Beer Counselor #2

I get a lot of questions about beer styles.  We have a lot of people who are just getting into craft beer or have gotten into craft beer but think IPA is the only craft beer and it is certainly the only one they have ever drank. So, this week, I will describe the major beer styles.

Beer is primarily broken up into two major categories:  ales and lagers.  Now, lager beers are bottom fermented (for the most part).  They ferment at cooler temperatures and for longer periods.  That makes them clearer, crisper, and cleaner in appearance and taste.

Ales are top fermented and the first style of beer discovered.  They ferment at a higher temperature, close to room temperature and have a shorter fermentation time.  They tend to have a fruitier aroma and more complex taste and the yeast can sometimes hang around giving a cloudier appearance.

Now under each of those groups there are numerous styles.  This will not be a complete list.  There are far too many styles and substyles for a beginning craft beer drinker to absorb.  Depending on who you go to for information there are somewhere over 70-90 different styles.  For a complete list here is the Beer Judge Certification Program and the CraftBeer.com list from the Brewer’s Association.

Lagers

  • Lagers – Malty and darker than pilsners.
  • Pilsners – Crisp, light, and a brighter hoppiness then lagers.
  • Bocks – Similar to pilsners, but maltier.

Ales

  • Pale ale – The style that started the craft beer revolution in the United States. Light appearance with a touch of hop bitterness and flavor.
  • IPA – A pale ale with more hops and more alcohol. Originally created to withstand the trip from England to India in 18th and 19th centuries. Adapted by American brewers to be as hoppy as humanly possible
  • This is the biggest question I get: What is the difference between a pale ale and an IPA.  I often get told by customers I like pale ales when what they mean is I like IPAs.  They are different categories and have different attributes.   First level beer nerdery:  knowing the difference between an American IPA and an American Pale Ale.
  • Brown ale – Maltier and darker than pales. More toasty and chocolate in taste then pales but still has a good hop presence.
  • Porters/Stouts – Really dark in color and little to any hop taste. Can be sweet are really dry in taste.

Then there are smoked beers, sour beers, Belgian style beers and other random hybrids.  Smoked beers use malt that has been smoked with some type of wood.  Sours are usually made sour by some type of wild yeast or bacteria introduced during the fermentation process.  Belgian style beers are a variety of fun sours and fruit based beers that deserve their own blog post.  Hybrids are beers that combine the yeasts and fermenting processes of lagers and ales.

If you are a craft beer newbie this should be a good start in craft beer.  If you want to go even more in depth I would recommend the Beer Judge Certification Program website and the Craftbeer.com website to get started.  Those are good resources for anyone at any level of craft beer nerdom.

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