Happy April Fool’s Day. I don’t have a prank article this year. And, I know it’s technically a new month, but there is one more article on fundamentals I want to take a look at, beer.
It used to be that beer was always a golden-colored fermented beverage. Now as craft and specialty beers continue to grow in popularity, we are seeing fruit beer, stouts, IPAs (India Pale Ales), sours and other unique styles flood into the market. In this article, I will give you some basic fundamentals to get you started on expanding your knowledge and selection.
First, let’s take a look at ales versus lagers.
For those not familiar, these are not unique types of beer but rather allude to the process in which it was brewed.
Ales are fermented in warmer temperatures which helps the yeast produce faster allowing for a faster brew process (usually twice as fast). This is a popular method for beers with fuller flavors. Ales typically include more hops (for bitterness, citrusy notes, and freshness) and malt (for tones of roastedness, coffee, and caramel) volumes over lagers. Ales are more common in craft style beers such as stouts, IPAs, and reds.
Lagers however, are brewed in colder temperatures and tend to bring out the base flavors in the beer without overpowering hops or malt flavors. Lagers are most popular with pilsner style beers most commonly represented by Budweiser or Miller.
Now that we have a lose idea of the difference between Ales and Lagers let’s look at several different beer styles.
Pilsners – The most common style in America, it includes the big Miller and Budweiser brands. It’s golden in color, relatively mild in flavor, with a light mouth feel, and is less filling than other styles.
Fruit Beers – These can vary in darkness and density as fruit and fruit flavors can be mixed into any style of beer, however they are most commonly of the pilsner or wheat variety. They are typically lighter bodied with noticeable to strong fruit flavors that mask the malt and hops in the beer.
Hefeweizen/Wheat – Typically served unfiltered, these beers will come off looking cloudy. They usually carry sweeter flavors with noticeable roasted malt on the finish. Easy drinking and refreshing.
Reds/Ambers – Kind of a forgotten style in the growing craft market, reds still hold a place. They are tinted a reddish hue based on the darker malts used in brewing. Reds typically carry a bolder flavor than pilsners with more noticeable roastedness, but they still drink fairly smooth and don’t feel as filling as browns or stouts. Farmhouse and Scottish style reds typically are sweeter and maltier with farmhouse styles pulling in a more sour taste.
Browns – The darker roasted malt used in the brew cycle gives brown ales their color. They bring in tones of roastedness and nuttiness. They sit heavier in the stomach and have a fuller mouthfeel, but are not as dense as Stouts or Porters.
India Pale Ales (IPAs) – While many of the other styles mentioned above focus primarily on the malt, IPAs focus on the hops. They are typically very bitter, with extremes extending beyond the bitterness your tongue can comprehend (International Biterness Units or IBUs). Many will put IBUs on the bottle to tailor to those looking for the ‘hoppiest’ they can find (Scale is 1-100 with 100 being the max that your tongue can comprehend). Commonly amber in color, IPAs can carry tones of grapefruit, citrus, and floweriness, and most have a light, stinging bite to them.
Stouts/Porters – Stouts and the more lesser known Porters are some of the darkest beers. They are readily known for rich roasted malt flavors. They feel heavy in the mouth, some almost syrupy, and the fill you up as you drink them. The roasted malt can bring in flavors of toastedness, chocolate, caramel, and coffee. The most common known stout is Guinness, however Guinness is different than most stouts in that it is nitrogen-based instead of CO2 based. This allows it to float in drinks such as a half and half or a black and tan. Guinness carries a much lighter mouthfeel because of the nitrogen base and makes it drink almost like water.
Belgians – A sweeter, malt forward style that has noticeable notes of banana and clove that develop from the yeast used in brewing. This style is known for having higher alcohol levels especially in the Belgian Dubbel, Belgian Trippel, and Belgian Quad varieties. As a rule of thumb, Belgians tend to get higher in alcohol and intensity as you progress up to dubbel, trippel and then quads. Many Belgians are aged in barrels to develop richer flavors and higher alcohol levels.
Sours – A newer style bursting onto the craft scene. Sours hit similar flavor profiles to Belgians, but as the name suggests, they really accent the sour qualities of the beer. Sours are also typically barrel aged to develop their flavor. These have an intense flavor and are typically seeked out by hardcore followers.
For those that are hesitant to try new styles beyond pilsners, it’s helpful to think of them like soda. Consider a pilsner to be a completely different drink than a stout. If you are expecting a Pepsi to taste like a Mountain Dew it’s going to taste awful. If you think of a different style of beer as a completely different drink, you may find you like it.
Hopefully, this guide helps you to be able to to talk about the beer styles a little more completely. Once again this is just the basic fundamentals to get you thinking about different beers you may be interested in carrying at your bar. If you’re considering adding a new style, talk with your distributors, try some samples, and ask them what has been selling well in similar establishments. When in doubt, ask your customers what styles they are looking for. Prost!