You’ve been drinking craft beer for a while, and you love to pour all these amazing brews down your throat. It’s great. It’s fun. You know you love the hops sledgehammer of an IPA, but you wanna try something new. Berliner-weisses, European style whats-its, giant Belgian beers with funny names that don’t help (Hello! Geriatric Hipster Club?). How do you know what the hell to try when there’s so much going on? Check out this introduction to craft brews so you can know what to expect next time you want to try something new.
Lager vs Ale
The most important style division is in the yeast, lager vs ale. Lager yeast is a bottom-fermenting yeast (Brewing techno speak, I know. Bear with me!) that ferments at colder temperatures. Then the beer is stored at just above freezing, called lagering, until the flavors get just right. It makes clean, often crisp beers that get out of the way for balanced flavor from malt and hops.
Ales are top-fermented yeast which ferment at higher temperatures. Higher temperatures mean that the yeast gives us a greater variety of flavors in the beer. Love the banana and clove of a Bavarian Hefeweizen or the spice of a Belgian? That’s mostly from the ale yeast.
There’s one more style of yeast you should know about, wild yeast, used mostly in sour beers. The old way of doing this is to leave your wort (unfermented beer) out until natural yeast and bacteria start fermentation. Some brewers still use this technique, but most have cultivated strains of “wild” yeast. Most people call these beers funky. Careful, they can make you shout “HA!” like James Brown.
The modern concept of Beer Styles as we know them were developed by Michael Jackson (no, not that Michael Jackson) with his groundbreaking book "The World Guide To Beer" in 1977
155 Beer Styles
The Brewers Association recognizes more than 155 different and distinct beer styles!
American Craft Beer
America may be the youngest beer producing country on the planet, but more beer styles are being innovated here than anywhere else.
A lager is more than that pale yellow water pushed on our grandparents by big beer. Europeans have been brewing interesting lagers of all shapes and sizes for centuries. Here’s an overview of these classic styles:
Bud Light and Miller lite fall under this style, but don’t let that fool you. Most of theses styles come from Europe, and they have some great flavor. Crisp, clean, and light-bodied, these beers are great for lounging on the beach standing next to the BBQ.
Pilsener: A light colored, crisp beer with a little sweetness and some hops flavor and one of the world’s favorite styles.
Example: Pivo Pils by Firestone Walker Brewing Company.
German Helles: A sweeter beer than a pilsener, the helles pushes spicy German hops, but it is more malt focused than most light lagers.
Example: Helles by Dry Dock Brewing Company.
These beers are grouped together based on the color of the beer, ranging from copper to black. They can be sweet or dry, but all are delicious. These beers are less common to Americans, so they’re a great way to explore new styles.
Vienna Lager: Sessionable beer (that’s a beer with an ABV between 3 and 5 percent ABV) that balances hops and sweet making it easy to drink all day.
Example: Sam Adams Boston Lager by Boston Beer Company.
Munich Dunkel: Dunkel means “dark,” and this German beer has some chocolate and bready flavors.
Example: Knight Ryder Munich Dunkel by Equinox Brewing.
German Schwarzbier: A drier, version of the Dunkel with more roast flavors.
Example: Once You Go Schwarz… by Figueroa Mountain Brewing.
Oktoberfest: No, we didn’t spell that wrong. It’s a seasonal beer from Germany with bread and biscuit flavors.
Bock beers are their own style of German lagers, originally from Einbeck. Bock translates as “goat,” which is super weird, but the beer tastes great. These beers focus on malty sweetness with low bitterness.
German-Style Bock: Brown and sweet with low bitterness. Weizen bock is a wheat version of the style.
Example: Butt Head Bock by Tommyknocker Brewery & Pub.
German-Style Doppelbock: Doppel means “double” so it’s double the punch of the regular bock.
Example: Samuel Adams Double Bock by Boston Beer Company.
German-Style Maibock: Lighter and hoppier than the rest of the bocks.
Example: Elixir Maibock by Abita Brewery.
Examples from Hopsy
Share & Enjoy Lager
An easy-drinking lager by Morgan Territory brewing in Tracy, CA. Lagered 6 weeks for smoothness.
Dos Equis Lager
A clean golden pilsner-style beer made from pure spring water by Cerveceria Cuauhtemoc Moctezuma in Monterrey, Mexico.
Seal Rock Dopplebock
A traditional German-style doppelbock brewed in small batches by Alameda Island Brewing Company, in Alameda, CA.
H41 Wild Lager
A Limited Release lager brewed with a rare ‘mother’ yeast discovered in Patagonia. Developed by Heineken's team of Master Brewers.
Seeing is Believing Schwarzbier
A classic Schwarzbier, brewed with German Pilsner and specialty roasted malts by Peekskill Brewery, in Upstate New York.
India Pale Ale (IPA)
IPA’s can range from a balance of bitterness and sweetness to a sucker punch of bitterness to your mouth. The style is defined by hops flavors that range from pine needles to fruit to floral flavors with an ABV range of 4.5 to holy crap I’m drunk (more than 12 percent). Originally an English style, Americans took it over and created a ton of new sub categories:
New England IPA: Juicy and fruity in hazy beer.
Example: Juicy Bits by Weldworks Brewing Co.
West Coast IPA: Defined the American IPA with pine and citrus flavors.
Example: Pliny the Elder by Russian River Brewing Company.
Black IPA or Cascadian Dark Ale: A West Coast IPA that is dark like a stout with less focus on roast flavors.
Example: Back in Black by 21st Amendment.
Imperial IPA: IPA that roid rages in your mouth with big malt and hops flavors and high ABV.
Example: Furious by Surly Brewing Company.
English IPA: a subdued IPA that inspired our favorite style.
Example: East India IPA Brooklyn Brewery.
American Pale Ales began with Sierra Nevada Pale ale, with a clean malt flavor and moderate hops bitterness and flavor. These beers are usually lower in alcohol, usually around 4 percent or 5 percent ABV, so they’re great for an afternoon of throwing cold ones back on the beach or pairing with your favorite spicy Mexican food.
American Pale Ale: Lots of bitter and hops with subdued yeast and malt.
Example: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale by Sierra Nevada Brewing Company.
English Bitter: More malt flavor with subdued hops, usually between 3 and 4 percent ABV.
Example: Midsummer Fling by Harpoon Brewery.
ESB (Extra Special Bitter): A bigger version of the English Bitter, it’s high in malt flavor and hops bitterness.
Example: Royal Scandal by Peticolas Brewing Company.
Belgians styles are all about the yeast, and they come from an old, monastery-based brewing culture in Belgium. The yeast creates spicy, fruity flavors, the colors range from light to dark, and the malt can be light and crisp or dark and heavy. If IPA’s are the most popular, Belgian beers are on their way to chasing them down. Belgian monks also brewed some of the most famous beers in the world, the Trappist ales.
Blond Ale: Light colored, crisp, and dry, this style is an easy drinking beer.
Example: Blond by Allagash Brewing Company.
Dubbel: A sweet beer than ranges from brown to very dark with caramel and cocoa flavor, perfect for cold weather with 6 to 7 percent ABV.
Example: Abbey Dubbel by Elm City Brewing Company.
Belgian Dark Strong Ale: The Dubbel’s big, mean brother with big flavor and sweetness coming in at 9 to 14 percent. You’ll need to sit down for this one!
Example: Salvation by Russian River Brewing Company.
Belgian Golden Strong Ale: This light-colored beer finishes dry and crisp with an ABV between 7 and 11 percent.
Example: Brooklyn Local 1 by Brooklyn Brewery.
Pale: Inspired by English Pale Ales, this beer is crisp and light.
Example: Perdition by Russian River Brewing Company.
Tripel: A dry, light colored beer with lots of yeasty goodness, this one sneaks up on you with a high ABV between 7 and 10 percent.
Example: Tripel by Green Flash Brewing Company.
Saison: Sometimes called farmhouse beers, Belgians started out as a beer for hot days. Gold to light amber in color, brewers sometimes add spices to make this beer their own.
Example: Red Barn by The Lost Abbey.
Belgian Witbier: A light, wheat beer with coriander and orange peel.
Example: White by Allagash Brewing Company.
Wheat beer styles have only one thing in common. You guessed it, Wheat! They can range from mouth-bombs like the Wheat Wine Ale to light and easy-drinking like the American Wheat. Most wheat beers in America tend toward the light side, and it’s the preferred beer for adding fruit.
American-Style Wheat Wine: A big beer, 8.5 to 12 percent ABV, it is big on sweet and often barrel-aged.
Example: Wheat Wine by Smuttynose Brewing Company.
American Wheat: A lighter beer that brewers often add fruit or other ingredients. If you’re drinking a crazy Guava/Basil beer, it probably has this style as it’s base.
Example: Oberon by Bell's Brewery Inc.
German Hefeweizen: This light colored beer is supposed to be cloudy and its has clove and banana flavors.
Example: Ebel's Weiss by Two Brothers Brewing Company.
German-Style Dunkelweizen: A cross between a German-style dunkel and a hefeweizen that’s sweet with chocolate and sometimes banana and clove.
Example: Shiner Dunkelweizen by Spoetzl Brewery.
Stouts and Porters are common dark ales. Roast unmalted barley is what makes a stout a stout. It gives the stout chocolate and coffee flavors, and it adds bitterness, too. Stouts and porters can be smooth and light-bodied or brazen, barrel-aged, booze bombs that dare you to drink a whole glass.
American Imperial Stout: The biggest, baddest of the stouts, it’s high-alcohol and big flavors makes this a favorite.
Example: Old Rasputin Imperial Stout by North Coast Brewing Company.
American Stout: Like all things American, they add a lot of hops to this thick, dark, winter beer.
Example: Obsidian Stout by Deschutes Brewery.
Oatmeal Stout: Oatmeal gives this beer a smooth texture and a rich taste in a lower alcohol beer.
Example: Velvet Merlin by Firestone Walker Brewing Company.
Milk Stout: Milk don’t have milk in it, which would be gross. It gets its name from lactose sugar with gives the beer a smooth taste and texture.
Example: Milk Stout by Left Hand Brewing Company.
Irish Stout: The classic stout that everyone knows, it’s light and dry with roast flavors.
Example: O.V.L. Stout by Russian River Brewing Company.
Brown Porter: The most common porter style (cause it’s amazing), a little sweet with caramel.
Example: Taddy Porter by Samuel Smith's Brewery.
Porters started as a working class beer, meant to sustain men who worked hard all day. Now, they’re a craft beer darling with wide range of flavors and alcohol levels.
American Imperial Porter: Americans like big beers and hops (See above) and the Imperial Porter is another example featuring caramel and cocoa sweetness.
Example: Imperial Porter by Shipyard Brewing Company.
Baltic-Style Porter: Technically a lager, this is a blend of a porter and schwartzbier with a boozy kick.
Example: The Duck-Rabbit Baltic Porter by Duck Rabbit Craft Brewery.
Robust Porter: Like a brown porter but stepped up with bigger roast flavors with cocoa.
Example: Pig Iron Porter by Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant.
Wild or Sour Beers
When every brewery has an IPA or 10 (have we reached peak IPA yet? Come on!), some brewmasters use sours and wild beers to show off their chops and stand out from the crowd. These can range from mildly tart to tongue blistering, while others are just plain funky (who wants to drink something described as horse blanket?). These styles tend to cost more, because they’re fermented in barrels (not stainless steel) and they have long fermentation times. Sours are for the bold beer drinker, but they can also be a great way to get your wine guy to drink beers, too.
Brett Beers: Named after the yeast strain, Brettanomyces, this wild-ale brings the funk like George Clinton with leather and fruity flavors.
Example: Sanctification by Russian River Brewing Company.
Fruit Lambic: A sour style from Belgium, they are mixed with fruit to make a great summer beer.
Example: Coolship Red by Allagash Brewing Company.
Lambic/Gueuze: Dry beers with an acidic jolt and a range of flavors.
Example: Supplication by Russian River Brewing Company.
Gose: Straw colored and tart, a litthese beers can be salty, so they’re great when you’ve been sweating.
Flanders Red: These beers match sweet with sour, sometimes with cherry flavors and are aged in wine barrels.
Example: La Folie by New Belgium Brewing Company.
Examples from Hopsy
Iconic and class, this IPA is brewed with 43 different hops and 65 various malts. Made by Lagunitas Brewing Company in Petaluma, CA.
Hopsy Hazy IPA
A Hopsy Exclusive, Hopsy Hazy is a hazy IPA with a surprisingly soft and pillowy mouthfeel, brimming with ripe, juicy, hops flavors and aromas of tropical-fruit.
Liquid Pale Ale
A West Coast style pale ale at heart with our own little Northeast twist, brewed in collaboration with our friends at Long Island City Beer Project.
Hazy Little Thing IPA
An unfiltered hop bomb by iconic Sierra Nevada in Chico, CA.
2X Imperial IPA
An IPA kicked up a notch to form a true Double IPA: feverishly hoppy with a malty backbone and higher-than-standard alcohol content by Southern Tier Brewing in Lakewood, NY.
Ommegang Abbey Ale
A Belgian Abbey Ale, inspired by the centuries-old brewing practices of the Belgian Trappist monks. Brewed in Cooperstown, NY, by Brewery Ommegang.
A light bodied and crisp ale fermented cool (by ale standards) to give it a lager like flavor. By E.J Phair Brewing Company in Pittsburgh, CA.
Three Mile Tripel
A Belgian Tripel brewed in Silicon Valley! Complex flavor of malts, fruits, spices and alcohol. By Santa Clara Valley Brewing in San Jose, CA.
Little Miss Sunshine
A tart wheat ale with mangoes and tangerines, brewed by Bitter Borthers Brewing Co. in San Diego, CA.
A classic Bavarian style wheat beer with a Northern California twist. Brewed by Drake's Brewing Co. in San Leandro, CA.
Oh boy, a stout brewed with graham crackers, chocolate Malts, molasses and marshmallow. A GABF Gold Medal Winner, by High Water Brewing in San Jose, CA.
Heavy Fennel Stout
A dry Irish stout brewed with amazing spice called fennel pollen from Baldor Specialty Foods. This beer was brewed in collaboration with our friends of The Bronx Brewery.
Big Wall Imperial Stout
A big and bold stout with notes of dark chocolate, espresso and tobacco. By Strike Brewing in San Jose, CA.
Pazuzu's Pedals Porter
A farmhouse porter, roasty and herbaceous with just a touch of smoke and dark chocolate. Brewed in Chicago, IL, by Illuminated Brew Works.
A traditional English porter, with a wirsp of light smoked flavor. Brewed in Berkeley, CA, by Gilman Brewing Company.
We know this was a ton of info and there’s no TL:DR, but there are so many incredible beer styles, and the most creative brewers are pumping out new varieties every year. You’d have to drink hard all the time to keep up (We know some of you are trying!), so hopefully this will catch you up to speed so you know what to expect when you order that barrel aged imperial IPA your hipster friends keep pushing on you.
Sources: https://www.craftbeer.com/beer/beer-styles-guideBUILD YOUR TASTE PROFILE
WHY THEY LOVE US