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Terms That Describe Beer

On Monday we talked about the words most commonly used to describe beer taste in a home brew supply catalog, and my research for that post made me realize how little I knew about the terms that describe beer qualities. I did a little more research and brought together the definitions of four terms that describe the inherent qualities of a beer, specifically “Bouquet (Nose),” “Body,” “Gravity,” and “Finish.”

When you look at these terms you can probably take a good guess at what they refer to, and you’d probably be pretty close. Gravity might be the only word here that is vague at first glance. Even so, if you want a thorough understanding of the science of home brewing it will help to know precise definitions.

Bouquet (also called Nose”) – This is the array of smells that you experience before tasting the beer. The aromas come from the specific combination of the malt, hops, and yeast in the beer. The bouquet of a hoppy beer might be described as “spicy” or “citrusy,” while the nose of a malty beer might be referred to as “roasty” or “smoky.”

Body – The best way to describe “body” without going deeper into complex terminology is that it describes the texture and feel of a beer in your mouth. The body of a beer can be described as light or thin, rich, full, or heavy. Other words that might describe the body are creamy, dry, oily, or velvety.

Gravity – In short, gravity refers to how alcoholic the beer is. The long definition is that gravity refers to the specific gravity of the wort (un-fermented beer) when it is brewed, and this is a measurement of the density of the beer compared to the density of water. The specific gravity tells you how much sugar is present in the wort, which generally translates to how much alcohol will be present in the beer after fermentation. It is not uncommon to hear very alcoholic beers referred to as “high gravity” beers.

Finish – The lingering aftertaste of a beer is called the finish. Some beers have a long lingering finish, some beers have almost no finish.
Fun fact: the flavor receptors at the very back of the tongue are especially sensitive to bitterness, which is why hoppy beers like IPA’s tend to linger for a long time. This is why swallowing is considered part of beer tasting.

With these terms in mind I would like to try to describe my current favorite beer, Deschutes’ Black Butte Porter. Full disclosure: I’m writing this at 6:30 a.m. so I don’t have this beer in hand. I’m going from memory.

I would say that the nose definitely has a roasty quality, with maybe a touch of coffee and chocolate to it. You might expect this beer to be heavy-bodied given the dark color, but I would say it is surprisingly light. Maybe you would call it medium-bodied. At 5.2% alcohol by volume this beer isn’t high gravity, but it isn’t a lightweight either. The finish isn’t bitter at all. This beer leaves the delightful warmth of chocolate and a little vanilla. So delicious!

Using bouquet/nose, body, gravity, and finish, how would you describe your favorite beer?

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