There are several different styles of beer. It is always good to know some of these especially when heading to a new brewery for the first time or if you’re just new to the world of craft brews.
Most beer styles fall into types roughly according to the time and temperature of the primary fermentation and the variety of yeast used during fermentation.
Top-fermented Beers – Ales, Stout & Wheat
Top-fermenting yeast typically ferments at higher temperatures (15–23°C, 60–75°F), producing significant amounts of esters and other secondary flavours (phenols) and aromas, often resembling those of apple, pear, pineapple, grass, hay, banana, plum or prune.
Bottom-fermented Beers – Lagers & Pilsners
Pale lagers are the most commonly consumed type of beer in the world. Lagers are of Central European origin, taking their name from the German lagern (“to store”), and normally use a bottom-fermenting yeast which begin fermenting at 7–12 °C (45–54 °F) (the “fermentation phase”), and then stored at 0–4 °C (32–39 °F) (the “lagering phase”). During the secondary stage, the lager clears and mellows. The cooler conditions also inhibit the natural production of esters and other byproducts, resulting in a “crisper” tasting beer.
Most of today’s lager is based on the original Pilsner style, pioneered in 1842 in the town of Pilsen (Plzeň), in an area of the Austrian monarchy now located in theCzech Republic. The modern pale lager that developed from Pilsner is light in colour and high in forced carbonation, with an alcohol content of 3–6% by volume. The Pilsner Urquell or Heineken brands of beer are typical examples of pale lager, with the Pilsner Urquell brand having a hop presence more associated with the pilsner style. Principal styles of lager include pale lager, Bock, Dunkel, Helles, Oktoberfestbier / Märzen, Pilsner, Schwarzbier and Vienna lager.
Spontaneous fermentation Beers
Beers of spontaneous fermentation use wild yeasts rather than cultivated ones. By the Middle Ages, brewers had learned to crop the yeast from one brew and use it in the next. Only in a few isolated regions were wild yeasts still used. The best-known region where spontaneous fermentation is still used is the Senne Valley in Belgium where lambic is produced.
Hybrid/Mixed Style Beers
Hybrid or mixed style beers use modern techniques and materials instead of, or in addition to, traditional aspects of brewing. Although there is some variation among sources, mixed beers generally fall into the following categories:
- Altbier and Kölsch, both of which are top fermented before being cold conditioned, i.e. lagered.
- Steam beers were invented by German immigrants living in California and are made with a type of bottom-fermenting yeast that can ferment at warmer temperatures. The name “steam beer” is a trademark of the Anchor Brewing Company, though other brewers brew this beer under the designation “California common”.
- Fruit and vegetable beers are mixed with some kind of fermentable fruit or vegetable adjunct during the fermentation process, providing obvious yet harmonious qualities.
- Herb and spiced beers include herbs or spices derived from roots, seeds, fruits, vegetables or flowers instead of, or in addition to hops.
- Wood-aged beers are any traditional or experimental beer that has been aged in a wooden barrel or have been left in contact with wood chips or cubes. Often, the barrel or wood will be treated first with some variety of spirit or other alcoholic beverage; bourbon, scotch and sherry are common.
- Smoked beers use malt that has been treated by exposing it to smoke from burning or smoldering wood so that a smoky aroma and flavour is present. The best known examples of this style are the Rauchbiers of Bamberg, Germany. Brewers outside Germany have also used smoked malt in porters, Scotch ale and other styles.
- Champagne-style beers are finished “à la méthode originale”, mainly in Belgium, and include Grottenbier, Deus and Malheur Bière Brut.
Ciders (not Beers)
Cider is a beverage but different in how it’s made compared to beers. Cider is produced by fermenting apple juice (or other fruits). They come in two varieties – sweet or dry. Variations in filtering result in a different colors. Typically ciders contain 35% to 90% juice (either freshly pressed or from a concentrate). Ciders can range in the ABV from 1.2% all the way up to 12%.
Handy Reference Chart – Feel free to download these and use it when in doubt!
These charts include a few more commonly found beer styles.
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