BEER STYLE SUMMARY
It can be a daunting process trying to understand all the different styles of beer that exist. Some style blend into each other quite drastically whilst other are definitely in a league of their own. Here is a quick overview of the main beer styles we are likely to be testing in the meetings. I’m going to keep the descriptions rather short and quite generic to each genre but there is so much information online if you would like to research more.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LAGER & ALE
A question I get asked quite frequently by people that are curious about beer is “What is the difference between ale and lager?”. Beer is traditionally made of four key ingredients: Malted barley, hops, water and yeast. The type of yeast used determines if the beer is classed as a lager or an ale. Lager is brewed using yeast that works at a low temperatures (7°C – 15°C). It usually sits at the bottom of the tank and is therefore called “bottom fermenting”. Ales are brewed using yeast strains that work in warmer conditions (10°C – 25°C) and are referred to as “top fermenting” as the yeast stays nears the top of the tank. There are exceptions to this rule like most things but this is the general consensus.
I was recently told that 94% of all beer sold in Systembolaget here in Sweden are lager. It’s the dominant sort of beer available today, ranging from the some of the cheapest available to some quite unique craft lagers. Lagers can range from very pale to dark brown / black but the light golden variant is the most seen. They are usually quite light in aroma, taste and body and best served at a temperature of somewhere between 5°C – 8°C.
Common examples: Budweiser, Mariestads, Stella Artois.
Two main styles of wheat beer exist: Weissbier hailing from Germany and Witbier from Belgium. Both beers use a percentage of wheat to replace barley in the brewing process, usually giving a cloudy straw like appearance. Witbier is usually slightly more spicy, with orange peel and coriander used for flavouring. Wheat beer is generally light, fresh and very low bitterness. The common tastes associated with the style are ripe banana, cloves and bubblegum.
Common examples: Weihenstephaner Hefe weissebier (weiss), Erdinger (weiss), Hoegaaden (wit).
These darker beers originate from England from around 1720. They are usually deep brown, ruby red and black in appearance and have a rather full body with little carbonation. Stouts an porters are brewed using a percentage of darker malts to give deep intense colour and taste. They are both rather similar roasted styles but some people suggest porters have a more chocolate tone and stout more of a coffee tone. Imperial stouts have a high alcohol content and usually much more robust in their body and taste, whilst milk stouts usually have lactose added to give a creamier and sweeter profile.
Common examples: Guinness (stout), Fullers London Porter (porter), Yeti Imperial stout (imperial).
Pale ale is a massive family of different beer styles that are usually characterised by the use of a high percentage of pale malts that have been dried with coke in the brewing process. The term “pale ale” was first mentioned in 1703 and the amount of sub styles has grown incredibly vast. The most popular at the moment is IPA, which I will be highlighting in the next description. Some of the main varieties in the pale ale genre are:
These ales were made famous in California and Pacific Northwest and are brewed with a varying amount of amber malt included to give a copper hue, large malty character and caramel qualities to the beer.
Classic example: Samuel Adams Boston ale.
APA (AMERICAN PALE ALE)
This is a rather new section to the genre as it only began being brewed properly around 1980. Similar to IPA in their bitterness but the American Cascade hops used usually gives hints of citrus, pine and slight grass to give a rather dry finish.
Classic example: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.
Blonde ales are usually the lightest coloured of all the pale ales. They are usually quite reserved with the hoppy notes and quite easy to drink with a slight citrus sweetness. Blonde ales from Belgium are usually of a higher alcoholic content then those brewed in the UK.
Classic example: Duvel.
These ales originated from Scotland in the 18th century and are usually denoted by a high alcohol content, a heavy body and a fair amount of sweetness.
Classic example: Founders Backwoods Bastard.
IPA (or India Pale Ale) is the most well known of all the sub varieties of pale ale. When ale was being transported by sea to India for consumption during the British occupation it was found that the beer was going bad due to temperature fluctations. Brewers quickly realised that increasing the levels of alcohol and hops both helped to preseve the beer on its voyage. Thus IPA’s usually tend towards a fairly high alcoholic content along with a large hop presense. They can range in colour but classic IPA tones are pine, tropical fruits and a strong astringent bitterness. DIPA (Double India Pale Ales) are the bigger brothers with usually an even higher ABV and hop profile.
Classic examples: Lagunitas (IPA), Ballast Point Sculpin (IPA), Wisby Brutal Bulldog (DIPA)
Lambic beers are a special section of beers originating in Belgium. They are not exposed to one specific strain of yeast like most beers but are instead fermented by wild yeasts and bacteria present in the brewery. This is called spontaneous fermentation. This gives lambics a distinctive sour taste profile that can also be quite vinous and very dry in the after taste. One style is called a gueuze is made by mixing one and two year old lambic beers together. Lambics can also sometimes fermented with morello cherries to form a sour cherry beer known as a kriek.
Classic examples: 3 Fonteinen Oude Gueuze (gueuze), Oude Kriek Boon (kriek).
There can be much confusion about the difference between a Trappist beer and an Abbey beer. A Trappist beer is one that has been brewed in a monastery under the supervision of Trappist monks. Usually the proceeds and profits go back into the upkeep of said monastery. There are only 11 Trappist breweries in the world, with six of them residing in Belgium. The term “Trappist beer” is actually a highly protected trademark and all beers in this genre will have the term on its label. Abbey beers are very similar, however they are brewed by commecial breweries in a Trappist style. THere may be somer monastic connection though, such as they may be brewed in the grounds of an old monastery for instance. There are three main styles of Trappist beer:
Dark ruby or chestnut in colour, fruity and with cereal notes and an ABV of around 6% – 8°%.
Usually golden in colour with light fruity esters, light spices and a effervescence that hides its hig ABV of between 18% – 10 %.
The strongest style of all the Trappist beers with an alcohol content of between 9% – 13%, these deep brown to ruby coloured brews pack a punch with big sweet malty notes, heavy body and deep warming aftertaste.
Classic examples: Rochefort 6 (Trappist Dubbel), Westmalle Tripel (Trappist Tripel), St. Bernardus Abt 12 (Abbey style Quad)
Fruit and vegetables beers have had some sort of adjunct added during the brewing process. This is usually to impart that flavour into the beer taste. Lambic beers have many different fruits added to them, such as cherries, raspberries and peaches. Pumpkin beers are popular around the autumn time, whilst pepper is sometimes added to beers in order to pass on a spiciness into the mix.
Classic examples: Wells Banana Bread Beer, Timmermans Framboise, Samuel Adams 20 Pounds of Pumpkin.
Although this style of beer has been around for many centuries in different countries it is most widely associated with the city of Bamburg, Germany. As kiln drying became the perferred method of drying the malted grain in the 18th Century the smoked taste that was imparted into the beers became gradually less. Many breweries in Bamburg however chose to stick with the tradition of drying their malt using beechwood, which imparts a rich smokiness into the beer. Smoked beer can range over many genres including lagers, wheat beers and porters.
Classic examples: Aecht Schlenkerla Märzen, Alaskan Smoked Porter.