Craft beers are produced by smaller breweries using traditional methods and ingredients to produce a handcrafted, uncompromised beer that is marketed locally. They are all-malt beers that do not use any ‘adjuncts’ like corn or rice to add fermentable sugars that add very little to the flavor of the beer. This type of beer is brewed to be distinctive and flavorful rather than to be inoffensive and appeal to everyone.
The hallmark of craft beer and craft brewers is innovation. Craft brewers interpret historic styles with unique twists and develop new styles that have no precedent. Interesting and sometimes non-traditional ingredients are often added for distinctiveness.
Beer style is a term used to differentiate and categorize beers by various factors such as color, flavor, strength, ingredients, production method, recipe, history, or origin. Some styles have established through centuries of tradition and accumulated wisdom while others are very recent innovations from creative American craft brewers.
Beer styles are not hard laws that must be followed (except if you are in Germany and following Rienheitsgabot) and some beers do not fit into any style while others may fit into more than one.
Styles are useful when ordering a beer so that you have an idea about what you will be getting so you won’t be surprised. If you order a porter, you expect to get a dark roasty beer and not a light colored hoppy beer.
Lagers are typically fermented cooler giving them a crisper flavor and smoother finish. Common Lager styles include:
American Lager – The typical American beer with low malt and low hop flavors and moderate alcohol.
American Light Lager – A lower calorie version of the American Lager with a bit less flavor and less alcohol. The most popular type of beer in the US.
European Lager – A slightly more flavorful version of the American Lager.
Pilsner – A true European style Pilsner is still pale in color but has a definite malt flavor and higher noble hop flavor and bitterness.
Oktoberfest/Maerzen – A traditional German style more amber in color with a definite malt flavor.
Bock – A stronger lager that is sweeter than other styles because it is brewed using more grains. Related styles are Maibocks that are usually lighter in color and Dopplebocks that are even stronger in alcohol.
Ales are fermented warmer resulting in a fruitier and slightly more complex beer. Common Ale styles include:
Blonde Ale – Low malt caracter and low hop levels make this an easy drinking beer
Pale Ale – Higher malt levels and a definite hop character make this an easily accessible yet flavorful ale.
India Pale Ale – Hop flavor and aroma are the major points in this style, especially American versions but they usually do have a good malt backbone too.
Brown Ale – An Amber-Brown ale with bready or nutty flavors that may also have hop flavors.
Scotch Ales – A malty sweet ale, sometimes with a bit of smokiness and very low level of hops.
Wheat Beers – American Wheat beers are pale with a light wheat bread character while German Hefeweizen styles use a yeast that gives them some refreshing banana/clove/bubblegum flavors.
Wit Beers – A Belgian Style made with wheat and spiced with orange peal and corriander
Saison – A French/Belgian Style made with a yeast that give this lighter style a spiciness that goes well with food.
Porter/Stout – Dark beers with a definite roasty character. Hop levels can be low to high and sweetness can be high to dry.
Russian Imperial Stout – A strong dark beer that has roast malt flavors but is sweeter due to residual sugars left from all the additional malt needed to give the higher alcohol.
Imperial or Double is a term used when the brewer uses around twice the ingredients to make a beer. The result is bigger, bolder, and higher alcohol beer. Imperial Russian Stouts and Imperial India Pale Ales are the most common Imperial beers.
Barrel Aging is when the beer is aged in wooden barrel, often a bourbon barrel but types have been used. The results are a woody character to bourbon or boozy flavors depending what was originally in the barrel. Barrel aging is most often done to darker and heavier beers like Goose Island Bourbon County Stout.
Sour beers may sound bad but have been around for centuries and can be very refreshing. The brewers use wild yeasts and bacteria to give the beer it’s tart punch. The most common sour beers are Belgian styles like Oud Bruin, Flanders Red Ale and Lambics (which are later sweetened with fruit added). New Belgium’s La Folie is a very tart example while most beers from Jolly Pumpkin brewery out of Michigan have some level of tartness.