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Glossary of Home Wine and Beer Making Terms


ACETIFICATION: The conversion of our precious alcohol into vinegar. Probably one of the largest risks for the home brewer and is one of the main reasons we are so keen in keeping everything sterile

ACID: The sour constituent in wine which may be citric, tartaric, malic or lactic, but must not be acetic. The riper the grapes are the more tartaric and the less malic acid they contain. Malic acid is contained in many fruits but particularly in apples. When wine is allowed to stand on its yeast deposit during warm weather it frequently becomes less acid through the malic acid turning into a milder acid, namely lactic acid. This is the acid which is present in milk when it goes sour and this change to a milder acidity is known as the malo-lactic fermentation. Most wines generally have an acid content between 0.5 & 0.75%. All acids are interchangeable, if a recipe names a specific acid you can ignore this & use any. This can save you money as you now only need one tub of acid rather than three, quite a few winemakers, like me, settle for tartaric acid as any excess settles out in the bottle in the form of “argols”. See Argols, Citric, Malic & Tartaric acids.

ACID BLEND/MIX: People who worry too much about which is the correct acid to use can make a mixture of approximately 1 part citric, 2 parts malic & 3 parts tartaric acid (quantities not at all critical). Personally I find this expensive (you need 3 acids not 1) & wasteful (it will be years out of date by the time you use half of it). Just settle for 1 type (see Acid above). By careful selection of ingredients it is often possible to design a recipe that needs no additional acid, if some is needed, you can always shove in a stick of rhubarb.

ADJUNCTS: Can be used to reduce the cost of beers, add flavour, improve head retention and lower the nitrogen content to avoid hazes. Examples include flaked rice, sugar, maize, oats and wheat syrup.

AIRLOCK: A device that lets carbon dioxide escape from a fermentation, and prevents spoilage organisms from entering the brewing vessel. It should be half-filled with water, sodium metabisulphite solution or Campden tablet solution. See sterilizer.

ALCOHOL: You know the clear liquid in wine & beer ... that makes us fall down.

ALPHA ACID: Is the part of the hop that adds bitterness to a beer.

ANADA: a nursery for young sherry.

ARGOLS: (See Cream Of Tartar). The beautiful, harmless, tiny glass-like crystals that sometimes appear in bottles of wine, sometimes attached to the cork. It is the potassium salt of tartaric acid & is known chemically as potassium hydrogen tartrate, potassium tartrate or dipotassium tartrate & has the formula K2C4H4O6. One advantage of using Tartaric acid for wine making is that any excess will be deposited in the form of these crystals when the wine is cooled.

BALANCE: A tasting term. Wines said to have balance have a harmonious combination of tannin, acidity, texture and flavour. All good wines are balanced. With beers the balance is between the malt, hops & alcohol.

BARLEY: The main grain used in brewing, usually after malting but roasted grains can be used for colour, flavour & head retention.

BARLEY WINE: A very strong beer, or a wine whose main ingredient is barley.

BEER: An alcoholic drink made from malted barley & hops using a top-fermenting yeast. A generic term for all beers & lagers.

BENTONITE: See Fining. Clay, found around Fort Benton in the USA that can be used as a fining agent. Because it is negatively charged, it attracts positively charged particles, causing large clumps to form & settle out. Other uses include Mascara but please do not be liberal with this information as some people may not like the idea of paying lots of money for some mud to stick on their faces to fill in any cracks.

BITTERNESS: Is added to beer by alpha acid in the hops, the bitterness is proportional to the alpha acid & quantities of the hops used & is measured in EBUs (European Bittering units) or IBUs (International Bitterness Units) which are identical in value.

BLENDING: Mixing different varieties wine to produce the desired balance for the final wine. You are more likely to get the exact balance you are after by mixing different wine of known types to get the result than it is trying to get there by using the exact balance of original ingredients. Basically you have 2 brews one is low in character x and the other is too full of character x so you mix the two and hey presto you have solved the problem. Blending is a fine art and is the method that many very fine wines undergo to produce exactly the result the brewer intends.

BODY: This is one of the key components of wine tasting and it really seems odd that I cannot describe it. I know adding bananas to country wines adds body and so I often to this. I know what a thin wine tastes like but again how to describe it? Get two glasses & a good quality red, at least 5 years old, one glass will have the red poured normally at room temperature 20C ish and in the other glass, the wine is diluted with 50% water. Both need to be the same temp. The dilute one has less body (it is thinner) than the undiluted one. Mind you, it will have less aroma and less alcohol, so, is this a good idea? Probably not!

BOTTLES: You know what a bottle is. You know the glass thing that holds your wine, beer....

BOTTOMS: (Lees). The deposit that settles in a fermenter or storage vessel. Usually contains dead yeast cells and other debris from the wine.

BOUQUET: The all important aroma of wine.

BRANDY: A high alcohol beverage made by distilling wine.

BOTTOM FERMENTING: See Yeast. Lagers are bottom fermented.

BREWERS YEAST: See Yeast. Usually top-fermenting for beers & bottom fermenting for lagers.

CAMPDEN TABLET: See Sterilizer. Consists of sodium metabisulphate, when a tablet is dissolved in water or wine it releases 50 ppm (parts per million) of sulphur dioxide (DO NOT inhale - Bill Clinton). Can be used as a sterilizer & to prevent the growth of unwanted spoilage yeasts & bacteria

CARBON DIOXIDE: CO2  This is the gas produced during fermentation.

CARBONATED WINES: Wines that have carbon dioxide gas in them causing them to be sparkling. This is normally done by means of fermentation producing the bubbles but sometime I guess they just inject the wine with CO2 as if it were lemonade.

CASEIN (POTASSIUM CASEINITE): See Fining. A wine positively charged fining agent, the predominant phosphoprotein (no, I don’t understand either) found in fresh milk. Its action is quite harsh, stripping some of the flavour from a wine and reducing tannins.

CASKS: Oak containers of various sizes:-

            Fuder of German wine = approx. 220 gallons (Basically a lot and often these casks have very ornate woodwork.)

            Tun or Tonneau = 190 gallons (Used for burgundy)

            Pipe = 115 gallons (Used for port)

            Butt = 108 gallons (Used for sherry)

            Hogshead = 57 gallons (Used for port. Not all Hogsheads are the same size it kind of depends if it holds Sherry or port)

            Hogshead = 54 gallons (Size is right if used for sherry)


            Barrel = 36 gallons

            Kilderkin = 18 gallons

            Firkin = 9 gallons

            Pin = 41 gallons

CHAMPAGNE: See Sparkling Wine, a sparkling wine from the Champagne area of France.

CHILL HAZE: Sometimes occurs when a beer is chilled, caused by nitrogen in the malted barley, it is only temporary & is not harmful, neither does it cause ill effects to the drinker.

CHITOSAN: See Fining. A positively charged wine fining agent derived from the shells of crabs, shrimps &lobsters etc. Sometimes added 24 hours after Kieselsol. It is quite gentle in its action as it does not strip a wine of its flavour.

CITRIC ACID: A natural acid that occurs mainly in citrus fruits, berries & red/white currants. If added to a finished wine to increase acidity, citric acid gives the wine an artificial freshness of flavour.

CORKED: A tasting term used to describe a wine contaminated by a of mould infection of the cork and NOT, as many people think, one that has bits of cork floating about in it. The result may be a wine that is “lacking” and can be difficult to spot, or it may be terribly obvious, with wet cardboardy, musty, mushroomy & dank aromas and flavours.

CONDITION: Describes the bubbles in a beer, the more bubbles, the better the condition. In homebrew it is normally produced by a secondary fermentation in the bottle or storage barrel but can be produced by injection of gas in the barrel, most commercial beers use the second (cheaper) method for all their beers.

COPPER FININGS: Irish moss, a seaweed extract, added to the copper in the last 15 minutes of the boil to help the beer to fall bright and clear by coagulating unwanted proteins in the wort.

CREAM OF TARTAR: (See Argols) Have you ever noticed a white crystalline deposit at the bottom of a bottle of wine? This is what is called Cream of Tartar and whilst it is the sign of a very good quality wine the average punter does not like to see any deposits in their wine and so commercial wineries go to length to get the deposit to settle prior to bottling. It is basically salts from tartaric acid and can be made to deposit out of the wine by allowing the wine to be chilled for a period prior to bottling. The cold accelerates the depositing of these white crystals. I love to see a few but that's me.

CRIADERA: successive stages in blending Sherries.

DEMIJOHN: A glass vessel with a large a body of about 4.5l (1 UK gall) useable capacity & has 2 small looped handles (“ears”) at its short narrow neck. Normally used for making/maturing wines or small quantities of (usually strong) beer.

DRY: A wine or beer with no residual sweetness, all the sugars have been fermented. Note that beers are “sweetened” with non-fermentable sugars.
See Sweet.

ENZYMES: Used in winemaking and brewing to promote structural breakdown in the ingredients. Pectic Enzymes (Pectin-destroying enzymes) help prevent pectin hazes in wines.

FERMENTATION: The biological process performed by yeast to convert a sugary fluid into one containing alcohol. Sugary fluids are normally fruit juice and the resultant alcohol is that in the end product such as wine. In beer making the sugary fluid is the wort made from malted barley. Note however this is the common use of the term “fermentation” and also in common use is the malo-lactic fermentation which does not involve yeast.

FINAL GRAVITY: See Specific Gravity. The Specific Gravity of a fully-fermented wine or beer.

FINING: A method of clarifying a wine by adding to it an inert or a soluble substance which becomes insoluble by interaction with tannin and settles down to the bottom, pulling suspended matter down with it.

FLOWERS OF WINE: A white skin which gradually forms on wines exposed to air. This will decompose the wine eventually. (Not to be confused with Flor, a sherry film.)

FLOR: Sherry yeast, under some conditions will form a wrinkled skin consisting of yeast on top of sherry causing it to develop strong sherry flavour and to become dry and pale.

FORTIFICATION: the addition of grape spirit or other strong alcohol to wine or grape juice as in the production of sherry and port.

GALLON: 8 UK pints or 160 oz = 1 Imperial gallon = approximately 4.5litres     128 oz = 1 American gallon, 

GELATINE: See Fining. A positively charged beer and wine fining agent that is produced by the prolonged boiling of animal skin/connective tissue/bones (YUK!). Best for red wines as it reduces excessive tannins (negatively charged), the effect can be reduced by adding Kieselsol (negatively charged) 24 hours earlier.

GRAVITY DROP: The difference between the Original Gravity (O. G.) & Final Gravity (F. G.) of a must or wort. The % alcohol (by volume i.e. the ABV) content of any beer or wine is approximately equal to the gravity drop divided by 7.45.

                        % alcohol = O.G. – F. G.
GRIST: In beer making it is the mixture of crushed malt and adjuncts ready to add to the liquor (water) for mashing.

HAZE: See Chill Haze. Hazes are not harmful, nor do they cause ill health. Not to be confused with an “off” beer which will react quite violently with your stomach, but such beers will smell vile. Some beers are naturally hazy but we, the drinkers, have come to expect crystal-clear beers over the years, many commercial brewers have used this as a selling point, thus turning us away from anything not “perfect”.

HOPS: The dried flowers of the hop plant are added to beers, helping, along with the malt & adjuncts, to give them their characteristic aromas and flavours; hops also help to preservatives beer. Different types of hop have different characteristics, including their alpha acid content, which gives bitterness (measured in IBUs) to beer. 

HYDROMETER: A device floated in a liquid to measure its specific gravity, which is indicated on a scale. Dave Line states that hydrometers have a magical quality that always makes the scale face away from the observer, my observations back this theory 100%.

IBUs: International Bitterness Units. 1 IBU = 1 EBU. See EBU.

IRISH MOSS: See Copper Finings. A beer kettle fining derived from seaweed (Carrageen). Add 1 teaspoon per 5 gallons to the last 15 minus of the boil to enhance the cold break (protein coagulation).

ISINGLASS: See Fining. Sometimes known as fish glue, it is a positively charged, gently acting fining agent made from the swim bladders of American and Russian sturgeon.

ISOMERISE: To change a chemical compound from one molecular structure to another whilst retaining its molecular formula. With hops the isomerisation is caused by boiling in water.

KIESELSOL: See Fining. A negatively charged wine fining agent, an aqueous suspension of silicon dioxide, a by-product of the glass industry. Sometimes added 24 hours before Chitosan or gelatine.

LAGER: A “beer” made with bottom-fermenting yeast, with a slow fermentation and stored longer& at lower temperatures than other beers for maturation. Lager is a German term meaning to store. See Beer.

LEES (See BOTTOMS, I’m not sure I’ve worded that right!): The sediment of dead yeast cells and other debris at the bottom of wine that has been left to settle.

LEGS (or TEARS): Refers to the tear-like tracks that a wine makes down the side of a glass. Not essential for assessing the quality of a wine or a sign of quality, although some drinkers do pass comment, I personally love to see nice legs but I don’t like tears.

LENGTH: Describes how long the flavour of the wine persists on the palate after swallowing. A lengthy persistence of flavour is usually considered to be a sign of quality.

LIQUOR: Brewer's term for water.

LITRE: The standard Metric unit of volume which is often divided into tenths (centilitres or cl) or thousandths (millilitres or ml). Personally I prefer to work with Metric units, they are universal & not as confusing as Imperial or US measurements (see Gallon). 4.5l = 7.92 UK pints= 1 UK gall (approx.) = 9.5 US pints = 1 US gallon + 1.5 pints (approx.). See what I mean?

LOVIBOND: A scale, in degrees, on which American brewers measure the colour of malt, wort and occasionally the colour of beer. See EBC & SRM.

MALIC ACID: Mainly found in apples, bananas, pears & stoned fruit. It has a sharp, green (appley) taste which may be desirable in some white wines, in others (especially reds) it is not.

MALO-LACTIC FERMENTATION: This is a form of fermentation that converts the Malic Acid into Lactic acid. It is performed by a bacteria and is much sought after in the wine making process. It is often called the “malo”. To ensure you get the malo you need this bacteria present which if you are using grapes that are not too well sterilized then you probably will have some of the bacteria. Once fermentation is complete and before bottling you need the new wine to reach reasonable warm temperatures 25C, too hot and it will spoil the wine too cold and there will be no Malo.

MALT: Barley that has been germinated and then roasted to varying degrees. This releases enzymes, mainly diastase, that can convert starches to simpler sugars that the yeast can feed on and produce alcohol, and the roasting stops the process of growth. Normally sold according to the degree of colour from the kilning, e.g. Pale, Amber & Lager malts.

MALT EXTRACT: A concentrated syrup (“wet”) or powder (“dry”) made from malted barley. Widely used in beer kits, and by home brewers to save them having to mash the malt.

MALTOSE: The primary sugar obtained from malt by the mashing process.

MASH: Coarsely ground malt & adjuncts are mixed with hot water to form a “porridge” & kept at about 62-69°C for 90 minutes or so, thus activating the enzymes in the malted barley to convert the starches into sugars ready for fermenting.

MASH TUN: The container in which a brewer mashes.

MUST: In winemaking it is the crushed fruit, sugar and juices before fermentation into wine.

NOSE: The “nose” of a wine describes its smell or aroma.

NUTRIENT: Provides an easy accessible form of the nitrogen, amino acids, trace elements & vitamin B1 required by the yeast. 

OENOLOGY: The study of wine-also spelt Enology. (Thanks to S. M. Tritton for this one)

OENOLOGIST: A student of wine-also spelt Enologist. (Thanks to S. M. Tritton for this one)

OLOROSO: Sweet full bodied dark sherry.

ORIGINAL GRAVITY (O. G.): See Specific Gravity. The Specific Gravity of a wine must or beer wort before fermentation.

OXIDATION: Browning under the influence of air which causes spoilage except in the case of sherry which is an oxidised wine. A good demonstration of oxidation when an apple is cut & left for a short period, the apple turns brown.

PECTIN ENZYME: Is usually added at the rate of about 5g/1 tsp per 4.5 litres of wine must to prevent “pectin hazes”, greater doses are added when using high pectin fruits such as damsons & quinces. Pectin is highly desirable when making jams.

PETILLANT: a wine which has a slight content of carbon dioxide.

PRIMING: The addition of a small amount of sugar or malt extract to a beer to give it condition after bottle fermentation. Sparkling wines can also be primed with sugar or grape juice etc.

pH: A technical term relating to a compounds acidity/alkalinity. With a scale of 1 to 14, 1 is the strongest acid, 7 is neutral & 14 is the highest alkalinity.
I prefer to use acidity as a percentage, I find it much easier to understand & work with.

POTASSIUM SORBATE (E202): An antifungal and antibacterial preservative that can be used as a wine stabilizer, it has no known adverse effects.

RACKING: Separating the clear wine from the sediment (Lees). This is conventionally done by siphoning but can be done by careful pouring.


SOLERA: A system of maturing and blending sherry.

SPARKLING WINE: a wine containing a natural effervescence such as Champagne.

SPARGE/SPARGING: After mashing a beer & drawing off the wort, the remaining grains are washed with hot water to remove as much of the remaining sugars as possible.

SPECIFIC GRAVITY (S. G.): The density of any substance, relative to water which has a density of 1000 or 1 or 0 depending on the method used. For example, if a beer wort or a wine must has a gravity, or S. G. of 1050 sometimes quoted as 1.050 or 50° then it is 50% heavier than the same volume of water. Similarly, a Specific Gravity of 995 or 0.995 or -5°, then it is only 99.5% of the equivalent volume of water.

SRM: Stands for Standard Reference Method & is the American brewer’s measure of the colour of beer and the grains & adjuncts used to brew it. SRM is roughly equivalent to Lovibond, and about 0.58 of the EBC value. See EBC & Lovibond.

STUCK FERMENTATION: Describes a fermentation that has ceased before all the sugar has been used by the yeast. This is most commonly owing to the lack of nutrients, incorrect temperature, too high sugar content, alcohol content too high or an incorrect choice of yeast strain. I have used stuck fermentation to great effect when making sweet wines, once the wine has reached its designed strength, shoving in a big dollop of sugar solution overpowers the yeast, which stops working, & sweetens the wine. Allow for the volume of the sugar solution when designing/making your wine. Secondary fermentation should not be a problem. See Sugar Syrup/Solution below.

SUGAR: Approximately half of sugar is turned into alcohol & half into CO2 during the fermentationprocess.

SUGAR SYRUP/SOLUTION: In winemaking especially, it is generally much easier/better to add sugar as a solution. Just put the sugar in a pan with some water, heat & stir until the sugar dissolves (no need to boil). A solution gravity of 1300 is easily achieved & concentrated enough for most purposes, for each 100g sugar add about 62.5ml water to produce about 125ml sugar syrup.

SWEET: A wine or beer with some residual sweetness. For wines there are several degrees of sweetness & most people seem to have their own definitions, thus rendering the system fatally flawed. So here are my (arbitrary) definitions which mostly increase in nice, easy 5° steps:


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