Better Know Your Beer Style: Category 06 Light Hybrid Beers

2 02 2010

Often I tell people: “99% of beer drinking is subjective.” Everybody has different palates that differ according to mood, chemistry, location, and personal histories. What is often one person’s favorite beer, is an other’s most hated beer. That is why I don’t put a lot of stock into beer styles. I do think they are important to know, however, because it creates a common language among beer drinkers. If I am talking about a dark lager and some one asks how it compares to a porter, these are very real styles with specific attributes. However, there are times when beer styles–particularly style guidelines–can hinder the conversation around beer culture.

I believe today’s category is one of those times. “Hybrid beers” what do we mean exactly by that? Well as long as we want to create a strict dichotomy between ales and lagers, hybrid beers do not fit neatly in either category. I will grant you, there are real biological differences between ale yeasts and lager yeasts. But the results are subtle, if best. And when we begin blurring the lines between ales and lagers, we get something that does not fit in either category. And to solve this problem, the BJCP created the “hybrid” categories. In these categories, we take a beer that is neither lager nor ale or possibly lager and ale together. And in order to keep our ale and lager categories neat and tidy, we just lump them all together into an “other category.” This seems innocent enough. But the fact that other beer types of much finer subtleties have been divided for no other reason than tradition’s sake. Take for instance the difference between a porter and a stout. Honestly, these are not two different types of beer. The stout evolved from the porter. There have been times when a beer has been called a porter when it could have just as easily been called a stout. IPAs get a category to themselves. But it can be argued that an IPA is just a subsection of a Pale Ale, which is a kind of English Bitter. So as long as we are creating arbitrary categories, why lump a bunch of seemingly different beers into one category just because they don’t fit cleanly in the ale/lager dichotomy paradigm?

Futhermore, by upholding styles as the end-all-be-all of how beers should look, smell, taste, and feel, it inhibits growth, innovation, and evolution. Take, for instance, the Rogue Dead Guy Ale. Rogue is a company that favors innovation and creativity over styles. And so Dead Guy Ale, while an ale, is also a helles bock. It is brewed with Munich malts and Noble hops (just like all bocks should be). But it is not fermented with a lager yeast. Therefor, it falls out of style guide. Dead Guy is an excellent beer. But it won’t be winning any gold medals from BJCP in the helles bock competition. This is why I believe style guides should be understood but taken with a grain of salt.

But on to the style for today!

Hybrid Beers, as I mentioned above, are beers that do not fall cleanly in an ale category or a lager category. They may be using lager yeast at an ale temperature or an ale yeast at a lager temperature. They blur the lines between the two categories. They are the ambiguous community within the beer world.

A cream ale uses all the same ingredients as a light American lager but uses an ale yeast strain instead of a lager. Kolsch is a style that originated in Cologne (Koln), Germany. It uses a lager yeast but is then fermented at ale temperatures. Much like Champagne, Shiraz, and barleywines, Kolsch is an appellate. Only beers brewed around Koln under the Koln Konvention (which sounds like an Indie Rock Festival) are allowed to use the name Kolsch. American wheat beers fall neither in teh Belgian style of using orange peel and coriander. But neither do they necessarily fall into the Rheinheitsgebot that hefeweizens have. They may be higher in alcohol, IBUs or have a darker color than traditional wheat beers. Which is why Americans get a category all to themselves.

As one can see, from the examples above. There is no inherent reason why cream ales cannot be compared to light American lagers. Afterall, they have the same grain bill and hopping schedule. But that addition of ale yeast makes all the difference to the BJCP. And because American wheats have higher IBUs, they cannot play with the more dignified, classic, hefeweizens. (Ok, time to step of my soap box [for now])

BJCP Category 06: Light Hybrid Beers-

Subcategories: American Cream Ales, American Blonde Ale, Kolsch, American Wheat or Rye Beer

Aroma: Faint malt notes with no dominant hops for Cream Ale. Blonde Ales can have a slight to medium maltiness with slight hops. Kolsch should have no pils or malt aromas. But a slight spice and fruitiness from the yeast should be present with slight Noble hop character. American wheats and ryes should not have the clove and banana common in German hefeweizens. But a slight graininess and the appearance of American yeast is appropriate.

Appearance: All should be light and bright. With a slight head that dissipates quickly. American ryes should resemble a German dunkle.

Flavor: Low to medium maltiness with light hoppiness. For American ales, a slight corn/adjunct is appropriate but should definitely not dominate. DMS may be present. But only in slightly. For Kolsch, flavor should be soft and well balanced between sweet malt and spicy hops. A slight sulfur quality is appropriate. There should be no fusel (hot) alcohol present. Wheats and ryes can have a strong and upfront graininess. With a strong hop character. It should linger and have a depth of flavor.

Mouthfeel: All should be smooth and crisp with medium to light body. Carbonation should be apparent with small to medium-sized bubbles. Very refreshing.

Ingredients: Ranging in pils and Noble hops for Cream, Blonde, and Kolsch. To a blend of wheat, rye, and American hops for wheats and ryes. Kolsch should have a lager strain fermented at ale temperatures. While all other categories should have ale strains.

Technical Notes:
Original Gravity:
1.038-1.055
Final Gravity: 1.006-1.013
IBUs: 15-30
SRM (Malt Color): 2.5-6
ABV: 3.8-5.6%

Commercial Examples:
Cream Ales: Genesee Cream Ale, Little Kings Cream Ale (Hudepohl), Anderson Valley Summer Solstice Cerveza Crema, Sleeman Cream Ale, New Glarus Spotted Cow, Wisconsin Brewing Whitetail Cream Ale
Blonde Ale: Pelican Kiwanda Cream Ale, Russian River Aud Blonde, Rogue Oregon Golden Ale, Widmer Blonde Ale, Fuller’s Summer Ale, Hollywood Blonde, Redhook Blonde
Kolsch: Available in Cologne only: PJ Früh, Hellers, Malzmühle, Paeffgen, Sion, Peters, Dom; import versions available in parts of North America: Reissdorf, Gaffel; Non-German versions: Eisenbahn Dourada, Goose Island Summertime, Alaska Summer Ale, Harpoon Summer Beer, New Holland Lucid, Saint Arnold Fancy Lawnmower, Capitol City Capitol Kölsch, Shiner Kölsch
Wheat and Rye: Bell’s Oberon, Harpoon UFO Hefeweizen, Three Floyds Gumballhead, Pyramid Hefe-Weizen, Widmer Hefeweizen, Sierra Nevada Unfiltered Wheat Beer, Anchor Summer Beer, Redhook Sunrye, Real Ale Full Moon Pale Rye

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