In this two-part series, I will first discuss characteristics that can assist you in choosing a style of beer. The second part in the series will be a breakdown of the world’s main styles of beer and a brief history behind them.
The term beer style refers to the categorization of different beers according to appearance or color, aroma, flavor (including mouth feel), strength, ingredients, production method, recipe, history, and origin.
Here is a brief overview of some major factors in identifying the style of a beer;
Appearance- The appearance of a beer can tell a lot about what style of beer it is. Some are transparent, such as a lager, but others are cloudy, such as Hefeweizen because of the presence of yeast (unfiltered.) The professional “beer world” has color intensity scales (the Standard Reference Method (SRM) and EBC method) but they are rarely seen by the general public. The “head” or foam that is produced when pouring a beer is also an indication of quality. If the beer fails to form or maintain a “head” (head retention\) it could mean there is soap residue in the glass or there was a problem with production (improper fermentation for example.)
Aroma- Considering that 70-75% of taste of truly aroma or smell, the aroma of a beer is extremely important to determining the style of a beer. The aroma in a beer can be formed from the malt and other fermentables, the strength, type and amount of hops, various other aromatic factors that can be contributed by the yeast, the water used or even the brewing process.
Flavor-The flavor or characteristics of the beer may come from the various types or amount of malt, yeast, water and even perhaps the method of production. For each style, there is an “appropriate” amount of mouth feel or body to be expected. Body is generally classified as light, medium, or full. Body is how heavy or how light a beer feels in the mouth. This is a result of how much malt sugar has been converted into sugar. Full bodied beers have more residual sugar than light bodied beers.
Strength- The strength of the beer is a general term for the amount of alcohol present. You can measure the strength by alcohol percent or by its density, or gravity.
Grains - There a several different grains that are used to produce beer. Each impart they’re own unique characteristics. Here are the most common; Barley – Beer made from barley is darker and has a heavier taste than wheat based beer. Wheat – Beers made with wheat are generally less bitter, lighter tasting beers than those made with barley. There are many other grains that are used to make beer, especially craft beer, such as Black IPAs, which is made with patent malt.
Hops- In the production of beers hops have three roles; flavor (flavor of the hop itself and the bitterness it lends to the beers flavor) stability and preserve. Hops tend to impart flavors such as grassy, floral, citrus, spicy, piney, lemony, and earthy,depending on which variety and quantity. They also impart wonderful bitterness which balanced the sweetness from the malt. That bitterness is a key factor in the flavor of the hugely popular IPA. Hops also play a huge role in the stability of beer’s head or “head retention.”