynamic
Sweet A beer with a noticeable sense of malt sugar. Also usually lacking in hop balance
Tannic A beer with aggressive tannins.
Tart A beer with high levels of acidity. As related to sour beers or possibly an infection in other beer styles.
Texture A term for the mouthfeel of beer on the palate.
Thick A beer that is overly full in palate and mouthfeel
Thin A beer that is lacking body and complexity
Tight A beer that is well put together, properly matured and optimally served.
Toasty Notes from malt character like that of toasted bread. Can also be a sense of the charred or smoky taste from an oaked beer in wood aged beers
Toffee Aromas or flavors of caramel, browned sugar, treacle.
Turbid Cloudy and opaque
Under Attenuated A term for a not fully fermented beer. Having flavors or components of wort or wortiness. (see worty)
Undertone The more subtle nuances, aromas and flavors of beer. Having flavors or components of wort or wortiness. (see worty)
Upfront A beer with very perceivable characteristics and quality that do not require much thought or effort to discover.
Vanilla Characteristic aroma reminiscent of vanilla – often oak induced
Vegetal A beer with aromas and flavor reminiscent of vegetation either cooked or raw. In the case of cooked, as in cooked greens or cooked cabbage, parsnip or celery
Viscous thick in a fluid nature, having excessive heaviness of character in the body or mouthfeel
Vinous An aroma, flavor or texture suggesting wine – usually in higher alcohol beers
Voluptuous A beer with a full body and rich texture.
Warm or Warming A beer with noticeable but balanced alcohol as opposed to a beer with excessive alcohol that maybe described as “hot”.
Watery A beer that is excessively “thin” in body
Woody A collective term used to describe the woodsy aroma of a beer that has been treated with oak or other wood.
Worty Having a taste of wort or unfermented beer, usually disagreeably sweet and lacking complexity
Yeasty Often uses to describe a yeast noticeable aroma – can be also be described as somewhat “biscuity”, bready or of fresh yeast, flavor of heated thiamine (see “biscuity” above)
Young Beer that is not matured (see Green)
Zesty A beer with noticeable active carbonation.