Archive for beer basics

Beer Counselor #2

Posted in beer with tags , , , , , , , on April 15, 2015 by cueball

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 list from the Brewer’s Association.


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


  • 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 website to get started.  Those are good resources for anyone at any level of craft beer nerdom.


Stuff You May Need To Know About Craft Beer

Posted in beer with tags , , , , , , , , on February 24, 2013 by cueball


Beer Styles

  • Indian Pale Ale (IPA) – Originally, a British Pale Ale with a lot of hops added so that the beer could last the long trip from Britain to India before the advent of refrigeration.  Now it is a hoppier version of a pale ale.  Currently, there are 3 sub-styles: British IPA, American IPA (hoppier), and the Imperial (or double) IPA (hoppier still).
  • Pale Ale/Brown Ale – The basic British tradition beer styles.  The difference between the two is the brown ale is darker (of course) and a little sweeter due to the different malts used.  As with most beer styles originating in Europe the American versions are more.  More hops, more malt, more alcohol.
  • Porter/Stout – Porters are strong, dark beers first brewed in Britain with little hop profile.  Stouts are a darker, even stronger tasting version.  Often described as chewy or meaty.
  • Pilsner – A lager.  Usually pale in color and rather light in taste.  The most popular beers style worldwide.  Budweiser, Coors, Miller, Heineken.  Often described by craft beer aficionados as “fizzy water.”
  • Lager versus Ale – This difference is due to the yeasts used to brew these styles.  The lager yeasts ferment longer, at colder temperatures, and provide a “cleaner” taste.  Ale yeasts ferment quicker, at warmer temperatures, and give off more flavors.

Style and Tasting Stuff That Can Make You Sound Kind of Smart

  • IBU – International Bitterness Units, the measurement of the hop bitterness in the beer.
  • ABV – Alcohol By Volume, how much alcohol does your beer contain.
  • SRM – Standard Reference Method, is a measurement of the color of the beer.  The higher the number the darker the beer.
  • Lacing – The bubbles left on the side of the glass from the head as you drink your beer.  A good beer in a good clean glass will leave a nice lace.

Pretentious Style and Tasting Stuff You Don’t Need To Know Yet But Might Hear If You Hang Around Any of Us Homebrewers Too Long

  • Diacetyl – A butterscotch flavor found in some beers.  If too prominent it is an off taste and signifies an unsuccessful beer.
  • DMS – Dimethyl Sulfide, definitely an off taste found in lagers that are fermented at too high a temperature.
  • Original Gravity – Original gravity.  Basically, the amount of sugars in the wort before fermentation.
  • Final Gravity – Final gravity. Basically, the amount of sugars found in the beer after fermentation.  Helps tell you how much alcohol is in the beer.

Beer Class With Cueball, Beer 101

Posted in beer with tags , , on August 12, 2012 by cueball

History of beer

Let’s skip the history lesson of beer through the ages from the Babylonians until now, and just say where there have been humans there has been some type of grain based fermented beverage that resembles what we call beer.  If you really have a need to learn the Song of Ninkasi (the Sumerian Goddess of Beer) follow the link.

How beer is made

OK, now that the history part is done, let’s go to how beer is made.  At its essence beer is a relatively simple drink to make.  There are four ingredients:  water, malted barley, hops, and yeast.  The last of these ingredients to be added to the recipe are the hops.  Hops were originally used as a preservative, but the taste it adds became part of the total beer experience.  Humanity went through many rounds of finding the fourth ingredient to add taste before settling on hops, bog myrtle anyone.

All you do is boil the water, malt, and hops for 60 minutes or so, cool the wort (un-fermented beer), add the yeast, and let it ferment for a couple of weeks.  Then you should have something that passes for an ale, lagers take a little longer to ferment.  I wouldn’t drink it because it probably tastes like crap, but it would be beer.

How does all that work?  Well, boiling the malt breaks down all the sugars into their simplest form for the yeast to feast upon during the two-four weeks it is allowed to ferment.  The hops add flavor and preserves the wonderful liquid.

Ale vs. Lager

Ales and lagers are the two types of beer and they are differentiated by the yeast used in the fermentation process.  Ale yeasts ferment faster and at higher temperatures then lager yeasts.  Ales also have a wider range of esters and aromatics then most lager yeasts.  That combined with the faster fermentation and the ability to ferment at temperatures close to room temperature makes ale yeast the more widely used of the two in the homebrewing and craft brewing worlds.  Ale yeast is just easier to work with.  Lager’s have to be (if you go further in craft beer you will find there are no “have to” rules) fermented in a controlled refrigerated environment while ales can be fermented in a cool dark closet in your house.

If you go to a craft brewer or a bar that has lots of craft beers, mostly what you will see are ales.  However, lagers are better selling of the two styles for a simple reason:  all the best selling beers are a form of lager called a pilsner.  Budweiser, Miller, and Coors all make multiple iterations of pilsners.  While craft brewers and their ales are the fastest growing segment of the beer market, they still only make up a small fraction of the total market.

Beer Class With Cueball, Introduction

Posted in beer, Uncategorized with tags , , on August 11, 2012 by cueball

I was on the phone with Eightball today while on my weekly beer run when he said something interesting, “What is an IPA?”  It was the question of what is the difference between all these designations beer people give their beers.

That made me stop for a moment.  In my online life, I spend around 2/3 of my time reading about beer.  I’m a homebrewer and member of the American Homebrewers Association, I am immersed in the beer geek world.  Things like the difference between an IPA and a regular pale ale are second nature for me.

If you are just a person who likes to drink good beer things like that are distinctions with a difference.

So, I’ve decided to do write about beer basics starting at the beginning.

First up will be beer 101 how it is made and the two major classes of beer.

By the way, an IPA  is a paler, stronger, and hoppier pale ale.  It was first developed  around 1780 in order for British troops serving in India.  The large amount of hops included to preserve the beer on the long voyage from England to India.  The American versions are all bigger and bolder then most of their English counterparts.