Introduction to beer styles
As a more intuitive brewer, I have no ability to properly follow a recipe, even my own, since I always have new ideas on how to tweak or change it. I wrote recently about the fact that I made a final recipe for the two home beers that will become regulars in our house, and I’ll do my best to keep to the recipe……
My biggest problem in putting together those recipes was that I actually didn’t really know what the beer style for each of them was. So to finally correct my ways and stop name guessing when writing up my brewing days, I delved into the Brewers Association 2015 Beer Style Guidelines.
This is going to be the first part in explaining (as I’m learning) about beer styles since the above guidelines have 70 styles of ale, 30 styles of lagers and more than 35 other/hybrid beers – too many to go through in one go. The good thing about the guide is that it shows that at the end of the day, with the right matrix, you can find the beer style you are tasting.
Lager or Ale?
Probably the first step in deciding the beer style is knowing if it a lager or an ale. The two big differences between the two is the yeast (ale yeast or lager yeast) and the fermentation temperature. Ale goes through a warm fermentation that results in a top fermentation (the work is done on top of the wort) while lager needs a cold fermentation leading to a bottom fermentation (happens at the bottom of the fermentor).
Personally I focus on ales as I like to drink them more and the brewing process is simpler. Since the big difference is the yeast used, you can find many ales that actually taste like lagers and visa versa; those kind of beers sometimes are called hybrid beers.
After choosing ale (as I did….) it is time to know which country your ingredients come from, or more precisely what is their genetic origin. The main point of origin is where that ingredient evolved/has been developed, not where it is grown now. For instance: Nottingham is a British Ale yeast (and is made by companies all over the world) while the Safale US-05 is an American strain. The same is true with hops: Fuggles is a British hop (from South East England) while Simcoe is an American hop, and so on. Each of the origins have different characteristics that is more unique to that geographical location.
Another difference is the style that has emerged from those countries, creating a clear flavour profile. The main countries’ beer styles are:
British – usually malty and grainy flavours. Hops tend to be more on the earthy side.
North American – Very hoppy and bitter flavours. Hops are floral or spicy.
German – Drier finish with a stronger crisp wheat taste.
Belgian – Big emphasis on yeasty flavours and aromas. Tend to use spices in the beers.
That list is obviously not all inclusive and any other country in the world will have its own beer style, but the list above represents the main beers styles manufactured today.
At this point the simplicity of finding the right beer is going out the window as there so many different beers with small nuances, so finding the beer style of what you have just made becomes extremely complicated. There are bitters, ales of all shade (Pale, red, ruby, dark, black etc), porters, stouts, weisse, weizen, dubbel lambic, gose and the list continues.
I’m not going to go into each and every single style; instead, I’m planning to explore each of the beers I’m making and do some research, both from the guide and a little history (if there is) about it and the main process of how that beer style is made.
Using the guide
In the mean time, what I’m trying to do is just know what kind of beer I have made. My beer making process is completely based on intuition and experimentation so I usually don’t know what I have made; and I only try and guess what style it is when I’m drinking it. I will try and be more precise about my assessments from now on.
For finding which beer style I have made I use the Beer Style Guidelines and try and find the right characteristics that make the most sense. I start by checking the origin of ingredients, the yeast style, and the grain. For instance, my last brewing day was (I thought) a coffee porter, but when I checked with the guideline, it is actually a robust coffee porter that has more alcohol and it is suppose to bitterer.
The trick is to make an educated guess on what the base beer is and keep on checking and adjusting your assumption after you read about the beer style you had in mind. I’m guessing (and hoping) that over time I will be able to read all the beer styles in the guide and eventually recognize them before even needing to consult the guide.
What is your method in finding out your beer style after creating a great concoction that was not based on a recipe?