Monday, July 12, 2010

Beer Styles

Quote: “I work until beer o’clock.” Steven King

Lager - Cold brewing allows the beer to ferment at the bottom of the barrel rather than at the top (Ales are top fermenting beers). The invention of refrigeration has allowed brewers to mass-produce the lager-style beer. Lagers are generally lighter and smoother than ales. Bottom fermenting lagers have a less pronounced taste difference between the Malt and Hops. In other words Lagers are more balanced. Munchener or Munich, one of the first known lager styles, is a bottom-fermented beer brewed in Munich, Germany since the mid-eleven hundreds. There are two basic Munich styles: Helles Bier, a pale beer and Dunkel Bier, which are an original dark style lager. Both styles are distinctively malty. Bottom fermented lagers are the most popular of all beer styles. For an example of a well-rounded American lager, try a robust Samuel Adams Lager or try a Hacker-Pschorr Edelhell for a lighter bodied, higher alcohol, traditional example. Ayinger Jahrhundert (Century Celebration Bavarian Lager) is a must try Helles style.

Kölsch – A rare Alt (Old) beer style, combining top fermenting yeasts with lagering methodology. Originating in Cologne, Germany. Kölsch is a smoother and more herbal version of a Pilsner. Clean and refreshing. Gaffel is an excellent example as is the delightfully delicate Reissdorf. Harpoon Summer Beer is a good American offering of the style.

Pilsner - More people drink Pilsner than any other beer style. Pilsner or Pils is a form of a lager. Originally from Pilsen, Czech Republic. Light, clean, full of flowery, sharp “Saaz” hops. Straw/yellow to gold in color. Dry finish. A good representation of the Pils style is Pilsner Urquell or Budvar (named Czechvar in some countries). Warsteiner brews a good German-style Pils.

Bock – A beer invented by fasting monks so that they would maintain a source of nutrition during the times they would deprive themselves of solid food. I’m sure that even while satisfying their nutritional needs with a rich malty beer, the thought of a special pizza must have been overwhelmingly tempting. Bock, Dopplebock (Double), Maibock, and Weisenbock are all part of the bock family. Bocks are richer, darker and thicker than typical lagers. Paulaner Salvator is a wonderful example of a dark bock. Eisbock is a Doppel bock which during fermentation is bought to freezing temperatures. An amount of the crystallized ice water is removed, making for a stronger, more concentrated beer. Ice Beer is a cheaper imitation of the original Eisbock

Vienna – This style beer is an ancestor of amber lagers. In the same class as Märzen. Full malty body, slightly reddish in color, lightly fruity and not too complex are classic Vienna style traits. Samuel Adams Boston Lager is a fairly easy to get example of a Vienna. Schwelmer Bernstein from Germany is true to the style.

Dry Beer – A nearly odorless and tasteless beer. Originally developed by the Germans as a Diät Pils (not Lo-Cal, but developed for diabetics) and made popular by the Japanese. Dry beers are crisp and seltzery and as mentioned earlier, void of flavor or aroma. Asahi Super Dry is one of the more popular Dry beers.

Genuine Draft – Not really a true draft because this style is sterile-filtered prior to bottling or canning. They are, however unpasteurized like a draft. Miller Genuine Draft comes to mind.

Ale Family
Extra Special Bitter (ESB) Not as bitter as the name implies. Comparable to a Pale Ale with slightly more low alpha acid hops and a bit more body. Redhook ESB hits the mark, Fuller ESB hits the bull’s-eye.

Brown Ale - When compared to a Pale Ale, the Brown Ale Malt is roasted a bit longer, the water should be softer, the hops slightly less hoppy and a bit sweeter. Generally Brown Ales are lower in alcohol than pale ales. Newcastle comes immediately to mind. Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown is pretty tasty. Smutty Nose Old Brown Dog is a nice Americanized Brown Ale with a bit more of an alcohol profile. Corsendonk is a stronger Belgian variation of Brown Ale.

Porter - An Ale, which is darker and stronger than Brown Ale. Originally a mix of three beers – Mild Ale, Brown Ale and Stale Ale. It became popular with the common class and shippers (called Porters) of London in the mid 1700s. Typically rich and chocolatey and heavily hopped with English Hops. Try Bateman’s Salem Porter, or for an American twist of a Porter; Sierra Nevada Porter.
Baltic or Imperial Porter is an amped up version of the standard porter. Sinebrychoff Baltic Porter is perhaps the perfect example of the style.

Stout - A heavier darker variation of the Porter. The grains are roasted longer for an often smoky or slightly burnt quality. Stouts may be sweet, dry, milky or strong in alcoholic content. They should all possess an extremely dark and heavy body and rich, foamy head. Finding really good stout amongst all sub-categories of the style and so many brewers is not so easy. The most popular Stout is of course, Guinness Extra Stout (a dry stout). Cooper’s XXX is a “must try” and Young’s Oatmeal Stout is a prime example of a “sweet” stout. If you’re in the mood to be absolutely blown away with strong stout ale flavors, go out and find yourself a Samuel Smith’s Imperial Stout. Some Imperial Stouts are now pushing 12%-13% abv.

Weisse (Berliner or Barvarian style Wheat Beer), Weizen (Bavarian or Southern Germany Style Wheat Beer) or Wheat Beer (American Wheat Beer) - Confused? Don’t be. A wheat beer by any other name is still a Wheat Beer (usually at least 50% wheat malt). Lighter in color and taste than barley malt, wheats are generally associated with “refreshing” brews, though some wheat can be full bodied, malty brews. Lemony flavors can be imparted in many strains of the wheat grain. American Wheats often lack the clove and spice flavors of their European counterparts. Flavors of bananas, apples and simply, fruit can be detected in some Wheat Beers. A traditional style Wheat Beer to try is Erdinger Weibbier (again the Wheat category attempting to be confusing). St. Peter’s is a full-bodied barley-like wheat beer. Hefe-weizen (yeast- wheat), in which particles of yeast can be seen floating in a poured glass (try Paulaner) and Weizenbock, a heavier, darker wheat variation. Kristall Weizens are simply filtered prior to bottling. Kristalls are cleaner and clearer in the presentation. They lack the yeasty, clovey, and spicy taste of the Hefe Weizen.

Belgian Ales –
Lambic - A Belgian style wheat beer that relies heavily on wild airborne yeast. Cloudy gold to copper in color. Not overly hopped due to the bitter clove-like taste created by the yeast. Lambics are generally associated with Fruit beer. The beer is usually cooled in open vats (accepting more wild yeasts and bacterias to infiltrate), and then fermented in oak wine casts. Fruits are added to round out the flavor. Try Lindemans Frambroise (Raspberry) Lambic. Gueze Lambic is a more potent and sour tasting variation of the style.
Farmhouse Saisons - Originally produced for the warm summer months in France and in Begium as a beer that would last, without refrigeration for several months. Not overly hopped and just enough malt body to carry the fruitiness and mellow citrus bitterness. The alcohol content ranges from between 5.5% and 8.0% abv. There should be a light spiciness with well-hidden alcoholic bite. Hennipen from Ommagang is quite nice!
Les Freres De La Biere / Thiriez Xxtra is a Must Try!

Barley Wines – One of the most potent beers in the beer family. Barley wines may contain up to and sometimes surpass 11 percent alcohol by volume. Be careful when you research Barley Wines! Generally, this breed of ale employs a spicy, edgy quality. Try a Sierra Nevada Big Foot, the bursting with exotic flavors, J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale.
Note: Before you start your third Barley Wine, hide your car keys. Don’t worry, you won’t find them.

Trappist/Abbey – Trappist Ales are brewed by Trappist Monks. Trappist is a designation only given to beers produced by the Trappist monks of the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance. These richly flavored ales range from single to sometimes quadruple strength. Flavors such as clove, bananas, apples and spices are quite typical. Trappist Westvleteren 8 is a great example of a Double (Dubbel). Easier to find is the tasty St. Bernardus Prior 8. While Westmalle Trappist Tripel is a great representation of a Belgian Triple, Allagash’s Triple Reserve is a fine American representation of the style
Abbey Ales are the commercial versions of the Trappist. Abbey Ales can be every bit as good as an authentic Trappist. La Chouffe is quite good as is Ommegang Rare Vos.

Pale Ale - A classic British style ale. Not really pale but lighter than Porters and Brown Ales. Well hopped, medium to full malt body dark golden to deep copper in color. Two good examples: Geary’s Pale Ale and Young’s Special London Ale.

India Pale Ale (IPA) - IPA’s are basically an extra hopped Pale Ale. The extra hopping helped preserve (and hops are a natural preservative) England’s beer during long ocean voyages when Britannia was colonizing India. IPA’s generally have a little more alcohol kick than regular Pale Ales. Prime examples are Samuel Smith’s IPA (English Style) and Victory Hop Devil IPA (U.S. Style.)
Double IPAs are creating quite the stir amongst the serious beer-drinking crowd. They are just what they name implies – an extra dose of hops are added along with an increase in the alcohol kick. Dogfish Head 90 Minute is a must try as is Bear Republic’s Hop Rod Rye. The addition of rye in the malt process gives this brew an extra edgy kick.

Seasonal Beers – Does the sight of falling leaves and the thoughts of the cold, bitter months ahead unsettle your nerves? Are you affected by the winter doldrums? Well there are beers that are brewed specifically to help ease those seasonal feelings of woe. The most popular of the seasonal brews would have to be the Oktoberfest or Octoberfest beers. Hearty and robust, creamy and sweet, rich and full bodied, Oktoberfests are generally brewed in March and aged longer than typical lagers. The beer is tapped in late September or early October and not just enjoyed, but celebrated. Find a comfortable sweater, pick up a six-pack of Hacker- Pschorr Oktoberfest and enjoy the fall season. Winter Beers or Christmas Ales come in a wide variety of styles. The interpretations of the style are determined by the whims and expressions of the individual brewer. To keep it simple, Winter Beers are stronger and more flavorful than, say, Pale Ales. Some brewers add spices and seasonings or berries to create a beverage reminiscent of the holidays. Nothing says, “Season’s Greetings”, quite like a Young’s Winter Warmer or Anchor Christmas and New Year Ale. We normally don’t need a lot of help welcoming in the spring, but there are those cold drizzly days where winter’s clammy grip is still felt deep in the bones. And one way sure way to counter this gloom is to sit back with some Spring Ales and let the foul weather run its course. The Spring Ales of today are various off shoots of Biere de Mars or Mars Beers. Traditionally, these beers undergo a long fermentation of summer barley malt and fall hops throughout the winter. Spring Ales should be smooth and well rounded, as well as slightly strong. Samuel Adams Spring Ale is fairly easy to find and easy to drink. The final Seasonal Beer we will look at is the Summer Beer. I suspect that Summer Beers are more of a new way to market beer rather than an official and well-known beer style. When I think of a beer I like to consume on a hot summer day, I prefer something light, cool and refreshing. I don’t want a beer with a high alcoholic content either. A Bitburger Pils seems right to me as would a Leon Munich Style Lager. Nowadays we find Shipyard Summer Ale or Tremont Summer Ale for sale at the local package store. And while they are both fine beers, I don’t understand what makes their beer any more suited to the summer time than any mild lager or pilsner or even a Brown Ale. Of course my job is to just drink all beers, at any time of year, then impart my impaired view of them to you.
Fringe Beer Styles – Besides the Oktoberfest style beers, nothing says, “Have a Spooky Halloween” like Pumpkin Ale. This style ale originated in colonial America in the 18th century. Post Road creates a Pumpkin and Spices version that is worth trying. Rauchbier (Smoked) Beer has to be one of the most exclusive and curious styles around. Think BBQ beer! Aecht Schlenkerla is powerfully smoky brew. Adelscott-Peat Smoked presents a flavor reminiscent of fine scotch.
Sahti, an original beer style from Finland has been brewed for more than a thousand years, making it, along with some Belgian Lambics, one of the oldest beer styles made. Juniper branches in place of hops, give Sahti its unique bittering flavor. A hint of licorice flavor gives some styles an usual complexity. There are many variations of the Sahti style. Home brewers may add hops, different malts, smoke or oats. Some old Finns like to make Sahti in their saunas.
Altbier, or Düsseldorfer Alt is an original style beer brew in the “alt” (old) style. The Alt style is lagered in cold conditions after an initial warm ale top-fermentation. The result is a mellowed hop and subdued fruity flavor and aroma. Pinkus brews a Münster-style Alt, which is quite good.
Roggenbier, or Rye is a crisp, dry and slightly spicy beer. Rye is added to the barley malt, sometimes as much as 60% of the malt grain. A good Rye beer will possess an aroma and flavor reminiscent of dark rye crackers. Red Hook brews the fairly tasty Sunrye Ale. A light amount of rye flakes contributes to a slightly crisp rye flavor and aroma. Wolnzacher Burgerbräu produces an unfiltered Roggenbier of full of flavorful and aromatic Rye. Hop Rod Rye Ale by Bear Republic is a truly big and flavorful brew!

Extreme & Power Beer – We could call this Nouveau beer or as suggested by the Washington Post, “Extreme” Beer. These new breeds (and sometimes classics)of Artisanal brews are very complex in character and generally strongly alcoholic, with by volume percentages from 11% all the way up to 25% ABV. Because beer yeasts will expire with alcohol levels at 14% and over, many of these power beers utilize the more resilient champagne yeasts. These highly refined aged beers are attracting the single malt scotch, sherry and port class clientele as an aperitif or after dinner dessert beverage. The Extreme beer could provide just the push into proving that beer is or can be a beverage for the truly discerning palette. And maybe, just maybe, all well-crafted beer will become as acceptable and respected as the aforementioned “elite” beverages. Dogfish Head World Wide Stout at 23% ABV, Samuel Adams Millennium Ale, 21% ABV and Samuel Adams Utopia MII at 24% ABV are prime examples of this mind-blowing trend of beer style. Samichlaus from Austria (World’s strongest Lager) at 14% ABV is a must try. The questions that are sure to come into play in the very near future will be what kind of warning labels will be necessary to insure that the unsuspecting don’t accidentally mistake this for ordinary strength beer.

Cellaring “Vintage” Beer – Vintage Beer, simply put, is beer that can be aged for some time to develop character and complexity as it matures. Certain Bottle Conditioned Ales, Imperial Stouts, Baltic Porters, Barley Wines and the new breed of Strong Artisanal beers may fall into this category. Cave-Conditioned ales, while brewed for centuries are making a comeback and are well suited to cellaring. If you don’t have a cellar or access to a cave that will keep your Vintage beers at between 52° and 55°F with some humidity, a wine cooler/refrigerator will do the job quite nicely. However, unlike wine, beer should be stored in the upright position to avoid yeast rings inside the bottle. If you must lie the beer down in the cooler be sure to gently roll the bottles into a new position every few months. BeerAdvocate has a good article on cellaring in their Beer 101 section.
It seems that every time you visit your favorite local beer seller a new beer style appears (Über Pils)on the shelf. By the time you finish reading this post, another style will have been invented (American Wild ale) or rediscovered (Keller Bier). I recommend trying them all!

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