We here at Hoosick Steet Beverage want to help our customers have a greater apprecaition and understanding of beer. One way to do that is to have a little better understanding of all the different styles of beer that are available out there. Below is glossary of some of the different styles of beer you may come across.
Styles of Beer
Beer can be divided into two basic categories: lager and ale.The most basic difference between the two is that lagers are made using a bottom fermenting style yeast while ales use a top fermenting style yeast. Lagers are generally fermented at cooler temperatures (below 50 degrees F) while ales are generally fermented at warmer temperatures (60 – 70 degrees F).
Some people think that lager means light while ale means heavy (or dark). Although this is a gross simplification, it is an understandable stereotype. Most ales are darker than most lagers.
Styles of Lager
It’s pretty straightforward with lagers. A few basic styles, a little wiggle room for creativity, but mostly it’s about the quality of the ingredients.
Pilsner The original Pilsner was brewed in Pilzen, Czechoslovakia. The same brewery still exists and produces Pilsner Urquell. Many beer enthusiasts, including myself, consider Urquell to be the only true Pilsner. Everything else is a copy. The use of Czechoslovakian hops, along with the special brewing practices employed to deal with the abnormally pure and soft water, are what set the original Pilsner apart. Many breweries all over the world try to duplicate this original formula, with varying degrees of success. A Pilsner has a very light character, is delicately hopped, with a bitterness that is not aggressive, but gently lingering.
Oktoberfest (Octoberfest) Very closely related to Maerzen and Vienna Lagers. A German classic. Octoberfests express themselves with a malty sweetness. Octoberfests and Maerzens are seasonally produced versions of Vienna Lager. Rich, copper colored, malty in aroma, sharp but not lingering hop bitterness.
Bock Bocks are dark lagers, usually of significantly high alcohol content (over 6%). They are generally brewed seasonally. The only real difference between a “Christmas Bock” and “Spring Bock” is the time of year they are produced, and when they are intended to be consumed. American Bock is a different deal altogether. They can be light or dark, and are generally lower in alcohol content. Dopple Bock is a stronger version of Bock.
Australian Lager Not much different than American / Canadian pilsner. (Note: pilsner with a little “p” when mentioned along side “American”). They are made with Australian hops and malts, but other than that they are very similar to big production American beers. It is a misnomer that they are higher in alcohol content. They just come in a bigger can.
American Lager, Canadian Lager I classify Canadian beers along with American beers, not because I want to upset Canadians, but because it’s realistic. They claim to be Pilsners, but are really just extremely light lagers that are produced on a massive scale.
American Steam Beer Steam beer is generally considered to be an exclusive to the Anchor Brewing Company of San Francisco. It has gained considerable notoriety. It is a style of Lager that is brewed at Ale-type temperatures. I guess you could consider it the opposite of Alt Bier, which is an Ale brewed at Lager-type temperatures. It is an interesting approach, but ultimately produces a light lager type beer.
Styles of Ale
There’s a lot of room for variation between the basic styles of ale. The Great American Beer Festival recognizes dozens of different ale styles when giving out awards. Rather than go into details about styles of ale that you will quite likely never come across, we provide a list of the basic, traditional styles of ale below.
Bitter Bitter is a very generic term use to describe a wide variety of ales. In general, it refers to a light bodied, basic style of English ale, usually not very potent in terms of alcohol content. Often referred to as Session Beer. Session? I once heard it described this way: “People can sit around and drink it all night, discussing the important matters of the day, without wandering too far off the original subject.” Bitters can be lightly or highly hopped.
ESB (Extra Special Bitter) Like the name might suggest in relation to the above description of Bitter, an E.S.B. is significantly higher in alcohol content than a bitter. Perhaps a bit richer body, or a redder color.
Amber Loosely, a variation of the good old bitter. Usually made a bit stronger and “redder” by the addition of Amber Malts. Once again, these are generic terms and the name that a brewery decides to attach to their beer is not so much a matter of fact as as it is a matter of opinion.
Pale Ale A variety of English ale that tends to be significantly hoppier, and higher in alcohol content. Golden in color compared to ambers and bitters.
India Pale Ale (IPA) During colonial times, brewers began to produce a style of pale ale that featured a higher hop content. The intention was that the high hop content would help the beer survive the long trip to India, where many homesick, thirsty English soldiers were stationed. This style of beer quickly became popular at home. Whether or not IPAs actually ever made it to India is a matter of debate.
Brown Ale Brown ales are sweeter and fuller in body than any of the ales described above. Some are lighter, and have a nutty and sweet character, while others are more hearty and robust.
Stout Stouts are black ales which utilize roasted barley for their sharp character and dark color. They are produced in varying degrees of alcohol content, sweetness and hoppiness. Guinness is surprisingly low in alcohol content, very high in malt content, and low in hop content. Other stouts are very high in alcohol content and hop content. The rich character of roasted barley is the common thread.
Porter Porters are dark, and generally not too high in alcohol content. They differ from stouts in that their dark character does not come from roasted barley, but rather from other dark malts. To describe Porters in more detail would be inviting criticism and argument. What is produced today and called “Porter” is not necessarily consistent with the traditional definition of Porter.
Barley Wine Very strong, often hoppy and fruity ales which are generally designed to age for a long time and are brewed for special occasions. Barley wine is a name applied to a wide variety of very strong ales (8 – 12 percent alcohol).
Wheat Beer A wheat beer is exactly what it sounds like: a beer brewed with a portion of malted wheat in the mash. There are basically two types of wheat beers you will run into: Hefeweizen (light, unfiltered wheat beer), and Dunkelweizen (dark, unfiltered wheat beer). Both of those styles are lagers, however wheat ale (light and dark) is certainly a possibility, though uncommon.
Alt Beir Alt is a German style of ale, untypically top fermented at cold “lager type” temperatures, and aged for a short period of time. In German, alt means old. This is the way Germans made beer before the discovery of bottom fermenting lager yeasts. They are usually well balanced (malty and hoppy).
Kolsch Like Alt Beir, Kolsch is top-fermented. it is a full beer, light in color, pleasantly bitter and slightly hoppy. Like Champaign, it is (in theory) supposed to come from one particular region in Germany (Cologne) to actually be called Kolsch.