Craft Beer Acronyms - Cheat Sheet

Admittedly, I have been known to dismiss the acronyms you see on your favorite craft beers these days as useless numbers that don't contribute anything to the actual idea of enjoying the beer in your hand. This holds true, but if you're at all curious about the way breweries measure their beer to provide a consistent product for you, then read on.

Beer, like chicken, is not difficult to make, but it's difficult to make well...especially over hundreds of brewing cycles. There are a LOT of factors the contribute to the flavor, aroma, color, style, and general consistency of your favorite beers. Anheuser-Busch (ABI), in their infinite wisdom, are spectacularly good at making the same yellow beer over and over again. Frankly (and it pains me marginally to say this), craft breweries purchased by large domestic breweries are probably only going to see an improvement in their beer quality once the boffins over at these domestic producers inject their financial capital and brewing process into the craft brewery's coffers.

This certainly does not hold true at a lot of our favorite craft breweries, but I mention all this as a means to an end. Breweries need to measure their product. They need quality control built into their process so that they're making great beer, and doing it efficiently and effectively.

Fun fact - Many of your favorite Scotch distilleries employ master blenders and someone called "the nose" (or something to that effect), whose job it is to smell and test the scotch to determine if its ready to be bottled and sold. The job interview for that position involves living in a peat bog for 2 years, just so you can attain a fundamental and organic knowledge about the Scottish landscape. This isn't true, but it might be worth it even if it was true.

The most popular metrics breweries use to baseline a beer's quality, besides the oh-so-critical taste-test, are:

ABV - If you don't know this one, I might start judging you a little bit. This is the Alcohol by Volume, expressed as a percentage of the total liquid in the container that's alcohol. Every alcoholic beverage in the world uses this as a measuring stick for their product.

SRM - A significantly lesser known measurement, the Standard Reference Method is used to determine a beer's color, using science and stuff. This is determined by shining a particular wavelength of light (at 430 nm to be precise) through 1 centimeter of the beer to measure the attenuation of the light. I won't go any further here, because this isn't remotely interesting. For those of you with eyes, you can also just look at the beer to determine the color.

OG - Beer is full of stuff besides water, so we measure the Specific Gravity, or relative density compare to water's density, to figure out a lot of useful information about the liquid. Specifically, brewers use this measurement to ascertain the relative sugar content in their wort before it's fermented. This pre-fermentation gravity is called the Original Gravity (OG). Because water's density is always rated at 1, the wort's density is always higher than 1, because of the aforementioned "stuff" thats now contributing to the increased density of the liquid.

FG - We all know that yeast eats the sugar in the wort (because we've all read the this page right?) to make the beer alcoholic. This process actually lowers the density of the liquid (both because there's less sugar in the wort and because ethanol, which is now present in the beer, is noticeably less dense than water), resulting in a Final Gravity (FG). Brewer's use this measurement, compare it to the OG while the wort is fermenting, to figure out when the beer is done! When the gravity stops falling, or reaches a desired level, they can start drinking it, which is really the whole point.

IBU - We have dedicated an entire section of the website to explain IBUs to people, but very quickly, this stands for International Bitterness Units. This is a scientific measurement that can assess the number of bitter compounds in a beer, which we then assign a number to. Ostensibly, this has very little to do with how a beer actually tastes, and nothing to do with how much alcohol is in the beer.

The OPP - How do I explain it...O is for Other, P is for People scratchin' temple
The last P...well...that's not that simple.


- Chris


Chris McClellan