DEFINING BEER : STYLES AND SUBSTANCE  

 

ALE

Ales, the beers of antiquity, come in a wide range of flavours and styles.

BARLEY WINE

Hefty ale with fruity and caramel aromas, complex malt flavors, and as much alcohol as wine.

One of the few beer styles that are noticeably stronger than other beers. Often served in a wine or brandy snifter (after all, it is often called the beer version of cognac, it ages well. Usually produced in limited quantities for winter’s holiday celebrations.

 

BELGIAN BEERS

Often considered a specialty brew group or separate styles, or even a class by themselves.

These unusual and never-subtle ales cover a wide spectrum of strong aromas and flavours, including the fruity and intense Belgian ale; the complex, aptly named Belgian strong ale; the intensely sour but refreshing Flanders brown and red ales; the tart and fruity Lambrics; the sweet and sour faro (Lambric) the extremely sour gueuze (blended Lambric) the dark, complex Trappist Dubbel; Sweeter Trappist Tripel; and the last but not least, the spicy Witbier.

 

BITTERS

This style isn’t really bitter-it’s betrayed by the name given it centuries ago when hops were first used by English Brewers. A very common, popular beer in British pubs. Bitters come in a range of sub styles, from subtle to robust.

 

BROWN ALES

English and American versions. Good beginners beer for timid beer drinkers looking to try something beyond the ordinary (not bad for old-timers either) Not too malty, not to thin, with subdued fruity and caramel flavours. Mellow but flavourful.

 

PALE ALES

Rather fruity beers with nutty and toasty flavours and a pleasantly dry and often bitter aftertaste. Despite their name, they’re generally golden to amber in colour. Some U.S. brewers’ versions are labeled   Amber Ale.

 

PORTER

Dark but not imposing ale. Light malt sweetness and pleasant dark grain flavours; makes a wonderful sipping beer. May range from medium bodied to big and robust. Porter and its cousin, Stout is quite distinct from other beers.

 

STOUT

Porter’s close cousin, brewed in five distinct substyles. More roasty-flavoured and coffee like than porter; one of life’s little luxuries. In the past it was recommended for nursing mothers.

 

STRONG ALES

Fruity and malty with a variety of buttery, nutty, and toasty flavours. These heavyweight sippers are great for casual after-dinner or late night imbibing. The two types of strong ale are of English

(The more bitter old ale) and the Scottish (the maltier and subtly smoky Scottish ale) descent.

 

WHEAT BEER

The ultimate summer quenchers. Their fruity-performy aromas, citrusy tanginess, and spritzy effervescence make these ales especially easy to enjoy when the weather is hot. Brewed in six substyles.

 

LAGERS

The name Lager is taken from the German word meaning “ to store”. Most of the mass-produced beers of the world are lagers, but the wider range of styles exists than those commercial brands lead you to believe.

 

AMERICAN PALE ALES

Although these beers differ greatly from brand to brand in the mind of the unknowing consumer,

Thanks to advertising campaigns, they are for the most part identical in taste and strength (about 4 to 5% alcohol by volume). All the light, standard, and premium brands were originally based on the classic Pilsner style, but they are now much different from that style. They are light-coloured, gassy, and watery, with a delicate sweetness and an adjuncty (corn or rice is the adjunct grain mixed with barley) aroma and flavour (light versions have almost no taste or aroma). Primarily thirst quenchers, they should be served ice cold.

 

AMERICAN DARK LAGERS

Like their pale counterparts, these lagers are timid versions of European exemplars. They lack the fullness and rich chocolaty flavour of the German dark lager style; more bark than bite – which is why they can easily be man’s best friend.

 

BOCK BEERS

Traditional bock beers are generally dark, strong, and pretty malty, but with a chocolate-accented flavour that lasts long into the after taste. Six very distinct substyles.

 

GERMAN PALE LAGERS

Mainstream examples of high quality everyday beers; mildly malty and suitably bittered. Many regional brands are exported to the U.S. where they are nationally known.

 

GERMAN DARK LAGERS

Ebony brethen of the German pale lagers, but slightly richer tasting.

 

MARZEN-OKTOBERFEST BEERS

Much like bock beers (malty and medium bodied), but without the chocolate flavour and burnt amber colour. Easily consumed in quantity, especially at festivals.

 

PILSNER

(also spelt pils, pilsner, and in the Czech Republic, plzensky)

The authentic beer from Czechoslovakia that many American brand name beers aspire to be: an aromatic subtly malty, crisp, and refreshingly bittered (hoppy) lager. A real classic, brewed since 1842 by the folks who originated it (Pilsner Urquell was the first golden, clear beer); the most imitated  style throughout the world.

 

RAUCHBIER-GERMAN SMOKED LAGER

Can range from a friendly campfire like smokiness to an intense acrid pungency. Definitely an acquired taste, but you haven’t lived till you’ve tasted one with smoked ham or sausage. This beer is for sipping not inhaling!

 

VIENNA LAGER

Malty, medium-bodied cousin of Marzen beer.

 

HYBRID STYLES

Some beer styles don’t fit perfectly into the ale and lager categories because brewers mix the ingredients and processes of both categories into one beer. For example, a brewer may use an ale yeast but a lager fermentation temperature. Where do hybrids fit into the beer family tree? Think   of an exotic, mysterious, well-traveled uncle: a bit off the chart, not to everyone’s liking, but with a definite appeal for some of us.

 

ALT  OR  ALTBIER

A German ale (a rare bird, indeed). Alt means “old,” referring to the fact that the beer is fermented the “old” way- with top-fermenting ale yeast strains. Modern altbiers are fermented warm, like ales, but aged cold like lagers. The typical altbier is malty with an assertive palate and a fair amount of hop bitterness, though the hop blend, because it’s complex, tends to differ from one brewery to the next.

Note: The terms top-fermenting yeast and bottom-fermenting yeast are based on where the yeast choose to feed in the unfermented beer.

 

CALIFORNIA COMMON BEER

(Formerly known as steam beer)

Like its Steam predecessor, this beer features a medium body, a toasty/malty palate, and a fairly aggressive hop presence in aroma, flavour and bitterness.

 

 

CREAM ALE

A light-bodied, thoroughly American invention. As American brewers continued to produce light-bodied ales, they tried making them with longer and colder fermentations, as was being done with lager beer (these ales weren’t spared the introduction of adjunct grains, either). The resulting beer is similar to American lagers and its often noted for its obvious corny aroma and flavour, along with a mild, perfumy-sweet grain palate. Pale and highly carbonated.

 

KOLSCH

Pronounced kelsh. Named after the city of Koln (cologne), Germany, and indicates that the beer was brewed in the traditional style of that city. In Germany, only members of the Koln Brewer’s Union may call their beer a kolsh. Noticeably pale and hazy, partly due to the addition of wheat, but mostly the result of being unfiltered. Clean on the palate, with a slight lactic (milky) sourness. Relatively thin-bodied and not very strong. Medium hop bitterness has a drying effect; overall, a refreshing, summery type of beer. Whereas ales are typically fermented at warm temperatures, cream ale, kolsh, and altbier are brewed as ales (with top-fermenting yeast strains) but undergo a cold fermentation or aging period. California common beer, on the other hand, is fermented warm like an ale, but with a lager (bottom fermenting yeast).

 

SPECIALTY BEERS

The specialty beer category is more or less a catch-all for the beer styles that don’t elsewhere. When it comes to specialty beers’ place on the beer family tree, the wild artiste cousin is the model: bold, loud, experimental, often goofy, and always controversial. Usually quite memorable. Lovable despite having flouted convention. Specialty beers are typically regular beers brewed to a class style (porter, stout, pale ale) but with some new flavour added; others are made from unusual foods that are fermented. The addition of fruits, herbs and spicies,miscellaneous flavourings (such as licorice, smoke, and hot pepper) and odd fermentables such as honey, maple syrup, and molasses, turn an ordinary beer into a specialty beer. In many ways, specialty beers are the most fun to try. People who are new to drinking beer or perhaps those who claim not to be beer fans seem especially surprised and pleased when they try these exotic brews, especially fruit-flavoured beers, for the first time. This fact is not lost on brewers, for whom crating new beers with broad appeal is now a high priority. Urge them on. Brewmasters take a great deal of pleasure and artistic liberties when creating specialty beers. Everything but the kitchen sink can be added to the beer, and I’m not so sure how long it will be until someone tries the sink, too. After all, people have tried garlic beer (very, very bad idea) and even hot chili pepper beer (it’s sort of like drinking liquid heartburn). Caveat emptor. Some of the more subtle blends are often the most outstanding – a black berry porter comes to mind.

 

FRUIT BEERS

Generally light – to medium-bodied lagers or ales that have been given a fruity flavour by the way of real fruit or fruit extract. Tend to have a sweeter finish than other beers. Cherry, raspberry, and blueberry are the popular flavours, but a beer that tastes of apricot, peach or meroinberry isn’t unusual.

Note: Belgian lambic beers are also fruited, but they are in a class by themselves.

 

HERB AND SPICE BEERS

May include anything from cinnamon to tarragon; any beer style can be made with any herbs or spices. Summer and winter seasonal brews are typical. Although pumpkin beers have been made with real pumpkin, the big-name commercial versions are generally just laced with the spices that are reminiscent of pumpkin pie (cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice).

 

SMOKED BEER

Any beer style that has been given a smoky character, though one style in particular lends itself well to a smoky aroma and taste; porter. The flavour profile of the underlying beer should always show through the smoke.

 

WASSAIL

A very traditional style of spiced beer that is brewed for Christmas and the holiday season. Wassail is often called by other names, like the holiday beer, yule ale, winter warmer, and if it contains fruit, mulled ale. (Wassail can be grouped with the fruit or spice beer – it’s hard to plug neatly into a slot – but as an old standard, it merits it own listing). The word wassail (rhymes with fossil) comes from the Old English waeshael – “be hale or “be whole”, both of which meant “be of good health”. This was considered the proper toast when presenting someone with a libation. The drink of choice back then was usually mulled ale, a warmed up strong ale laden with spices like nutmeg and ginger and sweetened with sugar or spices of fruit, usually roasted crab apple.