To put it very simply, picking your beer is determining how much “sweetness” and “bitterness” you want (among other things). The amount of malt determines the “maltiness” (or sweetness), and the amount of hops determines the “hoppiness” (or bitterness).
The following are only a few popular beer styles brewed by today’s craft breweries.
India Pale Ale (IPA)
Originating in England, this beer began as a simple pale ale with extra hops. The added hops helped preserve the beer while it travelled to India. Known more commonly by its acronym “IPA”, the beer has now taken on a new look and taste. These are known as American IPAs, which are more bitter and maltier than history suggests. Essentially, IPAs pack one hell of a punch of flavour.
Personally, this my favourite. The Double IPA, or Imperial IPA, is essentially an IPA taken to the next level. The flavour is full-on explosive with a complex malts balancing out with various hop profiles. It originates back to… well, very recently with the American craft beer movement.
Extra Special Bitter (ESB)
Another beer that originated in England, this ale has flavours that are more hop forward (hence bitter). What makes it “Extra Special”? Well, a higher alcohol percentage makes it special.
These beers are funny. Are they an ale, like their name suggests? Or are they a lager? Well technically it is an ale because it is fermented using top-fermenting yeast (ale yeast), but it is stored at cool temperatures, like a lager. Some people can be intimidated by cream ale – it’s dark colour can mistake it for being a heavy beer. However, it’s rather light. Expect low bitterness, relatively high malt.
This German beer has become a summer classic. A hefeweizen is an unfiltered wheat ale brewed with wheat malt. It usually has a a heavy fruity flavour, hence the pairing with a lemon. Some hefs still have yeast sediment gathered at the bottom of the bottle — that’s flavour country. Expect low bitterness.
Also known as “White Beer” or “Bier Blanche,” this beer is a Belgian-style wheat ale. Expect to taste some orange and coriander, hence being served a slice of orange in many pubs. Low hops with a fruity taste.
Take Witbier, take an IPA, put ’em together…. boom: White IPA.
This style originated in southern Belgium. With the craft beer revolution, it has become a big hit in North America. These beers have a sort of spicy and fruity flavour — very complex! Hops are fairly lowto moderate.
Think all lagers are light coloured? Guess again. Bocks are German beers that are fermented cold with lager yeast. They are dark due to the darker malt used. They are lightly hopped.
These German beasts are are dark and malty — some of the maltiest out there. Crazy flavours like clove and bananas explode. The light hops balance that malt, but only so much.
Originating in Dusseldorf, Germany, “altbier” means “old beer”. It’s a typical German lager fermented with ale yeast, though at lager tempertures. Contains a decent balance of hops and malts. Colour is generally a darker amber colour.
Often mistaken for a lager, Kolsch beer is actually an ale. Similar to Altbiers, the Kolsch is fermented using ale yeast at lager tempertures. What this does is still give the beer the traditional dry taste that comes with lagers. The malts used produce a light colour, but still packs in decent flavour. The hop profile is slightly higher than ordinary dry lagers, helping concoct the Kolsch to taste amazingly ordinary in the best possible way.
Cascadian Dark Ale (CDA)/Black IPA
A hot-bed for craft beer is the Cascadia region of North America. For those who don’t know, Cascadia is British Columbia, Washington State, and Oregon. Within this region, hops grow wildly, which is why IPAs have such a dominance in the North West. CDA’s are exactly what you’d expect from the name: they are dark from the use of dark malts, and because they are “Cascadian” they are really hoppy! Think of a typical dark ale, like a brown ale or porter, mixed with an IPA. Outside of Cascadia, these beers are commonly referred to as “Black IPAs.”
ISA or Session IPA
As more demand for more sessional craft beers increases, these “India Session Ales” have come to the rescue. These beers are IPAs with an alcohol content of 5% or lower. Nothing beats spending a night drinking IPAs with the ability to walk home after.
There are so many beer styles, I could go on. Instead, just see below for how the beer styles relate to each other…