Bier Blog #6 - The Alphabet Soup of Beer

beer foam alphabet

Whether you’re a regular beer drinker or not, you’ve probably noticed the plethora of acronyms and abbreviations used around the beer world. It’s reminiscent of the amalgam of letters floating around your alphabet soup when you were a child. Chances are, you’ve seen these on beer bottles or during a brewery tour. By the end of this article, you’ll sound like a regular cicerone to your friends next time you’re at the pub.

ABV

Most people are familiar with this abbreviation. ABV stands for Alcohol By Volume. The ABV is determined using an instrument called a hydrometer. Essentially, ABV tells us the portion of the entire volume that is actually alcohol. Here is a pretty cool chart of some popular beer styles and their average ABV:

ABV chart

IBU

Ah, the IBU acronym. These three letters are adored by hopheads and they strike disgust in those whom have said, “I can’t drink XYZ beer because it’s too hoppy.” IBU stands for International Bitterness Unit. Beer gets its bitterness from the oils of hop additions. The more oils extracted results in a more bitter beer and is given a higher IBU rating. All beers have hops added to them, thus all beers are given an IBU rating. With some styles, the hop flavors are faint depending on the amount of hops added or the particular style of beer malts may mask the hop flavors.

Lager - 8-12 IBU
pale-straw
Scottish Ale - 10-20 IBU
pale gold
Porter - 20-40 IBU
pale gold
English Bitter - 30-40 IBU
straw
Stout - 30-50 IBU
pale gold
IPA - 60-80 IBU
pale gold
Barleywine - 70-100 IBU
pale gold
Imperial IPA - 80-100 IBU
pale gold

SRM

This could be a new one for a lot of beer lovers. Standard Reference Method (SRM) is a system used to tell us the intensity of the beer color. It’s basically a rainbow for beer -- sounds awesome, right? -- The system was developed by nerds chemists who wanted a method to measure the absorptivity of a wavelength of 430 nanometers passing through one centimeter of beer. The range goes from 2 (very light) to 80 (very dark).

SRM Level: 2 - Pilsner pale-straw
SRM Level: 3 - Wheat straw
SRM Level: 4 - Maibock pale gold
SRM Level: 6 - Pale Ale pale gold
SRM Level: 9 - IPA pale gold
SRM Level: 12 - Brown Ale pale gold
SRM Level: 15 - Brown Ale pale gold
SRM Level: 18 - Bock pale gold
SRM Level: 20 - Porter pale gold
SRM Level: 24 - Oatmeal Stout pale gold
SRM Level: 30 - Foreign Stout pale gold
SRM Level: 40 Imperial Stout pale gold

OG & FG

OG stands for Original Gravity and FG stands for Final Gravity. Gravity is a term that is used to give brewers an idea of the relative density of the wort (beer before yeast is added – essentially a tea made from the grains) at various stages of the fermentation process. OG refers to the specific gravity of the unfermented wort. As for FG, this refers to the specific gravity of the fermented beer (after sitting for several weeks with yeast). Essentially, beer starts off at the OG phase, the magical yeast does its thing by eating sugars and farting out the good stuff (alcohol) and ends at a FG.

Fun fact: you can calculate ABV using OG and FG numbers. Brewers typically use this formula to estimate ABV: ABV = (OG – FG) * 131.25

So, you may have just found your new bar trick. Take that, guy-who-didn’t-use-his-hands-to-chug-a-beer!