Styles of Beer

Breweries that produce fewer than 15,000 barrels of beer per year, otherwise known as microbreweries, are part of a growing craft industry that includes homemade and specialty beers. The brewpub is also a growing industry; this is an institution that brews its own beer, mainly for consumption on the premises.

Ironically, this is really a return to the earlier days of brewing, when English pubs brewed their own beer, or earlier still when monasteries brewed for nearby villages and towns.

Smaller batches tend to result in tastier, more interesting beers, with more attention paid to detail and to the quality of the ingredients. Also, smaller breweries result in regional specialties, creating a more varied landscape overall.

Cooking with beer is another growing trend. Beer can now be tasted as an ingredient in sauces and batters, while books and Internet sites proclaim that a good beer is the ideal accompaniment to hearty beef dishes, seafood, and fish entrees. But don’t think the traditional beer and pizza dinner is dead. People still treasure their beer and pizza—or in some cases, a bit of pizza with their beer.

Another popular trend in the beer industry is the light beer. When light beers were first introduced in the 1970s, consumers were attracted to the smooth, mild taste. The lower number of calories didn’t hurt either. Now, light beers have become more popular than the original premium beers.

Import beers have also gained popularity. With styles that vary greatly from the domestic beers, imports have begun to take a larger market share. One reason may be due to the increasing number of immigrants in the country. Another may be that people are just looking for the best.

Lately, the “big thing” has been a malt beverage that isn’t a beer. In this category, you get a wide variety of drinks, from the different varieties of hard lemonade and hard cola, to the more well-known drinks that blend the line between spirits and beers. Brands such as Smirnoff Ice and Bacardi Silver are making a huge impact on the market.

The American Homebrewers Association recognizes seventy beer styles. Here is a description of the most common styles:

Lager

Two different types of yeast can be used to create alcohol. Bottom-fermenting yeast that ferments slowly at a low temperature creates a smoother, mellower beer. Lager beers are light in color, high in carbonation and tend to be less alcoholic than ales. Lagers are best served chilled (about 48 °F/9 °C).

Ale

The other type of yeast rises to the top during fermentation. It also ferments more rapidly and at a higher temperature, resulting in a more aromatic and fruity product. Real ale is produced using traditional methods, without pasteurization. Compared to lagers, ales have a lower amount of carbonation and should be served at a warmer temperature (54-56 °F/12-13 °C). Strong ales should be served at room temperature.

Amber

Malty, hoppy beers have a rich golden color. They can be ales or lagers and tend to be fuller bodied due to the addition of specialty grains.

Bitter

Highly hopped for a more dry and aromatic beer, bitter is pale in color but strong in alcohol content. It’s popular in British pubs.

Dark Beer

Beer becomes darker when the barley is kilned for a longer period of time. This also creates richer, deeper flavors from the roasted grain.

Fruit Beer

Fruit may be added either during the primary fermentation or later. Fruit beer is usually made with berries, although other fruits can be used.

India Pale Ale

The name is often shortened to IPA. This ale was originally brewed in England for export to India. The large quantities of hops added were intended as a preservative and to mask potential off-flavors that might develop during the long voyage.

Mild Beer

Developed as a sweeter and cheaper alternative to dark ales and porters. Mild beer was a popular beer in the mid-nineteenth century but has all but disappeared in most pubs.

Pilsner

This is the term for the classic lager originally developed in Czechoslovakia, a pale, golden-hued, light beer after which many mass-produced American beers are modeled. Pilsners should be served very cold (43 °F/6 °C).

Porter

Very bitter, very dark, this beer was developed in England as a “nourishing” drink for manual laborers such as porters.

Stout

Very dark and heavy, with roasted unmalted barley and, often, caramel malt or sugar, stout was invented by Guinness as a variation on the traditional porter. Serve Guinness at a cool temperature (41-43 °F/5-6 °C).

Wheat Beer (Weizen)

Malted wheat, in addition to barley, is used for this German style beer. Wheat beers were drunk prior to Prohibition and are experiencing a rebirth in the U.S. American wheat beers are markedly different from their German predecessors, which are “spicier.”

Beers of the World

Beers are enjoyed all over the world and brewed commercially on every continent except Antarctica. In addition to brewing their own pilsner-style lager beer, most countries brew their own specialty lagers, ales or stouts.

German Beer

Quality standards are very high in the German brewing industry. In 1516, a law called the Reinheitsgebot (meaning ‘purity requirement’) was introduced in Bavaria. It stated that only pure water, barley and hops could be used to make beer. Although current European Union law states otherwise, many German brewers still follow the Reinheitsgebot to this day.

While light-colored Pilsner lagers are the most common German beers, Germany produces many types of beer: wheat beer and dark-colored lagers like bock are a few. Bock is a full-bodied beer brewed in winter and drunk in spring. The major brewing cities are Dortmund in the north and Munich in the south.

Japanese Beer

The Japanese beer market is dominated by four major brewers: Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo and Suntory . They all produce similar types of light lager beers. In 1994, Japanese brewing regulations were eased, resulting in a boom in microbreweries, brewpubs and regional brewery companies.

Like their American counterparts, serious Japanese beer drinkers jumped at the chance to escape from the clutches of the big brewers and benefit from a wider choice of beer styles. German-style lagers, pale, amber and dark ales, as well as wheat beers are now available in Japan, forcing the big brewers to review their product portfolios.

Australian Beer

Probably because of their hot climate, Australians generally like their beer cold and strong. The major Australian beer producers such as Fosters, Tooheys, Castlemaine, and Swan all produce similar bland, slightly sweet lagers. However, the microbrewery phenomenon, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne, has made most types of beer easily accessible.

Mexican Beer

Mexico has a history of brewing that goes back to the time of the Aztecs. However, the Mexican brewing industry, as we know it today, was created by nineteenth century Spanish and German immigrants.

The biggest Mexican beer brand is Corona. This sweet lager beer, which is normally served with a wedge of lime to make it palatable, has become the largest selling imported beer in the United States.

Irish Beer

To most drinkers, Irish beer is synonymous with one beer brand: Guinness. Dublin’s finest stout comes in two main varieties: draught Guinness and bottled Guinness Extra Stout. Although Guinness is the market leader, it faces strong competition from Murphy’s Stout and Beamish Stout, both from Cork.

In addition to stout, Irish beer varieties also include a number of cream ales, which taste like a combination of stout and lager. The best-known brands are Murphy’s Red and Kilkenny Irish Cream Ale. Bitter ales such as Caffrey’s and Guinness Bitter as well as Kinsale and Harp lagers are also brewed in Ireland, but aren’t as popular as stout.

British Beer

As in most other countries, multinational brewers have made major inroads into the British beer market. However, British beer drinkers rebelled against tasteless, fizzy beer in their pubs. Largely as a result of demands from the Campaign For Real Ale (CAMRA), the small brewery sector has been revived and big brewers are continuing to produce cask-conditioned draught bitter beer. Consequently, British drinkers are still able to enjoy traditional draught and bottled ales.

Belgian Beer

Although only a relatively small country, Belgium is home to the greatest variety of beers brewed anywhere in the world. Besides classic lagers, Belgian beer varieties include a wide range of wheat beers, raspberry and cherry flavored lambics, Trappist strong ales, amber ales, brown ales, seasonal ales, golden and red beers. For the serious drinker, Belgium is Beer Heaven!