Sometimes all you demand of a beer is that it is cold and in your hand. However, if you're moving beyond the mass-market basics and exploring micro-breweries and speciality beer, it helps to learn the terminology.
Photo by esgw.
Mike Reis at Serious Eats put together a handy list to help you pick the perfect beer. For example, "bottle conditioned" beer is beloved by beer nerds, but why?
Bottle conditioned is brewer-speak to describe a beer that is naturally carbonated. Prior to packaging, beer is allowed to ferment until the yeast is totally satiated, having eaten all the sugars it can. To bottle condition the beverage, brewers bottle the beer with a bit more sugar for that yeast to munch on. They use a pre-calculated dose that is just the right amount to produce carbon dioxide to be absorbed as carbonation without overpressurizing or worse, blowing up, the bottle. (Nobody wants your beer to explode.) The alternative to bottle conditioning is called force carbonation, in which carbon dioxide is injected into the finished beer without an additional fermentation.
Some beer purists believe that bottle conditioning is indisputably the best way to carbonate beer -- arguments in support of the process tout its ability to produce a more pleasant (fine and soft) carbonation, consume oxygen in the bottle's headspace, and develop character over time.
A few of Mike's terms can help you out when ordering off a menu as well, but you should check out the full list to make a more informed decision when your BBQ beer stockpile runs dry.
Decoding Beer Labels: 5 Terms Every Beer Drinker Should Know [Serious Eats]