| Beer Overview
Beer Overview: Ale & Lager Styles
Have you ever come across the term "beer
styles"? It is a term to distinguish beers by way of it's color, strength, ingredients,
production method, recipe, history, or origin. You will know that
this differentiation of beer has been going around since 2,000 B.C. and it was
prevalent in varied cultures. As regards the methodical study of beer styles, it is nothing
but a modern phenomenon.
Beer Overview: Ale & Lager Styles
Have you ever come across the term
"beer styles"? It is a term to distinguish beers
by way of it's color,
strength, ingredients, production method, recipe, history, or origin.
You will know that this differentiation of beer has been going around since
2000 BC and it was prevalent in varied cultures. As regards the methodical
study of beer styles,
it is nothing but a modern phenomenon.
Ales are produced by top fermenting
yeast. Ale yeasts usually ferment at warmer temperatures than lager. They tend
to ferment less efficiently than lager leaving more malt sweetness and flavor.
They can sometimes contribute a fruitiness or spiciness to the flavor and aroma
of beer. With such complexity, ales are generally more flavorful and often
served at warmer temperatures.
Barley wine is the evocative
name coined by British brewers to describe an extremely potent ale that can
range from golden copper to dark brown in color. They are characterized by
extravagant caramel malt flavors and bittering hops that prevent the malt
sweetness from cloying. Rich and viscous, they can have in their most complex
manifestations winey flavor profiles, with a hint of sweetness. Some examples
are vintage dated and can improve with extended bottle age. These powerful
brews are classically sold in small "nip" bottles and can be consumed
after dinner or with dessert. The style has become popular among US craft
brewers who often produce them as winter specialties.
Sooner or later, all beer enthusiasts that enthuse long enough and hard enough
end up "discovering" the ales of Belgium. Potently strong, generally
packaged in odd shaped bottles, often with a cork and wire cage closure, they
often involve every bit as much ceremony as one would lavish on opening a fine
bottle of wine. Although the Belgians are great wine drinkers, they also have
one of the great beer drinking cultures in the world. In Belgium beer is
exalted in the same manner as wine. For a small country it is host to an
extraordinary diverse range of beer styles. It quite possible to find the right
Belgian ale to fit any occasion, before, after or during a meal. US brewers
have been slow to start replicating the Belgian ale styles. With many styles
their alcoholic strength would not endear them to large volume production or
even a presence in some States. However, many brewpubs will produce a strong
Belgian-style ale in the winter season.
Abbey Ales (Dubbel,
Monastic or abbey ales are an ancient tradition in Belgium in much the same
manner as wine production was once closely associated with monastic life in
ancient France. Currently, very few working monasteries brew beer within the
order, but many have licensed the production of beers bearing their abbey name
to large commercial brewers. These "abbey ales" can vary enormously
in specific character, but most are quite strong in alcoholic content ranging
between 6% alcohol by volume to as high as 10%. Generally abbey ales are
labeled as either Dubbel or Tripel, though this is not a convention that is
slavishly adhered to. The former conventionally denotes a relatively less
alcoholic and often darker beer, while the latter can often be lighter or blond
in color and have a syrupy, alcoholic mouthfeel that invites sipping, not rapid
drinking. The lowest gravity abbey ale in a Belgian brewer’s range will
conventionally be referred to as a Singel, though it is rarely labeled as such.
Belgian Style Amber
This is a not a classic style but nonetheless encapsulates various beers of a
similar Belgian theme that do not fit into the more classic mold. Expect amber
hued, fruity and moderately strong ales (6%ABV) with a yeasty character.
Typical examples of the style would be Flemish beers such as De Koninck and
Belgian Style Blonde
This is not a classic style of Belgian ale, but covers the more commercially
minded Belgian ales that are lighter in color and moderate in body and
alcoholic strength. Fruity Belgian yeast character and mild hopping should be
Flemish Style Ale.
These are complex dark beers
most closely associated with the town of Oudenaarde in Flanders. The authentic
examples are medium to full bodied beers that are influenced by a number of
factors: high bicarbonate in the brewing water to give a frothy texture; a
complex mix of yeasts and malts; blending of aged beers; and aging in bottle
before release. In the best examples, the flavor profile is reminiscent of
olives, raisins, and brown spices and could be described as ’sweet and sour.’
These beers are not hop-accented and are of low bitterness.
According to EC law, trappist ale may only come from six abbeys of the trappist
order that still brew beer on their premises. Five are in Belgium and one, La
Trappe comes from Holland. Although the styles may differ widely between them,
they all share a common trait of being top fermented, strong, bottle conditioned,
complex, and fully flavored brews. At most, each abbey produces three different
varieties of increasing gravity. These can often improve with some years of
cellaring. In all there are 15 different trappist beers from the six
monasteries. The ales from trappist abbeys are: Chimay, Rochefort, Orval,
Westmalle, Westvleteren, and La Trappe. Chimay and Orval are currently well
distributed in the major US markets, but the others might prove very hard to
find on a consistent basis. Trappist ales are among the most complex and old
fashioned of beers that one can find--little wonder that many connoisseurs
treat them as the holy grail of beer drinking.
English Style Brown
The precise definition of
English Brown Ale would depend on where you are in England. It is nowadays much
more closely associated with Northern England, specifically Tadcaster and
Newcastle, home to Newcastle Brown Ale. These medium-bodied reddish-brown beers
are malt accented with a nutty character, a gentle fruitiness, and low
bitterness. Alcohol is moderate, a maximum of 5%ABV. The much less prevalent
Southern English style, not seen abroad, is much darker in color, sweeter on
the palate, and made in a lighter style. English style brown ales of the former
type have become very popular with US brewers, no doubt for the same reason as
they took hold in England. Namely they offer great drinkability.
Ale: Stout & Porter Overview
Stouts are very dark, almost
black beers, and feature a heavily roasted flavor profile. This is achieved by
brewing with malt that has been kilned until it resembles burnt toast. Although
not always considered ales by consumers, these beers use top fermenting yeasts
and as such are members of the ale family. Porter was originally an English,
specifically London dark beer style that was the drink of the masses long
before lagers were conceived or modern ales were fashionable. In the heyday of
Porter in London, during the eighteenth century , the term "Stout"
was used to denote the strongest and weightiest beers in a brewers portfolio.
The same relationship still holds true to this day, with porters generally
being lighter in body and color than stouts. Stouts and Porters are enormously
popular among US craft brewers and virtually all brewpubs and regional
microbrewers produce one or both as year round brews.
Stout (Chocolate, Coffee)
Flavored stouts are stouts,
be they sweeter or drier, which have been flavored in some way. Dark fruits,
coffee and chocolate are particularly popular, and the marriage of flavors
should at best be greater than the sum of its parts.
Dry stout is closely
associated with Ireland in general, and Guinness in particular. These brews
tend to be rich and dark with a definitive bitter note and a drying palate
feel. They are classically paired with oysters, although any Irish Stout
drinker will tell you that a pint it is a meal in itself. Draught (draft) Irish
Stout is nitrogen-flushed to give it that tell-tale white creamy head that has
made Guinness so recognizable. This process is also effected in cans and
bottles with a nitrogen "widget." The style is widely emulated
throughout the world and is particularly popular with US microbrewers and
brewpubs, often as a more full bodied and dryer interpretation.
Imperial Stout is an extra
strong version of stout which was originally brewed by the British to withstand
the rigors of export to Russia and the Baltic states. This style is dense,
opaque black and strong in alcohol (6-7%), with a note of sweetness. Burnt
cocoa and dried fruit flavors are typical. Russian Imperial Stouts originate
from recipes that British brewers tailored to the tastes of the Imperial
Russian court. Imperial stout was almost extinct until recreated by the British
brewer Samuel Smiths in the early 1980s. The style has now been embraced by US
craft brewers as a winter specialty.
Sweet stouts are largely a
British specialty. These stouts have a distinctive sweetness to the palate and
often show chocolate and caramel flavors, They are sometimes known as milk or
cream stouts. These beers obtain their characters by using chocolate malts and
lactic (milk) sugars in the brewing process.
This brew is a variation of
sweet stout which has a small proportion of oats used in place of roasted malt,
which has the effect of enhancing body and mouthfeel. They were originally
brewed by the British in the earlier part of this century, when stouts were
thought of as a nutritious part of an everyday diet. After having fallen from
favor, the style was revived by the Yorkshire brewer, Samuel Smith, in 1980.
They tend to be highly flavorful with a velvety texture and sometimes a hint of
sweetness. Oatmeal stouts are now a very popular staple of the US craft brewing
Porters are red-brown to
black in color, medium to medium-full bodied, and characterized by a flavor
profile that can vary from very subtle dark malts to fully roasted, smoky
flavors. Being a centuries old style, there are differences of opinion with
regard to what a "true" porter was actually like and there can be wide
variations from one brewer’s interpretation to the next. Roasted malt should
provide the flavoring character, rather than roasted barley as is used with
stouts. Stronger, darker versions and lighter more delicate versions are
equally valid manifestations of the style. The influence of hops can often be
notable in the richer craft brewed examples of the style. Although Porter was
the drink of the masses of the 1700s London, it is not a significant factor in
the British market today, despite the production of a few outstanding English
examples. In the US it is enjoying new found popularity among US craft brewers
and many fine US examples are produced.
Kolsch is an ale style emanating from Cologne in Germany. In Germany (and the
European Community) the term is strictly legally limited to the beers from
within the city environs of Cologne. Simply put Kolsch has the color of a
pilsner with some of the fruity character of an ale. This is achieved with the
use of top fermenting yeasts and pale pilsner malts. The hops are accented on
the finish, which classically is dry and herbal. It is a medium to light bodied
beer and delicate in style. Most examples one will encounter in the US are
brewpub draft interpretations produced during the summer months, though some
commercial brewers produce a summer ale in the kolsch style.
Mild ale is a traditional
style of English ale that is characterized by darker colors, sweetish malt
flavors, subtle hopping levels all within a lower alcohol frame (typically
3.5%). Their purpose is to allow the drinker to get a full quotient of flavor
in a "session" beer--a trick to which English ale brewing lends
itself readily. In the 1940’s Mild was more popular than bitter in English
pubs, though it is less common now. US craft brewers occasionally pay homage to
Pale ales tend to be
fuller-bodied with a more assertive character on the palate the standard bitter
in a English brewers portfolio. In England it is generally a bottled, as
opposed to being sold on draft. Despite the name, pale ales are not pale but,
in fact, more of an amber hue. The original designation was in reference to
this style of beer being paler than the brown and black beers which were more
popular at the time of the styles inception. In the US pale ale styles have
become one of the benchmarks by which craft brewers are judged. The US version
of pale ale is crisper and generally much more hoppy. Indeed this style is well
suited to assertive domestic Pacific Northwestern hop varieties that give the
US examples inimitable character. A good US example should be available on tap
in any bar worth frequenting for its beer selection.
Put simply an Altbier has the smoothness of a classic lager with the flavors of
an ale. A more rigorous definition must take account of history. Ale brewing in
Germany predates the now predominant lager production. As the lager process
spread from Bohemia, some brewers retained the top fermenting ale process but
adopted the cold maturation associated with lager. Hence the name ’Old Beer’
(Alt means old in German). Altbier is associated with Dusseldorf, Munster, and
Hanover. This style of ale is light to medium-bodied, less fruity, less yeasty,
and has lower acidity than a traditional English ale. In the US some amber ales
are actually in the alt style.
American Golden Ale
These brews are golden to
light copper in color with a more subtle overall character and lighter body
than typical Pale Ales. English ale fruitiness will probably not be observed.
However, the most important qualification is that they are brewed domestically
and will have less body and hop and malt character than a pale ale from the
in hop character.
Bitter is an English
specialty, and very much an English term, generally denoting the standard
ale--the "session" beer --in a English brewers range. They are
characterized by a fruitiness, light to medium body and an accent on hop aromas
more than hop bitters. Colors range from golden to copper. Despite the name
they are not particularly bitter. Indeed, British brewed "bitters"
will often be less bitter than US craft brewed amber ales. A fuller bodied
bitter is labeled as "Extra Special Bitter" (ESB). These weightier
versions of bitter often stand up better to the rigors of travel overseas than
the lower gravity standard versions. An important element of faithful bitters
are English yeast cultures used in fermentation. These impart a fruity, mildly
estery character that should be noted in examples of the style. Bitters are now
widely emulated in North America, sometimes with domestically grown hops
imparting a rather more assertive character than seen in traditional English
India Pale Ale (IPA)
India Pale Ales are deep gold
to amber in color, and are usually characterized by floral hop aromas and a
distinctive hop bitterness on the finish. India Pale Ales were originally
brewed by British brewers in the 19th Century, when British troops and
colonizers depended upon supplies of beer shipped from England. Standard ales
did not survive the journey, hence brewers developed high gravity, highly
hopped ales that survived shipment in casks to their largest market, India.
This style, probably not anywhere near as bitter as it was when destined for
India, continues to be brewed in a toned down manner in the UK and is
undergoing a mini-revival at present. However, US craft brewers have claimed
the style as their own, and often brew them with assertive Pacific Northwestern
hop varieties that give such examples a hugely aromatic hop accent.
Saison beers are distinctive specialty beers from the Belgian province of
Hainuat. These beers were originally brewed in the early spring for summer
consumption, though contemporary Belgian saisons are brewed all year round with
pale malts and well dosed with English and Belgian hop varieties. Lively
carbonation ensues from a secondary fermentation in the bottle. The color is
classically golden orange and the flavors are refreshing with citrus and fruity
hop notes. Sadly, these beers are under appreciated in their home country and
their production is limited to a small number of artisanal producers who keep
this style alive. With a typically hoppy character, Saisons are an extremely
esoteric style of beer that should appeal to any devotees of US craft beers, if
you can track them down. Occasionally, US brewpubs will attempt a version.
Scottish ales are typically
full-bodied and malty, with some of the classic examples being dark brown in
color. They are more lowly hopped than the English counterparts and often have
a slightly viscous and sweet caramel malt character due to incomplete
fermentation. Scottish style ales can be found in far flung corners of the
world where faithful versions are brewed, this being a legacy of its popularity
in the British Empire. In the US many craft brewers produce a Scottish style
ale.The "Export" versions produced by Scottish brewers, the type mostly
encountered in the US, are considerably stronger and more malty than the
standard versions made available to Scottish beer drinkers.
Brewing with wheat instead of
barley is an ancient tradition that stretches back to the earliest days of
brewing. Although not an easy grain to work with, beers brewed with a
proportion of wheat do not require maturation, as is the case with lagers, and
can be drunk soon after brewing. Most importantly wheat ales are very
refreshing. Traditionally they are cloudy or hazy, though with modern
filtration they can easily be made clear. Bavarian "weizen" beers are
the best known examples of wheat ales and are widely imitated.
These dark wheat beers derive
their character from the use of darker malts in the non-wheat ingredients, so
that a richer, darker colored beer can be achieved, along with fuller malt
flavors. Dunkel weizens still display the floral, estery qualities of a pale
weizen. Dark weizens are produced with or without a secondary fermentation in
the bottle, with the corollary that these styles can be yeast sedimented or
unsedimented depending upon the preference of the brewer.
Weizen bier is a top
fermenting beer style that originates from southern Germany, particularly
Bavaria, and is brewed with at least 50% wheat in the mash. Hefe weizens are
refreshing, highly carbonated beers ideal for quenching summer thirsts. They
undergo secondary fermentation, often in the bottle, and the yeast strains used
for this purpose impart a spicy, clove-like flavor. Hefe (the German word for
yeast) on the label denotes that the bottle contains yeast sediment. Alcohol
content is typically 5-5.5% ABV, giving these beers a medium to medium-full
body. Hop flavors play a very insignificant role in the flavor profile. The
best examples to be found are still authentic Bavarian imports, although some
good domestic examples are produced and are often available as a draft option.
Weizen bocks are essentially
winter wheat beers, originally brewed in Bavaria. The color can be pale gold to
brown. They are of higher alcoholic strength, as high as 7% ABV, showing a
warming personality, though they should still have a significant ‘rocky head
when poured. These beers combine the character of hefeweizens and dopplebocks
and as such are rich and malty with estery, yeasty qualities and show a note of
wheaty crispness through the finish.
Wit beer is a style of
flavored wheat. It is distinctly Belgian in origin and is still very closely
associated with this low land country. Wits employ a proportion of unmalted
wheat in the mash but also have flavor added in the form of curaçao, orange
peel and coriander, among other ingredients. Their appearance is marked by a
hazy white precipitate and these beers generally have some sedimentation.
Typically these are very refreshing summer thirst quenchers. They are not
widely produced in the US but some notable examples can be found.
Lager styles are a relatively
recent on the global beer scene, when one considers the centuries of ale
brewing that predated the production of lagers. The simple difference between a
lager and an ale is that the yeast employed for fermentation of a lager works
at a cooler temperature and sinks to the bottom of the fermentation vessel,
while ale yeasts work at higher temperatures and rise to the top of the vessel.
Hence lagers are "bottom fermented" beers. Dark lager styles began
displacing ale styles in the early 1800s in Germany and Bohemia. It was only in
the early 20th century that pale lagers rose to prominence when the earliest
refrigeration systems, so essential for their reliable production, were
introduced. Cheap electric refrigeration after the Second World War lead to
pale lager styles dominating the continent of Europe.
The US brewing industry had a
hand in the rise of pale lager in the early 20th Century. The American climate
necessitated the advent of refrigeration for the distribution of food over long
distances during scorching summer months. Such advances also permitted the
establishment of breweries in climates where God never intended, a fact
probably not lost on some God-fearing citizens who took matters into their own
hands during the years between 1919 and 1933.
Bocks are a specific type of
strong lager historically associated with Germany and specifically the town of
Einbeck. These beers range in color from pale to deep amber tones, and feature
a decided sweetness on the palate. Bock styles are an exposition of malty
sweetness that is classically associated with the character and flavor of
Bavarian malt. Alcohol levels are quite potent, typically 5-6% ABV. Hop aromas
are generally low though hop bitterness can serve as a balancing factor against
the malt sweetness. Many of these beers’ names or labels feature some reference
to a goat. This is a play on words in that the word bock also refers to a male
goat in the German language. Many brewers choose to craft these beers for
consumption in the spring (often called Maibock) or winter, when their warmth
can be fully appreciated.
This is a sub-category of the
bock style. Doppelbocks are extra strong, rich and weighty lagers characterized
by an intense malty sweetness with a note of hop bitterness to balance the
sweetness. Color can vary from full amber to dark brown and alcohol levels are
potently high, typically 7-8%ABV. Doppelbocks were first brewed by the Paulaner
monks in Munich. At the time, it was intended to be consumed as "liquid
bread" during Lent. Most Bavarian examples end in the suffix -ator, in
deference to the first commercial example which was named Salvator (savior) by
the Paulaner brewers.
This is the strongest type of
bock. It is made by chilling a doppelbock until ice is formed. At this point,
the ice is removed, leaving behind a brew with a higher concentration of
alcohol. This also serves to concentrate the flavors, and the resultant beer is
rich and powerful, with a pronounced malt sweetness and a warm alcoholic
finish. Alcohol levels run to at least 8%abv.
Maibocks are medium to
full-bodied lagers whose alcohol content can vary widely though is typically
between 5-6%ABV. The color of pale bocks can vary from light bronze to deep
amber and they are characterized by a sweet malty palate and subtle hop
character. As its name would suggest this is a bock style that traditionally
makes a spring appearance in May as an celebration of a new brewing season. In
a Germanic brewers portfolio it is should conventionally have a less assertive
character than other bock offerings later in the year.
Lager / Dark Lager
Dunkel is the original style
of lager, serving as the forerunner to the pale lagers of today. They
originated in and around Bavaria, and are widely brewed both there and around
the world. This is often what the average consumer is referring to when they
think of dark beer. At their best these beers combine the dryish chocolate or
licorice notes associated with the use of dark roasted malts and the roundness
and crisp character of a lager. Examples brewed in and around Munich tend to be
a little fuller-bodied and sometimes have a hint of bready sweetness to the
palate, a characteristic of the typical Bavarian malts used.
Lager & Vienna Lager
The classic amber to red
lager which was originally brewed in Austria in the 19th century has come to be
known as the Vienna style. These are reddish-amber with a very malty toasted
character and a hint of sweetness. This style of beer was adapted by the Munich
brewers and in their hands has a noted malty sweetness and toasted flavor with
a touch more richness. The use of the term Marzen, which is German for March,
implies that the beer was brewed in March and lagered for many months. On a
label, the words "fest marzen" or "Oktoberfest" generally
imply the vienna style. Oktoberfest beers have become popular as September
seasonal brews among US craft brewers, though they are not always classic
examples of the German or Austrian style.
Pale lagers are the standard
international beer style as personified by products from Miller to Heineken.
This style is the generic spin-off of the pilsner style. Pale lagers are
generally light to medium-bodied with a light to medium hop impression and a
clean, crisp malt character. Quality, from a flavor point of view, is very
variable within this style and many cheaper examples use a proportion of
non-malt additives such as rice or corn to reduce the production costs. Alcohol
content is typically between 3.5-5% ABV, with the upper end of the range being
preferable if one is to get a true lager mouthfeel.
Well balanced, smooth, and
refreshing, Dortmunders tend to be stronger and fuller than other pale lagers
or Munich Helles styles. They may also be a shade darker and a touch hoppier.
The style originates from the city of Dortmund in northern Germany. Dortmunder
Export came about during the industrial revolution, when Dortmund was the
center of the coal and steel industries, and the swelling population needed a
hearty and sustaining brew. The "export" appendage refers to the fact
that Dortmunder beers were "exported" to surrounding regions. Today
the term Dortmunder now widely refers to stronger lagers brewed for export,
though not necessarily from Dortmund.
Munich helles is a style of
lager originating from Munich which is very soft and round on the palate with a
pale to golden hue. These beers traditionally tend to be quite malt accented with
subtle hop character. They are generally weightier than standard pale lagers
though less substantial than Dortmunder Export styles. All the finest examples
still come from the brewing center of Munich and are relatively easy to find in
major US markets.
Pilsner styles of beer
originate from Bohemia in the Czech Republic. They are medium to medium-full
bodied and are characterized by high carbonation and tangy czech varieties of
hops that impart floral aromas and a crisp, bitter finish. The hallmark of a
fresh pilsner is the dense, white head. The alcohol levels must be such as to
give a rounded mouthfeel, typically around 5% ABV. Classic pilsners are
thoroughly refreshing, but they are delicate and must be fresh to show their
best. Few beers are as disappointing to the beer lover as a stale pilsner.
German pilsner styles are similar, though often slightly lighter in body and
color. Great pilsners are technically difficult to make and relatively
expensive to produce.
Originally brewed in
Thuringia, a state in eastern Germany, these lager style brews were known to be
darker in color than their Munich counterparts. Often relatively full-bodied,
rarely under 5%ABV, these beers classically feature a bitter chocolate, roasted
malt note and a rounded character. Hop accents are generally low. This obscure
style was picked up by Japanese brewers and is made in small quantities by all
of Japan’s major brewers. Schwarz beers are not often attempted by US craft
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