Archive for beer style

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.


My Road To Cicerone No. 2

Posted in beer with tags , , , , , on November 6, 2014 by cueball

“If you were going to make an American IPA using only German hops, which hop variety do you think you would choose for the flavor and aroma additions and why?” – Road To Cicerone German Beer Styles Course Discussion Question

The thing I love about The Road To Cicerone series are the discussion questions at the end of each unit.  On unit 3 about German hops the above is the question asked.  These questions are about getting you to really think about each subject in a way to help you truly understand how each part plays into the whole of beer and beer culture.

My answer is Hallertauer Mittelfruh hops for flavor and Tettanger for aroma.  The Tettanger hops will provide the familiar American IPA citrus and grass aromas. The Hallertauer will give the beer a nice spicey and herbal flavor with notes of cedar/leather/tobacco. That would provide an interesting taste alternative in a world of piney and citrusy American IPAs.

This and the other discussion questions not only highlight the different ways each of the four ingredients can be swapped in or out to affect the taste of the beer, it also highlights in a small way, what I think is the next wave of craft beer innovation in the US.

Brewers have spent the last ten years pushing the boundaries of beer making them hoppier, heavier, and boozier.  As the outer limits of those experiments are being reached the next step is the softening of the lines between styles and their traditional ingredients.

Home brewers (many of whom have and will become future brew masters) have long experimented with swapping ingredients from one brewing tradition into beer styles of another brewing tradition.  This breath of experimentation has created new styles or sub-styles like the Belgian IPA or black IPA.  Not only are traditional ingredients being shuffled around into different styles, ingredients that until now had not been used in beer or hadn’t been used in beer in a century are being brought back.  The next phase of growth in craft beer will see the blurring of styles and the creation of new ones.

One thing I am interested in, which is why the discussion question put my brain into over drive, is the reintroduction of the traditional European and noble hops into American style beers.  What does using Hallertauer or Fuggles do to an American IPA or a black IPA or an American style stout?  It goes back to how styles and traditions are blurring as long as brewers continue to try to innovate and find something new and don’t get bogged down into making and serving the same beers over and over simply because they sell.  As I’ve written recently, brewers should use their seasonal beers and special releases to experiment and see what works and what doesn’t.  That is the only way to find the next pumpkin beer.

Differences With No Distinction: Pumpkin Beer

Posted in beer with tags , , , , on November 3, 2014 by cueball


Sometimes I wish all brewers followed the Reinheitsgebot.  Most of the time I feel the purity law is an artificial governor on innovation and creativity in beer brewing.  However, sometime in September and October as yet another pumpkin beer was being forced fed into the craft beer world, I began to think limiting what brewers can brew with can be a beneficial thing.  The Reinheitsgebot began as a tax law and a way to protect bread makers by protecting the wheat supply, but it has lasted as long as it has because it helps ensure quality beer.

I have two primary problems with this year’s pumpkin beer season.  One, it lasted too long and two there were too many.  Pumpkin season started in August this year.  Maybe the first pumpkin beers appeared just as early as last year, but they all seemed to appear at the same time this year. Every brewer tried to be the first to get their pumpkin beer out to the masses. My problem with that is as far as I can remember August is the heart of the summer.

There are two retail pressures that push brewers to bring out their pumpkins so early.  The first is beer is a perishable product.  Once it is made it has a shelf life and as a brewer you want it sold and consumed before it goes bad.  If someone drinks a bad bottle of your beer it doesn’t matter if they drank it a month after its prime tasting life.  That person just knows your beer was bad.

The other retail pressure is in a crowded market place, the first is sometimes the most successful.  Getting your product out in front of consumers before all the other available beers affect their perception of you is very important to your success.

So as a matter of pure business I understand why this year it feels as if pumpkin beers (ostensibly a seasonal beer) have been out since June.

The other problem I have is as a seasonal beer, pumpkin beers are supposed to be special.  However, with so many on the market, their uniqueness is lost.  It becomes difficult to distinguish one pumpkin from another at a certain point.

Like most seasonals, pumpkin beers started because some brewer said, “Hey, look at all these pumpkins about. I bet I could make a cool tasting beer if used some of them.”  That modern honor goes to Buffalo Bill’s Bay Area Brewery in Hayward, CA who started brewing their Pumpkin Ale in 1985.  That actually did make them special. There were few and they were all unique. Now, I can bet you, the next pumpkin beer you drink will taste of nutmeg, cinnamon, and all-spice.  There maybe a few more hops here and a little more carbonation there, but you get the point. (Here is a nice quick history of pumpkin beers.)

When I think of seasonal beers I think of something special and almost experimental.  If I drink two seasonal beers from two different brewers I want there to be a distinct difference not a difference with no distinction.

Look, right now the same can be said of most of the most popular styles, like IPAs.  I understand this is business and pumpkins are hot.  I work at a place that went through two kegs of pumpkin beers in about a week.  These pumpkins (and IPAs) are making a lot of money for people.  It’s just that, as a lover of all beers, I think sometimes a bunch of any one thing is a bad thing.

Thinking About Beer Flavors

Posted in beer with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 8, 2014 by cueball

Not caramel flavored beer, but the flavor components of beer that you like the most.

Last week 2014 began I read many “2014 _____ Resolutions.”  You know, “2014 Literary Resolutions”, “2014 Television Watching Resolutions,” and many more on many subjects.  One that I read really got me thinking.  It was a 2014 Craft Beer Resolutions article.  I believe it was in All About Beer or Beer Advocate.  Regardless, one of the resolutions was to make a list of your favorite beer flavors.

That seems simple enough.  What are the flavors you look forward to most when drinking a beer?  Except for me it is not that simple.  The flavors I like in a beer depend upon the style the beer is, what the beer is trying to be, and ultimately how all the flavors of that particular beer work together.

My default is probably pale ale or even brown ale.  I prefer both in the American style which means I like them a little hoppier then the traditional English styles.  So, that suggest I like the flavor of hops, but which hops.  That would be the brighter, more piney, more citrusy American hops.  Of course if the beer is too hoppy it takes the taste out of balance it doesn’t work and I won’t like it.  A good way of thinking about it is to think of it as a salad.

In a good salad, you have your base of the greens.  For me that is usually lettuce and/or baby spinach.  Then I like to put some kind of sweet and sour combination of cherry tomatoes, beets, and/or pickles.  With that I will add some type of differentiating texture of carrots or mushrooms.  The last solid is usually red onions.  Then I try to bind it all together with oil and vinegar or maybe a little lemon to brighten it.  If I add too much of any one thing, then the salad experience I’ve created is not as good as it should be.  In this case, red onions like hops can overwhelm everything else if you are not careful.

Now, while pales and browns may be my default that does not mean that is all I am ever in the mood to drink.  I love almost all the Belgian styles ranging from wit bier to Abbey style quadruple to Flanders red.  Then again I am very familiar with wee heavy Scotch Ales,Saisons, and Biere de Garde.  I also love an oatmeal stout, cream ales, and I could go on and just list almost every beer style.  There is something in each one I like.

I think trying to list your favorite beer flavors is a limiting exercise.  These are the flavors that make us comfortable and we all default towards the comfortable.  That is why we all have a favorite pair of jeans or pair of shoes and why television networks recycle story ideas and actors to find what makes viewers keep coming back.  I think as a “craft” beer drinker knowing the flavors you like is fine as long as it is part of understanding your pallet.

I don’t think of any beer as any one flavor.  A beer may be hop forward, malt forward, or yeast forward.  Meaning the predominate flavor comes from one of those, but it is only in combination with the other flavors, aromas, and mouth feel that a beer works.  It is of course good to know what you like, but simply listing flavors can limit you in what you explore.  If you are doing it in order understand your pallet that will help you explore and find beers that you would think are outside of your comfort zone styles.  Brewers are always experimenting and pushing the limits of the styles in order to find new and different styles and beer.  Let their skill and your pallet find a beer in every style that you like.

Beer Styles and Beer Plans

Posted in beer with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 18, 2013 by cueball

Taking a little time from writing about writing (I’m always thinking about it), let’s talk about beer styles.  Now remember, the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) held competitions in 84 separate categories in 2013 and the Beer Judge Certification Program lists 80 different beer styles not counting mead or cider.  There are a lot of styles to choose from.

I plan on writing more about beer this coming year and I have been trying to think of what beer style I like the most.  Certainly, the style I’ve drank the most is the pale ale mostly of the American variety.  Every brewer, particularly every American craft brewer has a pale ale.  The India Pale Ale (IPA) variety has become the workhorse and flag bearer of the American craft beer movement.  This year alone the IPA category had 252 entrants in the GABF competition.

Yes, I like pale ales and IPAs in particular, but I don’t know if it’s my favorite.

Now, my favorite individual beer for a few years has been (was?) Sweet Josie Brown Ale from Lonerider Brewing Company in Raleigh.  I have also drunk a vat of Duck-Rabbit Brown Ale from Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery in Farmville, NC.  Those are both great beers and you I would have made the argument a couple of years ago that brown ales were my favorite style.  I’m not so sure.

Over the past two years I could have made the case for rye ales, porters, stouts, tripel, dubbel, abbey ales, Saison, beire de garde, and Scotch ale.  Currently, I’m in a big barley wine phase.

This is why I love beer.  The possibilities.  Some of those beer styles are similar and some of them have tastes that have very little in common.

So, here’s the thing.  I don’t want to have a favorite style.  Here is what I can do.  I can pick a style a month, and drink primarily beers from that style.  Try to explore the different ranges of expression in each brewer’s interpretation and find one that I really like.

Looking in my refrigerator right now, I have a 22 oz. quadrupel, a 22 oz. imperial stout, a marzen, an ESB (extra special bitter), a porter, a brown ale, and two IPAs.  All but the quad were brewed in North Carolina.  So, today I think I will go to my locally owned and operated beer establishment (Dragonfly Wine Market) and buy a six-pack of one style.  I’ll decide once I get there what style I’ll choose.

I’ve never been one to sit down at the end of the year and review my life and then set a plan for the following year.  Until now.  This beer writing is part of a larger plan of writing that will hopefully take me to the next phase of my life.  Be that in Cleveland County or elsewhere.  There are things I want to do and “there is a long way to go and short time to get there.”

What Does This Remind Me Of?

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

Beer tasting should answer 5 questions.

  • What does the beer look like?
  • What does the beer smell like?
  • How does the beer feel in my mouth?
  • What does the beer taste like?
  • Do I like it?

As a taster you should be able to answer those questions intelligently in language that anyone can easily understand.

I want to ask a sixth question with my tasting notes:  What does this beer remind me of?  For me beer, bourbon, music, and literature all have emotional memories for me.  I associate tastes and sounds with specific moments and I think about that every time I take a drink.  I may not write about the specifics of moments, but I want to relate those memories in a general sense to what I’m drinking and why I do or don’t like it.

The deeper into craft beer you get the more you will find that different types of judged competitions have different guidelines they follow for judging beer.  For judges at large competitions (BJCP sanctioned) it is not enough to judge how good the beer tastes, judges also look to whether a beer is a good representative of the style.  Each style has certain guidelines that define appearance, aroma, feel, and taste that it has to meet to get first place.  The most common style guides are the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Style Guide, the Brewer’s Association Style Guide, and the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) Style Guide.

Now, for most normal people, you taste a beer to see if you like it.  Again, the deeper you are into craft beer the more you kind of care about whether a beer meets the style benchmarks, but even then, you are just trying to find something worth drinking.

As a slightly abnormal person, I drink a lot of beer and have begun to develop my palate to taste differences in beers within styles.  It can be a fun experience to be able to taste something and say, “That isn’t quite what I expected from an IPA.”

Take my recent experience with the Devil’s Britches IPA from Highland Brewing.  I bought it knowing it was IPA.  However, when I started drinking it, I knew something was different about it.  I had gone in with the expectation of your average hoppy American IPA (a distinct style under BJCP, Brewer’s Association, and GABJ style guides).  Instead, as soon as I tasted it, I knew something was different.  It is what Highland calls a “red” American IPA.

Now, as a normal beer drinker, I was surprised by the taste of this particular beer, but grew to quite like it the more I drank it.  I have recommended this beer to others.  However, I don’t know how it would fair in a beer competition in its style.  It might push the limits of what an American IPA too far to win any BJCP competitions.  As a beer drinker, that does not matter as long as I like it.

It is entirely possible that the best tasting beer in a competition does not fall into any of the prescribed guidelines and the worst tasting beer in the competition hits every guideline perfectly.  Luckily, even if the beer doesn’t hit all the guidelines, judges worth a crap will still give it high marks if it tastes good (it still probably won’t win) and they will kill a beer that tastes like crap.  They are after all beer fans.

All of that is to say this:  In the tastings and notes I will do for this blog (it will be such a sacrifice) I will respect the style guidelines the BJCP has set down, but I will not let those style restrictions decide on what I recommend.

Next up I’m going to give a short glossary of terms.