Beer Styles

Beer stylesWith the growth of craft beers, there are plenty of references to different styles of beer: lagers, ales, IPAs, porters, stouts. In fact, the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) lists 23 beer styles along with three mead styles and two cider styles.

Lager Versus Ale

To start with a basic look at beer styles, we can differentiate between lagers and ales. It starts with a fundamental difference in the type of yeast used during fermentation. Popular Science’sBeerSci: What Is the Difference Between a Lager and an Ale?” notes that ales are top fermenting while lagers are bottom fermenting. More specifically, lager yeast (Saccharomyces pastorianus) works better in cold temperatures that cause ale yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) to go dormant. Lager yeast sinks to the bottom during brewing, while ale yeast rises to the top. Because ales are brewed at warmer temperatures, their accompanying taste and characteristics are stronger while lagers are typically defined as “crisp.”

Ale Brewing Styles

With the difference between lagers and ales explained, there are then various brewing styles for each one. Ale styles are typically associated with their country of origin. lists eight ale styles. Inside of those country-associated styles, American ales provide the most variety with 21 types. Porters and stouts fall within the ale category. The difference between them is a bit blurry. Craft Brewing Business asked three master brewers about the difference, and the consensus was that there’s a lot of crossover and that stouts tend to be stronger as it was first used to describe a strong porter, as in stout porter.

Lager Brewing Styles lists five lager styles, and like the ale styles, they’re divvied up by their country of origin. Not surprisingly, German lagers lead the way with 13 different styles. American lager styles are the only category that includes light lager and low alcohol beer. If you want a strong lager, try a bock or doppelbock, which have an even stronger flavor and more alcohol. Pilsners tend to fall at the other end of the spectrum as lighter and crisper.

Steam beer is uniquely American and was created from a special strain of lager yeast that worked better at warmer temperatures when refrigeration was a luxury in the 1800s in California. Anchor Brewing trademarked “Steam Beer,” so all other brewers refer to their lagers made in this fashion as California Common.

With the popularity of craft beers driving the industry, beer styles are continually evolving. Stay tuned for a look at IPAs.