CLARKSBURG, W.Va (WBOY) — In honor of National Beer Lovers Day, 12 News is taking a look at a handful of different beer styles to find out what makes each one so distinct. When someone says they like lagers, or they dislike IPAs, you may have a general idea of what those beers taste like, but might not know the exact characteristics that define those beers.
There are dozens upon dozens of different beer styles, and even though it’s all “beer” in the end, the way they are made can vary wildly with different ingredients, fermentation rates, and at different temperatures. But before we get into the differences between beers, let’s talk about how they are the same.
All beers share the same four basic ingredients: Grain, water, hops, and yeast.
To make beer, grain is mixed with hot water to get the grains to sprout. These early sprouts will break down the sugars in the grain, and turn the grain-water mixture into mash. When the grains are removed, the mash turns into wort. Hops are then added, which act as a bittering agent to counteract the sweetness of the sugars, as well as impart the taste and smells or “aromatics” to the beer. Originally, hops were added to act as a preservative and sterilizer that would help beer keep over long sea voyages. When you think of an IPA, the smell or taste of hops is probably the first thing that comes to mind.
After hops are added the mixture is ready to be fermented, a process that can take anywhere between several days to several weeks. In fermentation, yeast is added which transforms the sugar into alcohol and CO2. After fermentation, the beer is moved to a tank for carbonation and removal of any solids left over from the earlier stages.
So with the basics covered, let’s see how some of the most common types of beer use these four ingredients to become unique styles.
Lager, specifically pale lager, is one of the most widely consumed varieties of beer. Lagers traditionally use barley or wheat, and are characterized by their light color and crisp “clean” taste. They usually have a mellow taste and a clear body or mouthfeel.
Lager yeast ferments at the bottom of the tank and is brewed at lower temperatures for about 4 weeks, giving it its crisp and clean characteristics.
A pilsner is a type of lager characterized by Saaz hops, a hop variety that’s been in use by brewers for over 700 years. A pilsner differs from a lager in that it is usually a little bit hoppier.
Common examples: Budweiser, Coors Light, Corona and Michelob Ultra
Ales are the other most commonly brewed style of beer, and one of the oldest styles in the world. Compared to lagers, ale has a darker brown or almost red color, is more complex and flavorful, and has a tad more bitterness or International Bitterness Units (IBUs). Ale is brewed with yeast that settles at the top of the tank and is fermented for several days and at a warmer temperature than lager.
Amber ales are a type of ale that is characterized by its golden or deep red appearance imparted by using roasted grains. It has a maltier taste, kind of like nuts or toast. It typically has a slight caramel smell with a low to medium touch of hop mixed in.
Common examples: Fat Tire, Kona Big Wave, Victory Summer Love
Pale Ale/India Pale Ale (IPA)
Pale ales are still part of the ale family of beers but play up the hop and malt flavor. It has a golden appearance similar to other ales and ranges between 20-50 IBUs. Pale ales have a variety of styles, from American (Sierra Nevada Pale Ale), to English, to India (Hazy Little Thing).
India Pale Ales or IPAs are notorious for their over-the-top hop flavor, bitterness and alcohol content. However, they are also known for having very fruity, flowery and citrus aromas as well.
You’ve also probably heard the terms “hazy” or “imperial” attached to IPAs. Hazy refers to the literal haziness in the beer, being more opaque and less see-through than other ales. Imperial or double means the hops and alcohol content are turned up to the max and are usually about 7-11% ABV, and upwards of 60 IBUs.
Common examples: Sierra Nevada Hazy Little Thing, Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA, Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA, Founders Brewing Co. All Day IPA
Stouts are another type of ale and are easily identifiable as being a very dark brown, almost black. They are thick, creamy, richly flavored and very malty. Stouts often smell like chocolate, caramel or coffee.
Another distinct quality of stouts is the head after a draught pour. Every beer has a “head”, which refers to the foam at the top of a glass of beer when it is poured, but stouts have a particularly thick and foamy head if poured a certain way. Guinness is probably the best-known stout in the world and is notorious for having a particular way to pour it to get the best drinking experience.
However, there are many other kinds of stout than just Guinness, such as oatmeal stouts, milk stouts, and there’s even such a thing as an oyster stout.
Common examples: Guinness, Murphy’s Irish Stout, Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout
Porters are very similar to stouts, but are not as extreme when it comes to the qualities associated with a stout. Porters still have the chocolate, caramel and coffee notes and are moderately bitter, but are generally lighter-bodied and not as alcoholic as stouts.
Another key difference between the two is that porters are typically brewed with malted barley, whereas stouts are commonly brewed with roasted unmalted barley. However, these are general rules, and similar to all the other beer styles so far, there is guaranteed to be at least one beer that bucks the common trends of its style.
Common examples: Stone Smoked Porter, Founder’s Porter, Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter, Yuengling Porter
Similar to stouts or IPAs, sours are the kind of beer that you either love or hate. They are pretty much on the opposite end of the spectrum from porters and stouts and are recognized for their acidic and tart taste. They typically smell tart and fruity and often use berries or fruit somewhere along the brewing process. They come in a range of colors, from a rosy pink, to amber, or blonde.
Sours differ greatly from other beers when it comes to how they are made. The most common ways to sour beer are two strains of bacteria called lactobacillus and pediococcus, two bacterias common in the production of foods like yogurt that turn sugars into lactic acid. The yeast used in making sours, Brettanomyces, is a wild strain of yeast that further adds to the acidity of the beer.
While some lagers are made in a matter of months, sours can take multiple years before they are done, making them more expensive to produce than other styles of beer.
Common examples: Sierra Nevada Wild Little Thing, Dogfish Head SeaQuench Ale, Victory Sour Monkey
Lambics, Goses, and Gueuzes are part of the family of sours but are different enough and well-known enough to be worth touching on here.
Lambics are made using a method called spontaneous fermentation, which means the bacteria that interact with the yeast come off whatever fruit is being used, or from the air that the beer is exposed to when it’s fermenting. No two spontaneous fermentations will be exactly the same, even when they are from the same brewer. There are even some breweries in Belgium that will leave cobwebs and dust alone, to protect the beer from fruitflies and preserve its historic flavor.
Lambics are fermented and aged in barrels, a process that can take several years before resulting in a finished product, and are traditionally served uncarbonated. Younger lambics can be quite sour and fruity, with older lambics, being more balanced between sour and malty.
Gueuze (pronounced “gooz”) is another type of spontaneously fermented beer and is a blend of young and aged lambics to create a more complex final product. Unlike lambics, gueuzes are highly carbonated, and taste sour and funky with pretty much no hop flavor.
A Gose (pronounced “gose-uh”) is a wheat sour that’s most notable quality is its distinct but not overpowering saltiness and hints of coriander. They are also different from lambics and gueuzes in that they do not use spontaneous fermentation, but still use lactobacillus like other sours. They are tart and lightly bitter with a dry finish, but should still be refreshing.
A Kölsch is a clear, pale beer that might look like a regular lager, but strikes a balance between malty, fruity and hoppy, with a slight bitterness. They are light to medium-bodied, with a soft and crisp finish.
Kölsch is a traditional top-fermented beer from Cologne (Köln), Germany. When this style was first developed in the 1800s, bottom-fermentation beer was actually prohibited due to its growing popularity, a popularity that threatened the already established brewers in Cologne who only produced top-fermenting beer.
Another unique thing about the Kölsch style is that it is traditionally served in a particular glass called a stange, a tall, thin glass designed to show off the beer’s clarity, carbonation and delicate head.
Common examples: Reissdorf Kölsch, Mad Tree Lift, Morgantown Brewing Company Golden Boy Kölsch
A majority of beer served at Munich’s Oktoberfest is this style, hence the name, but has been adopted by many other beer festivals. It is usually moderately malty with a light hop to it. It is medium-bodied with a smooth and somewhat creamy texture.
Festbier is made to be easy to drink a lot of, and the exact beer that is served at Munich’s Oktoberfest is decided by a city committee.
Witbier is a Belgian style, pale and hazy wheat beer that is lightly spiced. It has a bready maltiness with slight aromas of honey or vanilla. It can range from a straw color to a deep yellow, and is not very hoppy with an IBU range of 8-20 IBUs. They can also have zesty or orange notes as well, resulting in a beer that is not very bitter.
Now that you are armed will some basic beer knowledge, go out into the wider world and try some of the locally made beer in your area. And if you don’t know your local breweries, 12 News will have you covered with a new regular column called Brews News that will showcase all of the latest new beers coming from breweries across West Virginia, with the first edition to come out in the coming weeks.