Beer style

Beer style

Beer style is a term used to differentiate and categorize beers by various factors such as colour, flavour, strength, ingredients, production method, recipe, history, or origin.

The modern theory of beer style is largely based on the work done by the late writer Michael Jackson in his 1977 book "The World Guide To Beer" in which Jackson categorised a variety of beers from around the world in local style groups suggested by local customs and names. [ Michael Jackson's Beer Hunter - How to save a beer style ] ] Fred Eckhardt furthered Jackson's work publishing "The Essentials of Beer Style" in 1989.

However, there has been differentiation of beer since around 2000 BCE, which has continued throughout history and within many different cultures. While the systematic study of beer styles is a modern phenomenon, the act of beer differentiation itself is ancient and widespread.

The study of what constitutes a beer's style can be broken down into various elements. These may include the amount of bitterness imparted to a beer from bittering agents such as hops, roasted barley, or herbs; the amount of sweetness from the sugar present in the beer; the strength of the beer from the amount of fermentable material converted into alcohol; the smoothness or viscosity of the beer in the mouth, commonly described as mouthfeel; and the appearance of the beer, including the colour.

History of beer styles

The history of beer style would be the history of beer itself. The Alulu Tablet – a receipt for "best" ale found in Ur – shows that even in 2050 BCE there was a differentiation between at least two different types or qualities of ale. While the work of Bedrich Hrozny on translating Assyrian merchants' tablets found in Hattusa, revealed that approximately 500 years later the Hittites had over 15 different types of beer.

Documents in various countries over the years reveal comments on different local brewing methods or ingredients. Pliny the Elder in his "Naturalis Historia" wrote about Celts brewing ale "in Gaul and Spain in a number of different ways, and under a number of different names; although the principle is the same." Anglo-Saxon laws reveal they identified three different ales, while the Normans mention "cervisae" (ale) and "plena cervisia" (full bodied ale) in the Domesday Book.

By the 1400s brewers in Germany and the Low Countries were using hops to flavour and preserve their ale – this new style of ale was called beer. When this trend came to Britain and brewers of beer in Southwark, London, started to take sales away from the traditional brewers of unhopped ale, there were complaints and protests. Various laws were passed favouring either beer or ale for a number of years, until hopped beer became the standard style throughout Europe.

Also in the 1400s, brewers in Bavaria were storing beer in cool caves during the summer months in order to stop it spoiling. The beer became known as lager from the German word "lagern", meaning "to store".

Although beers using naturally-dried malt would have been pale-coloured, by the 1600s most malts in Europe would have been dried over a fire, resulting in a dark coloured beer. When coke started to be used for roasting malt in 1642, the resulting lighter coloured beers became very popular. By 1703 the term "pale ale" was starting to be used, though the beer it described was a lightly-hopped ale, very different from more bitter modern versions.

However, despite an awareness by commentators, law-makers, and brewers that there were different styles of beer, it wasn't until Michael Jackson's "World Guide To Beer" was published in 1977 that there was an attempt to group together and compare beers from around the world. Jackson's book had a particular influence in North America where the writer Fred Eckhardt was also starting to explore the nature of beer styles. The wine importing company Merchant du Vin switched to importing beers mentioned in Jackson's book. Small brewers started up, producing copies and interpretations of the beer styles Jackson described.

While North America developed beer styles into a serious study with fixed parameters of bitterness, colour, aroma, yeast, ingredients and strength, other countries continued to mainly categorise beers loosely by strength and colour, with much overlapping of naming conventions.

Elements of beer style

Beers may be categorized based on a number of factors.


The visual characteristics that may be observed in a beer are colour, clarity, and nature of the head. Colour is usually imparted by the malts used, notably the adjunct malts added to darker beers, though other ingredients may contribute to the colour of some styles such as fruit beers. Colour intensity can be measured by systems such as EBC, SRM or Lovibond, but this information is rarely given to the public.

Many beers are transparent, but some beers, such as hefeweizen, may be cloudy due to the presence of yeast making them translucent. A third variety is the opaque or near-opaque colour that exists with stouts, porters, schwarzbiers (black beer) and other deeply coloured styles. Thickness and retention of the head and the lace it can leave on the glass, are also factors in a beer's appearance.


The aroma in a beer may be formed from the malt and other fermentables, the strength and type of hops, the alcohol, esters, and various other aromatic components that can be contributed by the yeast strain, and other elements that may derive from the water and the brewing process.


The taste characteristics of a beer may come from the type and amount of malt used, flavours imparted by the yeast, and strength of bitterness. Bitterness can be measured on an International Bitterness Units scale, and in North America a number of brewers record the bitterness on this scale as IBUs.


The feel of a beer in the mouth, both from thickness of the liquid and from carbonation, may also be considered as part of a beer's style. A more dextrinous beer feels thicker in the mouth. The level of carbonation (or nitrogen, in "smooth" beers) varies from one beer style to another. For some beers it may give the beer a thick and creamy feel, while for others it contributes a prickly sensation.


The strength of the beer can refer to three variables: original gravity, final gravity, and alcohol concentration.

Original gravity, abbreviated OG, is the density of the wort before the beer has begun fermentation. Roughly, it corresponds to the amount of fermentable material in the beer and can be measured in several ways, such as the Plato scale, Baumé scale, Balling scale, Brix scale, or gravity, with Plato and gravity being the most common contemporary measures.

The original gravity of a beer was the basis for determining taxation in both the UK and Ireland from 1880 until the late 20th century, and a legacy of that system remains in the largely arbitrary division of bitter into "bitter", "best bitter", and "special bitter" substyles.

In continental Europe, the strength of a beer in degrees Plato is sometimes used by the brewery to distinguish a particular beer produced in a line. For example, Rochefort Brewery produces three beers, all dissimilar in colour, flavour, and aroma; and sells them as Rochefort 6, Rochefort 8, and Rochefort 10, the numbers referring to the original gravities of the beers. Westvleteren Brewery, meanwhile, produces three beers, and calls them Blonde, 8, and 12.

Modern strength classification for tax and regulatory purposes often discriminates by alcohol by volume, abbreviated ABV; or the directly-related measure alcohol by weight. Before the development of modern brewing practices and the understanding of the biochemistry of yeast, the final ABV of a beer could not be controlled to great precision and therefore ABV was useless as a determinant for revenue. Contemporarily, though, ABV is used in Great Britain to determine the duty on beer and cider, and sales of beer and cider above a certain ABV is restricted or prohibited; for example, in the US state of Alabama the sale of beer over 6% ABV is illegal; meanwhile, in Texas, beers below 4% ABV cannot be sold as stout regardless of other stylistic considerations. [ [ Andy Crouch's - Beer Labels and Packaging ] ]

The final measure of strength, final gravity of the beer, refers to the density of the beer when fermentation has completed. This is a function of the original gravity of the beer, the recipe of the mash and the attenuation of the yeast and determines a large portion of the feel of the beer in the mouth, particularly whether the beer is sweet or dry. The distinction between English and Irish stouts is usually drawn by this, with Irish stouts considered drier; however, absolute final gravity is not so much a determiner as is the final gravity compared to the alcohol content.


A variety of different yeasts are used in making beer, most of which are strains of either top-fermenting yeast or bottom-fermenting yeast. Different strains impart different flavour and aroma characteristics, and may vary in which complex sugars they can ferment and how high their alcohol tolerance is, both of which are factors in attenuation. Some beers use other microbe types in addition to one of these, such as Lactobacillus or Brettanomyces. For example, the distinctive flavour and aroma of Belgian Abbey ales largely result from the yeast strains used to ferment the beer. There are a few modern styles, notably lambics, where spontaneous fermentation is used -- that is, the unfermented wort is allowed to be colonized by microorganisms loose in the environment, rather than inoculated in a controlled fashion with a known organism.


Most beers use barley malt as their primary source of fermentable sugars, and some beer styles mandate it be used exclusively, such as those German styles developed under Reinheitsgebot. Some beer styles can be considered varietals, in the same sense as wine, based on their malt bill. [cite book
last = Richman
first = Darryl
title = Bock
publisher = Brewers Publications
date = 1994
location = Boulder, Colorado, USA
pages = 162
isbn = 0-937381-39-X

Kilned pale malts form the basis of most beer styles now in production, with styles using other grains as a base, for example bock, which uses Munich malt as a base, distinguished by that. The Rauchbier and Alaskan smoked porter styles are distinguished by the use of smoked malt.

Some styles use one or more other grains as a key ingredient in the style, such as wheat beer, rye beer, or oatmeal stout. Other grains such as corn and rice make less of a flavour contribution and are used primarily as an added source of fermentable sugars.


Hops contribute bitterness, flavour and aroma to a beer in different ways depending on when they are added during the brewing process. How much hop bitterness and aroma is appropriate varies considerably between different beer styles. There are many varieties of hops, some of which are associated with beers from specific regions. For example, Saaz hops are associated with Czech Pilsners, Hallertau and Tettnanger are two of the "noble" hop varieties one expects to find in German beers, and Kent Goldings are an English variety.


Water is the main ingredient in beer, and, though water itself is flavourless, the chemical composition can have an influence on the finished taste; indeed, some brewers regard it as "the most important ingredient in beer". [ [ Wells Bombardier Bitter - Wells & Young's Brewing Company Ltd - ] ] In particular, two styles of beer are especially noted for their water chemistry: pale ale, for which the process of Burtonisation is widespread; and Pilsener.

Other ingredients

Fruits and spices are key ingredients in some beer styles. While fruit beers and herb beers are often listed as style categories unto themselves, fruits and spices are sometimes used to contribute to the flavour and aroma profile of other styles. Vegetables have also been used in beers. Honey, molasses, candy sugar, or other fermentable sugars may be added to impart their distinct flavours to a beer. While not an ingredient per se, some brewers have experimented with aging their beer in barrels previously used for bourbon or other distilled spirits, imparting the flavour of both the wood and the spirit to the beer.

Alcoholic beverages made from the fermentation of sugars derived from non-grain sources are generally not called "beer," despite being produced by the same yeast-based biochemical reaction. Fermented honey is called "mead", fermented apple juice is called "cider", fermented pear juice is called "perry" (sometimes, "pear cider") , and fermented grape juice is called "wine". Chinese "jiu" and Japanese "sake" are made using much the same process as beer with one additional step in the fermentation as well as using rice instead of primarily barley malt.

Beer Styles

Most beer styles fall into broad types roughly according to the time and temperature of the primary fermentation and the variety of yeast used during fermentation. As the terminology of brewing arose before the advent of the science of microbiology, "yeast" in this context may refer not only to fungi but to some bacteria, for example "Lactobacillus" in Berliner Weisse.


Ale is beer that is brewed using only top-fermenting yeasts, and is typically fermented at higher temperatures than lager beer (15–23°C, 60–75°F). At these temperatures, ale yeasts produce significant amounts of esters and other secondary flavours and aromas, often resembling those of apple, pear, pineapple, grass, hay, banana, plum or prune.

Principal styles of ale include Barley Wine, Belgian Trippel, Belgian Dubbel, Altbier, Bitter, Amber Ale, Brown Ale, Pale Ale, Kölsch, Porter, Stout, and Wheat beer.


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"). Lager yeast is a bottom-fermenting yeast, and typically begins fermentation at 7-12°C (45-55°F) (the "fermentation phase"), and then stored at 0-4°C (30-40°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.

Modern methods of producing lager were pioneered by Gabriel Sedlmayr the Younger, who perfected dark brown lagers at the Spaten Brewery in Bavaria, and Anton Dreher, who began brewing a lager, probably of amber-red colour, in Vienna, Austria, in 1840–1841. With modern improved fermentation control, most lager breweries use only short periods of cold storage, typically 1–3 weeks.

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 the Czech 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 American-style lager, Bock, Dunkel, Helles, Oktoberfestbier / Märzen, Pilsner, Schwarzbier and Vienna lager.

pontaneous fermentation

Beers of spontaneous fermentation are ales that use wild yeasts, rather than cultivated ones. All beer was once brewed this way, but 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 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:

* Steam beers were invented by German immigrants living in California and are made with bottom-fermenting (lager) yeasts, but fermented at warmer (ale) 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 add 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 in contact with wood (in the form of chips, cubes or "beans") for a period of time (Oak is the most common). 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 are any beer whose malt has been smoked. A smoky aroma and flavour is usually present. The most traditional examples of this style are the Rauchbiers of Bamberg, Germany. However, many brewers outside of Germany--most notably American craft brewers--have been adding smoked malt to porter beers, Scotch ale and a variety of other styles.
* Champagne Style Beer was first released in 2001. There are several of these on the market and mostly all of them are ale's using a second fermentation in the bottle with champagne yeast. One new, very popular beer in this category is called Kasteel Cru. It is a lager made in Alsace, France with water from the Vosges Mountains

Other fermented drinks based on cereals



* Arnold, John (1911). "Origin and History of Beer and Brewing".
* Almqvist, Bo (1965). "The Viking Ale and the Rhine Gold".

ee also

* History of beer
* List of beer styles


External links

* [ The history of British beer styles]
* [ The history of lager styles]
* [ Michael Jackson's Beer Styles Index]

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