Do you always end up ordering the usual at a beer store near you every Saturday night? You go through all the foreign-looking names at a craft beer bar menu and feel completely clueless about which one is sour or which one tastes hoppier or what is an IPA?
Trust me; the struggle is real. There are over 3000 craft breweries alone in the US. It’s like searching a needle in the ocean to narrow it down to one favorite beer brand. This beer guide will help you with the basic concepts of what beer is made of, brewing processes and the most common types of beers.
Lagers Vs. Ales
Beers are largely categorized in these two styles depending on the fermenting process and yeast type used in brewing.
Top and Bottom Fermentation:
During the production of ales by top-fermenting, yeast ferments at a warmer temperature and settles at the top of the beer vessel.
The lager yeast is more fragile in nature and settles down at the bottom through a slow aging process. Lager yeast has a lower tolerance to alcohol than that of ale, and it ferments at a relatively cooler temperature.
Types of Craft Beer
Lagers are fantastic picks for newcomers to beer as one of the lightest, less boozy beers, just fine for day drinking. The fresh fruity essence of ale yeast is skipped in lagers. Pale lager or Pilsners typically tend to be a little malty, low in alcohol content, with a bit of hoppy smell, and a crisp golden hue. Alternatively, favored for its rich dark brown color from Munich malts and a chocolatey caramel flavor, Dark lagers have a higher ABV.
Brown ales originate way back in the time when all varieties of pub beers were dark brown in color, made of malt, dried in the wood flame. Much like amber ales, brown ales are created with a chocolatey coffee flavor from roasted barley, yielding a caramel note from top fermentation. English style has a sweeter malty, and nutty taste compared to its American counterparts, as hops in the US tend to be more bitter with citrus and pine notes.
In the 18th century, British ales were mixed with surplus hops and added alcohol as a natural preservative to keep them intact on India’s six months-long voyage. That’s how this international style of ale came up with a range of tastes from fruity to bitter to chocolatey, depending on the flavor of the hops.
Present-day India Pale Ales have a profound bitterness with refreshing citrus and floral flavor profile.
In contrast with IPA’s hoppy bitterness, wheat beers are more malt oriented punched with a slice of fruity goodness. The light and tangy flavors of wheat beers seem to be very congenial for a non-beer-drinker. With an alcohol level sometimes a little higher than 5-6%, blended with lemon or orange squeeze, wheat beers give you just the perfect amount of kick in the summer. The American style tends to have a bread aroma from the 40-60% of wheat content.
Sour beers are brewed in natural barrel storage or open-air cooling. They have an innate tartness or acidic taste, produced from a mixture of wild yeast and bacteria. A fusion of sweet and sour flavor is created with added fruits like cherry, raspberry, or peach due to secondary fermentation. Popularized by Belgian labels, sour beers come in many forms and flavors like Belgian style Lambic wheat beer or Fruity Flanders, Berliner Weisse with a palate of lemony tartness, or German-style Gose.
Stout is another beer style with centuries-old history backing it. In 17th century Britain, a strong, full-bodied roasty and affordable tailor-made blended ale was served in the pubs for hardworking porters. Soon, they added prefixes to its names like Extra Porter or Stout Porter to grab the attention of more robust porters, increasing the alcohol content, which eventually came out as an individual style, ‘Stout.’ How about that creamy mustache after the first sip of Guinness on a chilly night? Almost synonymous with the Stout family, Guinness has a rich chocolate color and a bittersweet coffee flavor from roasted grains.