Craft Beer Slang 101: How to Talk Like a Beer Geek

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From "shelf turds" to "fish killers," we decode the idiosyncratic language of the beer world, with the help of some experts.

At its heart, brewing beer is simply another form of cooking. “I’m just making oatmeal” or “Just whipping up some soup,” has humbly been said by many a brewer at work. Perhaps it’s no surprise then that just like chefs, brewers have their own slang for when they’re working in their own kitchens—the brewery.

Unlike so many culinary slang terms which have escaped the back room and become popularized thanks to all those cable cooking shows, brewing argot remains a bit of a mystery. Even many savvy beer drinkers can struggle to explain certain processes, to know just what things are actually called. What is un-fermented beer known as? Who’s this Brett guy? Why does my favorite brewer keep “sparging” things? That doesn’t sound healthy.

Likewise, hardcore craft beer fans have developed their own pervasive slang, more nerd parlance than anything else. In fact, go to a big-time beer geek event and you might accidentally think you stumbled into Comic-Con: Bearded, chubby dudes in logoed t-shirts and cargo shorts, talking a language you can technically understand, but which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense contextually.

“Whales” and “shelf turds.” Is that beer “crushable” or a “drain pour”? And, oh, should we meet for a “share” next weekend? Sometimes you might even wonder if these geeks are intentionally being goofy, tongue firmly planted in cheek as they wonder if all these people waiting in line to buy a rare IPA are actually “mules.”

To help understand this unique industry vernacular, we reached out to a handful of brewers for help:

George Adams, owner and head brewer at GAEL Brewing Co. (Geneva, NY)

Mike Alcorn, founder and chief craftologist at CB Craft Brewers (Honeoye Falls, NY)

Molly Danger, “chief cat herder” at Country Boy Brewing (Lexington, KY)

Brandon Floan, co-founder and head brewer at Ethereal Brewing (Lexington, KY)

Adam Kujawski, co-founder of Nedloh Brewing Company (East Bloomfield, NY)

Dawn Schulz, owner of Prison City Brewing (Auburn, NY)

John Urlaub, owner of Rohrbach’s  Brewing Company (Rochester, NY)

Baptism by trub

Trub is the lees, or layer of sediment, at the bottom of the fermenter after the yeast has completed the bulk of the fermentation. "Baptism by trub" is when a new brewer accidentally gets hit with some form of cold beer yeast, hops, or trub while on the job.—Schulz 


31 U.S. gallons. A unit that breweries use to measure yearly output. A common “keg” is actually a half barrel, or 15.5 gallons.—Danger


Abbreviation for “barrel” and how brewers measure all beer (ie: “I brew on a 5 bbl system” or “I brewed 2000 bbls last year.”) —Schulz

Bottle share (or simply “Share”)

When beer geeks congregate and bring along beers to share with other collectors. These bottles are often expensive, rare, and more coveted beers, allowing more people to taste limited offerings.—Schulz


Short for Brettanomyces, a wild yeast (now domesticated) used in fermentation. It often turns beers tart and funky.—Floan


Bacteria (like Pediococcus) and/or wild yeast (like Brettanomyces) used in fermentation.—Floan


The wooden stopper in old-style Hoff-Stevens kegs. It needs to be removed (“de-bunged”) with a bung hammer and then replaced (“bunging the keg”) when cleaning and filling the kegs.—Urlaub


A fully-automated brewery, usually made in Germany.—Danger


The level of carbonation of a beer in volumes of CO2.—Alcorn


“Case equivalents.” How distributors measure beer sales in units.—Schulz


To lower the temperature on a fermenter to make the yeast go dormant and sink to the bottom of the fermenter.—Danger


A unique can/growler hybrid, first created by Oskar Blues Brewery, which is becoming increasingly popular at certain bars and breweries. Prison City has a Crowler system.—Schulz


An easy-going, super-drinkable beer. These are well-balanced beers with low-to-medium alcohol by volume (ABV) but tons of flavor that make you want to go back for more. “Oh man, Founders All Day IPA is so crushable."—Kujawski


A descriptive term used for hoppy beers, especially IPAs, meaning it has sticky, resin-y, and marijuana-like characteristics.—Schulz

D.E.A.D. Time

“Drop Everything And Drink.” This is when everyone working in the brewery stops to taste samples of beer going to the canning line immediately before it runs, which acts as a measure of quality control.—Urlaub

Diacetyl bomb

A beer that has a noticeable buttery/butterscotch flavor due to improper fermentation.—Danger

Drain pour

A beer that is so bad you have to pour it down the drain instead of drinking it. Labeling certain coveted beers as “drain pours” has become a sport amongst the snobbiest of beer geeks.—Schulz

Drop yeast

To remove dormant yeast from fermented beer.—Danger


A nine-gallon cask.—Schulz

Fish killer

A six-pack ringing machine, so called because the plastic rings have long been rumored to kill marine life who get stuck in them.—Danger


Flocculation refers to the ability of yeast to bind together after fermentation has occurred and fall out of solution. Generally, Belgian beers and wild yeast beers do not like to flocc, and thus create cloudier beers like witbiers and saisons. (As we say, “Brett don’t give a flocc.”)—Floan


A combination of fittings used to pull yeast and hops from the bottom port of a fermenter. It is shaped like a goose’s neck.—Alcorn


Term of endearment for a 32-ounce growler.—Adams


An over-carbonated beer, so called because it immediately gushes out of the bottle once opened, usually making a mess and causing you to lose beer.—Danger

High gravity beer

Beers with increased ethanol and thus a higher ABV.—Floan

Hop rocket

A device used to extract essential oils and flavors from beer ingredients such as hops (or vanilla beans). See “torpedo” below, another name for the device.—Danger


Someone who appreciates highly-hopped beer like IPAs.—Kujawski

Hot water!

The phrase shouted to let folks know that the brewers are sending water to a tank in the cellar, so that someone walking by does not get inadvertently soaked.—Urlaub 

Ivory-billed woodpecker

A well-drained brewery, based on the quote from Robin at West Sixth Brewing: “A well-drained brewery is like an Ivory-billed woodpecker.” Meaning, people claim they exist, but no one has seen one for at least 50 years.—Danger


A descriptive term used for New England-style IPAs, meaning it has a citrus fruit character (courtesy of certain hops) and juice-like mouth-feel.—Schulz


Pronounced “love” and short for lovibond, a standard of measurement for the color of beer/grains. Higher lov indicates darker color.—Floan

Low fills

Cans of beer that fall below the minimum fill level for a quality cans. These cans are given to the brewers to be “destructively tested.”—Urlaub

Mash in

An early step in the brewing process in which grain is mixed with hot water.—Danger

Mash out

A later step in the brewing process in which spent grain is separated from the wort.—Danger

Minnow basket

The screen filter basket in the hop rocket/torpedo.—Danger 


A person who stands in a beer line to get a limited release beer for another person, surely inspired by the term “drug mule.” —Schulz


A device used for sampling beer directly from a bright tank. It keeps the beer from foaming up.—Danger 


A 4.5 gallon cask.—Schulz

Pitch yeast

Add yeast to wort, which begins the fermentation process.—Danger 

Sample cock

A device on a fermentation vessel which is used to take samples of beer for measurements and taste.—Alcorn

Shelf turd

A common beer easily found at your local store or, even worse, grocery story. This is not even necessarily a bad beer (i.e. “Can you believe KBS is turding it up at Whole Foods?”)

Spent grain

The barley left over after mashing in. Breweries often give it to local farmers to feed their pigs, or even use it for bread, pizza crust, or cookies.—Schulz


? keg of beer.—Alcorn


Checking off beers you want to try, usually just by having a sip or two of them. Ticking is often the sport of looking for new beers just for the sake of “ticking (them) off” or saying you’ve tried them. A “ticker” is someone who participates in such activities.—Schulz


A device used to extract essential oils and flavors from beer ingredients such as hops.—Danger


An ultra-rare beer you may never find, so dubbed in honor of Ahab and his long-time search for Moby Dick. The rarest of the rare are sometimes called “white whales.” (“Pliny isn’t a whale—Cantillon Don Quijote, now that’s a whale!”)


Liquid from grain that is boiled in the kettle with hops before going into the fermenter. Essentially, un-fermented beer. —Danger

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