Ale: Your basic beer, brewed with top-fermenting yeast at close-to room temperatures (60-75 degrees).
Fermentation: The process by which yeast turns sugars into alcohol. It’s what makes beer beer.
Fermenter: Where fermentation takes place. Usually a 5-gallon plastic bucket or glass jug, but always clean and sanitized.
Hops: I’m surprised by how many of my friends think hops have something to do with grasshoppers. They don’t. Hops are pungent little flowers that grow on a vine. They add bitterness and aroma (anything from floral to earthy, depending on the variety) to beer, and mastering their mysteries is the goal of many an intermediate brewer. For now, just follow the instructions.
Lager: A type of beer that is fermented at cool temperatures (32-55 degrees F) using a bottom-fermenting yeast.
Malt: Barley kernels that have been slightly germinated and then dried. The germination makes them sugary, and the sugar is what the yeast loves to turn into alcohol. As a beginner, you’ll mostly use malt extract (which is malted barley that has been condensed to a powdered or syrup form) and so-called “specialty grains”—small amounts of malted barley that will impart color, sweetness and flavor. Hardcore brewers will go on to all-grain recipes, which may sound intriguing. But all-grain requires extra equipment, time expenditure and know-how. I recommend you not try this until you have at least a dozen extract batches under your belt.
Sanitization: Cleaning and disinfecting every part of your beer-making operation, but especially the fermenter and bottles. You can use a dilution of bleach on glass items—make sure you rinse thoroughly afterwards—or one of several sanitization products available at homebrew supply stores. You must take this seriously as there is nothing more disappointing than cracking open a bottle you’ve been waiting weeks to try and finding out it’s undrinkable due to bacterial contamination.
Wort: The thick, sweet proto-beer mixture that results from your stovetop cooking of barley and hops. Sometimes it tastes good, sometimes it’s god-awful, but it’s always important to remember that the yeast will change it into something else entirely.