Better Know Your Beer Style: Category 19- Strong Ales

27 07 2010

Better Know Your Beer Style had taken a month long hiatus precisely for one reason: it has been very hot here and the idea of even writing about strong ales grossed me out. But tonight is relatively cool and we are on the home stretch, so today we present Category 19 of the BJCP: Strong Ales.

Strong Ales seem relatively generic of a term, especially as it comes hot on the heels of Belgium Strong Ales. In modern terms, strong ales refer to the strongest ales a brewery makes. However, in these days of Imperial Russian Stouts and Double IPAs, a strong ale needs to come from a specific tradition in order to count. In this case, it is English Old Ales: beers designed to be aged.

These beers tend to be higher in gravity (both alcohol and sugars are increased) and will often show some signs of aging–Brett, oxidation and/or earthy, leather-like notes. The increased gravity makes these beers ideal for aging (much like a fine wine).

In England, the term “old ale” is quite common. But in the United States, the term “Winter Warmer” is much more common. These beers are often seasonally available–particularly in the late autumn to late winter. The late Beer Hunter Michael Jackson once described old ales as “… a warming beer of the type that is best drunk in half pints by a warm fire on a cold winter’s night”.

There is some debate as to whether or not the distinction between “old ale” and “barleywine” is true and fast or if the terms can be interchangeable. While the BJCP shows that a barleywine has a higher ABV and higher gravity, Martyn Cornell says that distinction is relatively recent. Traditionally, these strong ales were brewed in English manors by the wealthy aristocracy. The story as to why barleywines were created is a bit fuzzy (possibly because of an attempt to place historical significance to a modern term). Perhaps the English aristocrats, wishing to be more like their French counterparts ordered their butlers to make a wine from local barley to rival that of any French Bordeaux. Or possibly it came out of the English aristocrats wanting to show their disdain for their French counterparts and refusing to drink any French wines at all. Either way, nearly every manor butler had their own recipe for a wine made out of grains.

As is the case with most American attempts at English styles, American brewers began brewing their barleywines with local ingredients. The result is a barleywine that is rich in hoppiness throughout. A distinction has been made between English style barleywines and American barleywine-style ales. It may not be a legal appellation. But it is pretty darn close.

Better Know Your Beer Style: Category 19- Strong Ales

Photo Credit: Bernt Rostad

Sub-Categories: Old Ales, English Barleywines, American Barleywine-style Ales.

Aroma: Malt forward with notes of caramel, dried fruit, grape, nuts, toffee, some warm booziness resembling port or sherry is appropriate. Low to no buttery esters. Often the aroma mellows with age.

Appearance: Light honey to dark russet in color. Carbonation so low, it almost appears still. Slight, dissociating head. May keep “legs” instead of lacing due to high sugar content.

Flavor: Strong malt forwardness although American ales will often have an apparent hop bitterness. Old ales may have an aged quality of Brett as well as some apparent, but not hot, booziness. Taste should be an echo of the nose with notes of nuts, toffee, caramel, dried fruit and medium hop bitterness. All of this mellows with age.

Mouthfeel: Chewy and sticky. Light carbonation to help balance the sweetness. But overall very full-bodied and rich.

Ingredients: Generous amounts of grain. Many of which may be specialty grains. Adjuncts, particularly sugar, are often used to help up ABV. In the case of English barleywines, English and Continental hops are used. While Americans use high alpha American hops. A characterful yeast (usually English or American) is used–preferably one that can withstand high ABV.

Technical Notes:
Original Gravity:
Final Gravity: 1.015-1.030
SRM (Malt Color): 8-22
IBUs: 3-120
ABV: 6-12%

Commercial Examples:
Old Ales:
Gale’s Prize Old Ale, Burton Bridge Olde Expensive, Marston Owd Roger, Greene King Olde Suffolk Ale , J.W. Lees Moonraker, Harviestoun Old Engine Oil, Fuller’s Vintage Ale, Harvey’s Elizabethan Ale, Theakston Old Peculier (peculiar at OG 1.057), Young’s Winter Warmer, Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby Mild, Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome, Fuller’s 1845, Fuller’s Old Winter Ale, Great Divide Hibernation Ale, Founders Curmudgeon, Cooperstown Pride of Milford Special Ale, Coniston Old Man Ale, Avery Old Jubilation

English Barleywines: Thomas Hardy’s Ale, Burton Bridge Thomas Sykes Old Ale, J.W. Lee’s Vintage Harvest Ale, Robinson’s Old Tom, Fuller’s Golden Pride, AleSmith Old Numbskull, Young’s Old Nick (unusual in its 7.2% ABV), Whitbread Gold Label, Old Dominion Millenium, North Coast Old Stock Ale (when aged), Weyerbacher Blithering Idiot

American Barleywine-Style Ales: Sierra Nevada Bigfoot, Great Divide Old Ruffian, Victory Old Horizontal, Rogue Old Crustacean, Avery Hog Heaven Barleywine, Bell’s Third Coast Old Ale, Anchor Old Foghorn, Three Floyds Behemoth, Stone Old Guardian, Bridgeport Old Knucklehead, Hair of the Dog Doggie Claws, Lagunitas Olde GnarleyWine, Smuttynose Barleywine, Flying Dog Horn Dog


Better Know Your Beer Style: Category 18- Belgian Strong Ales

15 06 2010

Today, we finish the wild and wacky world of Belgians. We took you through the farmhouse styles of Saisons, Biere de Garde and Witbiers. Then we took you through the funky and exotic world of sour ales. Now we are going to the world of Belgian Strong Ales. Quite possibly the most straight forward and accessible of Belgian beers, strong ales have to do with one thing, mainly, and that is alcohol. Afterall, it says it right there in name: “strong ales.”

Similar to the Scottish style of grading their beer according to strength, Belgian abbeys will classify their beer according to strength. Belgian abbey styles come most commonly in Double (Dubble) or Triple (Trippel) with the Triple being stronger than the Double. They would accomplish this bigger beer by adding sugar (kandi) to their wort in the boil. In the German and English traditions, this technique is frowned upon. And for homebrewers, the addition of table sugar to their beer is not only seen as cheating, it is ill advised as it results in unpredictable fermentation and a slight cider-like quality. But buying high quality kandi sugar is more and more easy these days. Some beers these days will be labeled a “single” or even “quadruple” but these beers are largely foreign extrapolations on the Belgian style. Some abbeys will actually make a “single” (or “table strength”) beer. But these are primarily made for the monks who live there and are rarely distributed out of the abbey.

What’s the difference between “Abbey Style” and “Trappist Style”?

Abbey styles are prepared in the traditional Belgian strong ale from an Abbey recipe. They are usually named “Double” or “Triple” and are refermented in the bottle for a secondary conditioning. The term “Trappist” or “Trapiste” is an appellation. Much like the term “Champagne” or “Kolsch”, only beers brewed by actual Trappist monks may be referred to as “Trappist.” They must be brewed on the grounds of the monastery and the proceeds must be given to charity. There are only seven Trappist beers left in the world. The most popular would probably be Chimay while Rochefort, Westmalle and Orval are very popular as well.

As for the secular versions of Belgian strong ales, this is resulting in an archaic and strange taxing system. Randy Mosher goes into detail on this with James Spenser at Basic Brewing Radio. But in short, the government taxed the brewers according the amount of liquid that their mashtuns could hold, and not on what came out of them. So, the brewers would jam their mash tuns with the most grains they could in order to pull the most sugar out of the mash tun as possible. The result were these big, sticky, heavy beers that fermented into a big, boozy beer.

Better Know Your Beer Style: Category 18- Belgian Strong Ales

Photo Credit: Erik Cleves Kristensen CC

Subcategories: Belgian Blonde, Dubble, Tripel, Golden Strong Ale, Dark Strong Ale

Aroma: The Blonde ale will have a earthy and complex hop nose with a sweet pils quality and a sharp, phenolic booziness. Highlights could include a sweet orange and vanilla note. The Dubble will be earthy and roasty with notes of chocolate, cherries, caramel and toast. It should never have burnt or coffee notes. Spicy phenolic qualities are not usually common and the alcohol should not be solvent or hot. Tripels should be spicy and citrusy (pepper, clove, orange rind, or maybe even banana) with low to now hop quality. No heat or solvent alcohol notes. Golden Strong ale should be light with core fruit (pears, apples) or fresh oranges. Hops should be spicy and floral. Malt character is low. Dark strong ales should be rich with malt. Caramel, toffee, and toasted bread. Phenols should be spicy with peppercorn and all spice. Alcohol should be well rounded and warming.

Appearance: Blondes are very clear with bright to dark gold and big, firm, white head and excellent lacing. Dubbels are dark brown with ruby highlights and big, firm, off-white head and excellent lacing. Tripels are dark yellow to deep gold and firm, dense white head and superb lacing. Golden Strong Ales are dark yellow to light gold with a massive, explosion of dense, sustaining head and perfect lacing. Dark Strong Ales are dark amber to copper-brown with creamy, moussy tan head.

Flavor: Blondes have a slight pils sweetness but ends very dry with a balancing hop spiciness and a slight warming alcohol note. Yeast may give a slight spicy phenolic quality. A dubbel will have similar flavor components to aroma with hints of chocolate, cherry and toffee. Leaning toward malt with a slight balancing effect from noble hops. Tripels are a balance between fruit and booze. With soft, rounded alcohol and sweet, fresh citrus and core fruit and balancing hops. Very clean and dry on the back end. The BJCP calls them “sneaky”, they are strong in alcohol but don’t taste like it. Golden Strongs are similar to Tripels but with a drier back end. Dark Strong Ales are similar to Dubbels but with higher alcohol content. Very warming and smooth with deep malt character.

Mouthfeel: All Belgian strong ales will have medium body with medium to high carbonation and warming alcohol. The result is a very smooth and clean feeling beer.

Ingredients: All will use Continental gain and hops. Usually a base of pils with some specialty malts for darker styles. Styerian Goldings from England are the most common type of hops although Noble hops are common as well. Belgian yeast is used to create a fragrant and phenolic quality as well as increased alcohol quality. Some will use sugar to increase alcohol without darkening (tripel and golden strong).

Technical Notes:
Original Gravity:
Final Gravity: 1.005-1.024
SRM (Malt Color): 3-22
IBUs: 14-40
ABV: 6-11%

Commercial Examples:
Belgian Blonde:
Leffe Blond, Affligem Blond, La Trappe (Koningshoeven) Blond, Grimbergen Blond, Val-Dieu Blond, Straffe Hendrik Blonde, Brugse Zot, Pater Lieven Blond Abbey Ale, Troubadour Blond Ale
Dubbel: Westmalle Dubbel, St. Bernardus Pater 6, La Trappe Dubbel, Corsendonk Abbey Brown Ale, Grimbergen Double, Affligem Dubbel, Chimay Premiere (Red), Pater Lieven Bruin, Duinen Dubbel, St. Feuillien Brune, New Belgium Abbey Belgian Style Ale, Stoudts Abbey Double Ale, Russian River Benediction, Flying Fish Dubbel, Lost Abbey Lost and Found Abbey Ale, Allagash Double
Tripel: Westmalle Tripel, La Rulles Tripel, St. Bernardus Tripel, Chimay Cinq Cents (White), Watou Tripel, Val-Dieu Triple, Affligem Tripel, Grimbergen Tripel, La Trappe Tripel, Witkap Pater Tripel, Corsendonk Abbey Pale Ale, St. Feuillien Tripel, Bink Tripel, Tripel Karmeliet, New Belgium Trippel, Unibroue La Fin du Monde, Dragonmead Final Absolution, Allagash Tripel Reserve, Victory Golden Monkey
Golden Strong Ale: Duvel, Russian River Damnation, Hapkin, Lucifer, Brigand, Judas, Delirium Tremens, Dulle Teve, Piraat, Great Divide Hades, Avery Salvation, North Coast Pranqster, Unibroue Eau Benite, AleSmith Horny Devil
Dark Strong Ale: Westvleteren 12 (yellow cap), Rochefort 10 (blue cap), St. Bernardus Abt 12, Gouden Carolus Grand Cru of the Emperor, Achel Extra Brune, Rochefort 8 (green cap), Southampton Abbot 12, Chimay Grande Reserve (Blue), Brasserie des Rocs Grand Cru, Gulden Draak, Kasteelbier Biere du Chateau Donker, Lost Abbey Judgment Day, Russian River Salvation

Better Know Your Beer Style: Category 17- Sour Ale

8 06 2010

It never ceases to amaze us. Forty years ago, American beer was essentially dead. Only a handful of breweries existed in the country. People drank mass-produced-dead-in-the-can industrial product. And now look how far we have come. People are racing for the most flavor, most character, most life to their beers. They are getting big beers and laying them down to age, just as one would do with a fine wine. People will line up for hours for a special release of beer. People are taking beer seriously. And just as people are exploring unusual beers from all over the world, including Belgium and France, they are exploring quite possibly the most unusual of unusual beers: sour ales.

Five years ago, sour ales were a tough sale. Ten years earlier than that, it would have been an impossible sale. Giving some one a beer that tastes of sour lemon, green apple, lime, fresh berries, or even yogurt, horse, hay, and vinegar is still a tough sale. Afterall, those are not the flavors we usually associate with beer. But now, as more and more people are trying Berliner Weisses, Flanders Ales, Lambics and Guezes, the demand is growing.

Just as hop heads five years ago were lusting after the newest strain of hop or able to identify a Warrior bitterness to a Amarillo fruitiness in the IPA, people are now looking for beers inoculated with Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus, and Pediococcus.

The first time a person drinks a sour ale, one or two things could go through their minds: “I think this beer is spoiled” or “Is this beer? This cannot be beer!” The answer to the first question is simple: no, the beer is not spoiled.  It is designed to be that way. The brewer will often ferment in large, open tanks. This allows for any and all wild yeast, bacteria and mold to fall into the beer. In older breweries, such as in Belgium or Germany, the fermenting cellars are carefully conditioned with centuries of experience. The air is rich with the perfect blend of critters to make the beer taste the way it does. The result is a sense of place, also known as terrior. In newer breweries, such as those in the United States: like New Belgium, Russian River and Allagash, the brewers carefully inoculate their beers with cultures in order to make sure the right critters go in and the wrong ones stay out.

The taste can be a bit disconcerting at first. These yeast and bacteria cells are often associated with spoilage and so our experience with them in the past have taught us to recognize these smells and taste with spoiled or rotten food. But do not worry, these beers will not make you ill.

As to whether or not this is beer, the answer is simply: “yes.” If we return to one of our original posts where we asked “What is Beer?” we will recall that beer is water, malted grain, hops and yeast. These beers all contain these ingredients at their core. While a sour ale may resemble a wine, yogurt, or some other item entirely, it remains essentially beer.

As more and more American breweries, bars, and stores carry sour ales, it becomes easier to pick apart the the finer details of the sour ale genre. But for the uninitiated drinker, it can be a bit of a confusing world.

The BJCP offers six subcategories. Berliner Weisse is sour wheat ale from Germany. It is often drank with a shot of fruit syrup: often berry or essence of woodruff–an herb. The Flanders region of Belgium is known for its sour red and brown ales. The red ales from the region are often a blend of vintages and have a sharp, acidic character. Flemish reds are known as the “Burgundies of Belgium” and resemble wine. Flemish browns have a more malt forward character and less of an acidic note. They will often be a blend of vintages as well. Lambics are the most popular of the sour ales in the United States. They can either come in a straight (unblended) vintage; a blended vintage known as a “Gueze”(Garret Oliver says that one should practice saying “Goose” while clearing the throat and adding a few random “r”s and that is a close approximation on how to pronounce the name); and a lambic can be sweetened with fruit or sugar (a technique known as “faro”).

Better Know Your Beer Style: Category 17- Sour Ales

Photo Credit: Bernt Rostad CC

Aroma: A sharp sourness should be present for a Berliner Weisse with no hop aroma. The sourness may mellow with age into a citrus, fruity character. Some Brettanomyces (“Brett”) character can be present- namely an earthy, “damp” character. In Flemish Red and Browns a complex fruitiness should be present: plums, prunes, oranges, black cherries and possibly some spicy phenols including pepper, vanilla, oak and chocolate. Browns should have a hint of caramel or other malt. Lambics should have a sharp sour note that mellows with age. Brett qualities should be present including barnyard, horse, blanket, hay, and mildew. Fruit lambics should be sweet and sour that has an apparent resemblance of the fruit used to sweeten it.

Appearance: Berliner Weisses are very pale straw in color and hazy. Pour head retention due to acidity. Flemish reds should have a bright red quality with white head of medium retention. Flemish browns should be earthy brown with a tan/off white head of medium retention. Straight lambics should be pale yellow to deep golden with the beer darkening with age. Young lambics tend to be hazy while the older ones tend to be clear. Poor head retention. Guezes are bright clear and have a thick, mousse-like head that has excellent, near perfect head retention. Sweetened lambics will take on the color of the fruit sweetening it and will have a thick, near perfect head retention.

Flavor: All sour ales will (obviously) be sour. Berliner Weisse will be the least sour though. The Lactobacillus delbruckii will give a “yogurt” or “sour milk” like quality. Flanders Reds will resemble a red wine with notes of plum, orange, cherries, pepper, vanilla, oak, and chocolate. A long dry finish with no hops present. Flanders Browns will also resemble a red wine with similar notes to the Flanders Reds but will be more malt forward with notes of caramel, toffee and tobacco. There should be no vinegar qualities as it ages. Lambics should be quite sour when they are young but balance better as they age. The Brett qualities should balance with age as well. There should be no smoky quality. Fruit lambics should take on the character of the fruit that is blended with them. There should be more acidic quality rather than sour.

Mouthfeel: There should be a tart, puckering character to all of them. Straight lambic is served flat while Berliner Weisse, Gueze and fruit lambic should be effervescent. Flanders styles should have medium carbonation with no astringency.

Ingredients: Berliner Weisse should have at least 50% wheat and is often paired with pils. Top fermenting yeast works with Lactobacillus delbruckii to create sourness. Flanders Red and Browns are made with base of Vienna and Munich malts with medium to dark specialty malts including Caras and Special-B. Low alpha-acid hops are used. A blend of “wild” yeasts including Saccharomyces, Lactobacillus and Brettanomyces (and acetobacter). Lambics are made with wheat, pils and aged hops. The hops are for preservative effect rather than bitterness. Wild yeasts, including but limited to Saccharomyces, Brettanomyces, Pediococcus and Lactobacillus are found in the breweries of lambics.

Technical Notes:
Original Gravity:
Final Gravity: 1.000-1.012
SRM (Grain Color): 3-22
IBUs: 0-10
ABV: 2.8-8%

Commercial Examples:
Berliner Weisse:
Schultheiss Berliner Weisse, Berliner Kindl Weisse, Nodding Head Berliner Weisse, Weihenstephan 1809 (unusual in its 5% ABV), Bahnhof Berliner Style Weisse, Southampton Berliner Weisse, Bethlehem Berliner Weisse, Three Floyds Deesko
Flanders Red Ale: Rodenbach Klassiek, Rodenbach Grand Cru, Bellegems Bruin, Duchesse de Bourgogne, New Belgium La Folie, Petrus Oud Bruin, Southampton Flanders Red Ale, Verhaege Vichtenaar, Monk’s Cafe Flanders Red Ale, New Glarus Enigma, Panil Barrique, Mestreechs Aajt
Flanders Brown Ale: Liefman’s Goudenband, Liefman’s Odnar, Liefman’s Oud Bruin, Ichtegem Old Brown, Riva Vondel
Straight Lambic: Cantillon Grand Cru Bruocsella
Gueze: Boon Oude Gueuze, Boon Oude Gueuze Mariage Parfait, De Cam Gueuze, De Cam/Drei Fonteinen Millennium Gueuze, Drie Fonteinen Oud Gueuze, Cantillon Gueuze, Hanssens Oude Gueuze, Lindemans Gueuze Cuvee Renee, Girardin Gueuze (Black Label), Mort Subite (Unfiltered) Gueuze, Oud Beersel Oude Gueuze
Fruit Lambic: Boon Framboise Marriage Parfait, Boon Kriek Mariage Parfait, Boon Oude Kriek, Cantillon Fouee Foune (apricot), Cantillon Kriek, Cantillon Lou Pepe Kriek, Cantillon Lou Pepe Framboise, Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus, Cantillon St. Lamvinus (merlot grape), Cantillon Vigneronne (Muscat grape), De Cam Oude Kriek, Drie Fonteinen Kriek, Girardin Kriek, Hanssens Oude Kriek, Oud Beersel Kriek, Mort Subite Kriek

Better Know Your Beer Style: Category 16- Belgian and French Ales

1 06 2010

Belgium has gained a lot of attention from beer drinkers these days. With its sour, tart or spicy farmhouse ales; monks brewing double, triple or even quadruple strength beers; and its exotic sounding names Belgium is full of mystery and intrigue. All of this is made more exciting by the deliciousness of the beers.

We have mentioned before that there are times when the BCJP falls down on the job. This is none more evident than when the BJCP takes on Belgium. Germany has no fewer than four style categories dedicated to their region. The British Isles have seven! But Belgium only has three categories with fifteen subcategories.

This could be because, as we mentioned before, the Belgian’s don’t really care for beer styles. Their beers are more of an expression ingredients, location, and personality. They are beers steeped in tradition that are passed down from brewer to brewer in a system of apprenticeship. In very real ways, the BJCP is an attempt of people to put guidelines on a tradition that eschews guidelines. While I was never at a meeting where the BJCP guidelines were designed, I can imagine that unable to find a way to connect witbier and saison and pale ales and all those weird Belgo-American or Belgo-Anglo styles, they just gave up and grouped them all into one big generic “Belgian Ale” category.

So we will try to go a little bit slower in this category and try to unpack a bit more about the history and over all “vibe” of each subcategory as technical notes and overreaching generalizations do little here to help make these beers any less mysterious.

If I do say so myself, we did a pretty good job with the history of Belgian Witbiers here. The important thing to remember with Belgian Wits is that they nearly went extinct last century. It was the work of Pierre Celis and Hoegaarden that ensured we still have them today. With a wheat base and spiced with orange peel and coriander, these beers are extremely refreshing. It is important to note here, just like they did in the style guidelines that Belgian Witbiers are very fragile and do not age well. Don’t sit on one for a while expecting it to improve with age. Drink them young and fresh.

Belgium began picking up the Pale Ale trend shortly after England invented the style. While it is a currently innocuous country now, it once was a major world super power with trading colonies around the world (how else would they get the orange peel and spices for witbier?). Belgian Pale Ales resembled English Pale Ales but with a noticeably more malt forward palate. Belgians tend to shy away from hops and their local strains of hops are subdued, even compared to other Continental varieties. It wasn’t until the 1930’s when British troops were stationed in Belgium that the style really took hold. As the English looked for beers that resembled what they were used to, many Belgian brewers began brewing stronger, English-style pale ales using English hops and Continental malts. They even went as far as importing English yeast strains. The result is a very sweet, round and fruity beer with subtle, yet crisp hop back end.

Saison’s are a style that have begun gaining more attention in the United States. Originally brewed in the French speaking region of Belgium known as Wallonia, these beers were brewed in the spring season (“Saison” in French) and consumed through the hot summer months. These beers were often brewed by farmers for their families and laborers. It was rare to have these beers brewed by professional breweries, unless they were small and local. The result of these small, localized batches is a sense of terroir or locality. Spicy, crisp and grassy notes are reminiscent of a country meadow on a spring day.

Biere de Garde is a similar style to the Saison from Northern France. Brewed in the spring and stored for consumption in the summer months, the technique is similar to a Saison or even a lager. “Bier de Garde” means “Aged beer” or “Cellared beer.” While saisons are spicy and tart, Bier de Gaard focus more on malt sweetness and may have a more round, mellow, and “aged” taste to them. The come in three varieties: brown, blonde, and amber. The darker types are more sweet and malt forward while the lighter types are more hops and yeast forward but still retain a focus on malt.

Recently, many Belgian brewers have been exploring with English, German, Irish and American styles. And likewise, many American brewers are exploring Belgian styles. The results are a Frankenstein mish-mash of yeast, hops, and malt. Take an IPA and use a Trappist yeast; you have a Belgian IPA. Explore what Lactobaccilous can do with a stout; you have a sour stout. Add Belgian cherries to a cream ale… The BJCP has grouped all these mutant styles into one subcategory (Belgian Specialty Ales). It is a style so vast and open ended that it lacks all technical notes and merely offers a list of some styles that could fit into the category. The World Beer Cup has attempted to standardize this category by bringing it up from a subcategory to a full on category with many subcategories.

Better Know Your Beer Style: Category 16- Belgian and French Ales

Photo Credit: Andrew Turner CC

Aroma: Witbiers are known for their wheaty and spicy notes with hints of citrus, vanilla, and pepper. Pale ales have malty notes with toast, roast, biscuit and caramel notes with subtle, earthy hops. Saisons have grassy, tangy and slightly sour funk notes. Biere de Garde is more malt forward with slight, sweet and sour notes.

Appearance: Milky white to light yellow with firm but rocky head for saisons and witts. Pale ales are copper to toasty brown with bright brown highlights and a tan, consistent head that dissipates quickly. Biere de Garde comes blonde, brown, or amber.

Flavor: Citrusy sweet and peppery spice. Pleasantly sweet with vanilla or honey for witts. Hop notes are earthy and balancing but never get in the way. Yeast forward with bright spritziness. Pale ales are round and fruity with light spiciness. No hop flavor is present but it is very well balanced. Saisons are spicy with notes of white peppercorn, grass, and lemon verbena. Malt is slight but creates a good backbone to balance yeast and hops. Slight funk is present on back end and hops are earthy and spicy. Very dry finish with crisp, clean finish. Biere de Garde is malt forward with toast, caramel, and toffee. Low to no hop flavor to help balance the malt. Yeast is round with some fruit esters.

Mouthfeel: Creamy, clean and refreshing for witts. Smooth and medium bodied with no alcohol warmth and medium carbonation for pale ales. Crisp, dry and strong carbonation for saisons and Biere de Garde.

Technical Notes:
Original Gravity:
Final Gravity: 1.002-1.012
IBUs: 10-35
SRM: 2-19
ABV: 4.5-8.5%

Commercial Examples:
Hoegaarden Wit, St. Bernardus Blanche, Celis White, Vuuve 5, Brugs Tarwebier (Blanche de Bruges), Wittekerke, Allagash White, Blanche de Bruxelles, Ommegang Witte, Avery White Rascal, Unibroue Blanche de Chambly, Sterkens White Ale, Bell’s Winter White Ale, Victory Whirlwind Witbier, Hitachino Nest White Ale
Pale Ale: De Koninck, Speciale Palm, Dobble Palm, Russian River Perdition, Ginder Ale, Op-Ale, St. Pieters Zinnebir, Brewer’s Art House Pale Ale, Avery Karma, Eisenbahn Pale Ale, Ommegang Rare Vos
Saison: Saison Dupont Vieille Provision, Saison de Pipaix, Saison Regal, Saison Voisin, Lefebvre Saison 1900, Ellezelloise Saison 2000, Saison Silly, Southampton Saison, New Belgium Saison, Pizza Port SPF 45, Lost Abbey Red Barn Ale, Ommegang Hennepin
Biere de Garde: Jenlain (amber), Jenlain Biere de Printemps (blond), St. Amand (brown), La Choulette (all 3 versions), La Choulette Biere des Sans Culottes (blond), Saint Sylvestre 3 Monts (blond), Biere Nouvelle (brown), Castelain (blond), Jade (amber), Brasseurs Biere de Garde (amber), Southampton Biere de Garde (amber), Lost Abbey Avante Garde (blond)
Specialty Ale:Orval; De Dolle’s Arabier, Oerbier, Boskeun and Stille Nacht; La Chouffe, McChouffe, Chouffe Bok and Nice Chouffe; Ellezelloise Hercule Stout and Quintine Amber; Unibroue Ephemere, Maudite, Don de Dieu, etc.; Minty; Zatte Bie; Caracole Amber, Saxo and Nostradamus; Silenrieu Sara and Joseph; Fanteme Black Ghost and Speciale Noel; Dupont Moinette, Moinette Brune, and Avec Les Bons Voeux de la Brasserie Dupont; St. Fullien Noel; Gouden Carolus Noel; Affligem Npel; Guldenburg and Pere Noel; De Ranke XX Bitter and Guldenberg; Poperings Hommelbier; Bush (Scaldis); Moinette Brune; Grottenbier; La Trappe Quadrupel; Weyerbacher QUAD; Biere de Miel; Verboden Vrucht; New Belgium 1554 Black Ale; Cantillon Iris; Russian River Temptation; Lost Abbey Cuvee de Tomme and Devotion, Lindemans Kriek and Framboise, and many more

Better Know Your Beer Style: Category 15- German Wheat and Rye

11 05 2010

We recently covered wheat a few weeks ago in ‘Tis the Season: Wheats. So, I will spare us all the time and effort to rehash the history behind wheats. But whereas, that post covers Germany, Belgium and the United States, the BJCP style guidelines categorize them separately. American Wheats are part of the Light Hybrid Varieties (Category 06). And Belgian Witts are in Category 16- Belgian and French Ales.

There are a few things that differentiate German Weiss beers from their Belgian and American counterparts. They are (in no particular order):

  • Reinheitsgabot: The medieval German purity law that decreed no ingredients other than malted grain, yeast, hops or water could be used in beer. While no longer an official law, many German brewers hold true to it for sake of tradition and cultural understanding. All those banana, clove, pineapple notes in the aroma are byproducts of the yeast rather than spices added to the beer.
  • German ingredients: Brewers tend to use the ingredients nearby for sake of freshness and convenience. So German beers should be made from German malts and Noble Hops.
  • German Brewing Techniques: German brewers have innovated and developed many techniques specifically recognized as German. The Germans were the first to make lager and bocks. Germans are the only brewers to consistently make wheat based bocks (weizenbocks).

And, in case you missed it before, below is our video on how to pour a hefeweizen.

Category 15: German Wheat and Rye:

Photo Credit: Bernt Rostad CC

Subcategories: Weizen/Weissbier, Dunkelweizen, Weizenbock, Roggenbier (German Rye)

Appearance: Ranging in very light to russet brown with garnet highlights. Creamy, frothy white to tan head that is sustaining and persistent. Hazy due to lack of filtering. Some hefeweizens are filtered and are called Krystalweiss. Roggenbier is often orange marmalade to copper in color.

Aroma: Notes of banana, clove and pineapple are all present and apparent. Dunkelweiss may even have a bit of a vanilla or oak note with hints of allspice. Weizenbock will have a rocky, mineral quality and hints of bread crust. One may even find a bit of smoke present in all of all of them. Hops should not be present. Neither should diacytl or DMS (a cooked corn smell).

Taste: Low to moderately strong banana and clove flavors. A light vanilla or bubble gum is optional but pleasant. There should be a soft, and round bready sweetness that helps lift the yeast esters and accentuate them but never overpower them. The star of the show should be the yeast, which gives those fruity esters as well as a certain spritzy brightness to the beer. It should be apparent and bold. Weizenbocks will tend to show more dark fruit character of plums, grapes, raisins and prunes. The spice should be earthier; showing more allspice, cinnamon and clove. Roggebier should have a spicy rye quality to it, similar to good rye bread. In none of these beers should diacytl or DMS be present. A slight noble hop bitterness helps balance the beer. Otherwise, no hops should be present.

Mouthfeel: Medium to full body. Creamy, rich and round with medium to strong carbonation. Hefeweizens should be effervescent. There should be no heat from alchohol.

Ingredients: At least 50% of the grain bill should be wheat. While the other 50% is composed of mostly pilsner with Munich malts as specialty grains. Noble hops used for bittering. And a low flocculating weiss yeast. Roggenbier will have rye added to the specialty grains.

Technical Notes:
Original Gravity:
Final Gravity: 1.10-1.022
SRM (Grain Color): 2-25
IBUs: 8-30
ABV: 4.3-8.0%

Commercial Examples:
Hefeweizen: Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier, Schneider Weisse Weizenhell, Paulaner Hefe-Weizen, Hacker-Pschorr Weisse, Plank Bavarian Hefeweizen, Ayinger Braeu Weisse, Ettaler Weissbier Hell, Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse, Andechser Weissbier Hefetraeub, Kapuziner Weissbier, Erdinger Weissbier, Penn Weizen, Barrelhouse Hocking Hills HefeWeizen, Eisenbahn Weizenbier
Dunkelweizen: Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier Dunkel, Ayinger Ur-Weisse, Franziskaner Dunkel Hefe-Weisse, Schneider Weisse (Original), Ettaler Weissbier Dunkel, Hacker-Pschorr Weisse Dark, Tucher Dunkles Hefe Weizen, Edelweiss Dunkel Weissbier, Erdinger Weissbier Dunkel, Kapuziner Weissbier Schwarz
Weizenbock: Schneider Aventinus, Schneider Aventinus Eisbock, Plank Bavarian Dunkler Weizenbock, Plank Bavarian Heller Weizenbock, AleSmith Weizenbock, Erdinger Pikantus, Mahr’s Der Weisse Bock, Victory Moonglow Weizenbock, High Point Ramstein Winter Wheat, Capital Weizen Doppelbock, Eisenbahn Vigorosa
Roggenbier: Paulaner Roggen (formerly Thurn und Taxis, no longer imported into the US), Boergerbraeu Wolznacher Roggenbier

Better Know Your Beer Style: Category 14- India Pale Ales

4 05 2010

As we mentioned a few weeks ago, technology of the 17th century allowed for cleaner roasting processes and lighter colored malts. The pale ales, known as “bitters,” became all the rage. By the 18th century, it was considered a symbol of status to be drinking the more expensive and cleaner tasting bitters. It was also around this time that “The Sun Never Set on the British Empire.” Soldiers around the world required beer to consume as much of the water and sanitary conditions were below the standards of English gentlemen soldiers. Quickly, the British military learned that beer had a difficult time traveling the many months to the far flung colonies of England. For much of the time, the beer was in casks, on boats, in tropical regions. They attempted to make breweries in the colonies. But the tropical temperatures in India, Africa and the Caribbean were too hot to make beer in a time before refrigeration.

If a brewer could figure out how to solve this problem, he would be rich. From the time of Hildegaard of Bingen, brewers knew that hops had a preservative effect and helped beer from spoiling. George Hodgen had a beer called “October Beer” that often was aged for two years. He hypothesized that if he gave an extra dosing of hops to his October Beer, the increased alcohol and hops would help the beer survive the trip. He was correct and was soon sending casks of this October beer to thirsty soldiers in India.

Other breweries followed suit. Samuel Smith’s Brewery also began brewing exportable Pale Ales. The water source actually turned out to be perfect for the style. The hard water they received from their well and the river Burton-Upon-Trent helped accentuate the sharpness of the hops. Many breweries attempted to capitalize on the phenomenon by adding mineral salts in order to “burtonize” their water. Burtonizing is still a practice used today by brewers.

After the soldiers came home from the colonies, the clamored for the hoppy, sweet beers they were accustomed to. Hodgen and Smith both decided to brew a domestic version and began advertising them as India Pale Ales. Samuel Smith’s still refers to theirs as the original name they used, the “India Ale.” For a while, India Pale Ales )or IPAs) were all the rage in England. But by the early twentieth century, the fad had all but died out. After the fall of the British Empire and two very difficult wars that had taken their toll on England and its brewers, no one had a taste for the hoppy ales.

In the 1970’s the Campaign for Real Ales (CAMRA) helped resurrect many old, endangered styles. Porters, Cask Conditioned Ales and IPAs all received a big boost by this movement. As England brought back these old styles, Americans were just starting to gain a taste for things a bit more “unusual.” American brewers began bringing IPAs over to this side of the Pond. As is the case with most every beer the American’s get their hands on, they put the style on steroids and saw just how big they could go. Whereas the English had lightly increased their hopping schedule to create a sharper and stronger beer, the Americans pushed the limit by throwing as much hops into the kettle as possible.

American IPAs were bigger, stronger, and bolder. Americans began to come to like the taste of hops. By the late 1990’s to today, we saw the growth of the “hop head” those legions of beer drinkers who crave the hop. They judge the beer by the amount of IBUs and look for interesting new varieties of hops. We see the growth of double IPAs, Imperial IPAs, Double Imperial IPAs. Brewers have begun experimenting with “Dry hopping” where they put dried hops into the fermenter in order to add more hop flavor and aroma. And recently, wet hopping, where the brewers add fresh hops to the fermenter. They just keep getting bigger and bigger. And there is no sign of when or where it is going to stop.

Better Know Your Beer Style: Category 14- IPAs

Subcategories: English IPA, American IPA, Imperial IPA

Aroma: IPAs tend to be hop forward with a floral, spicey or citrusy note. English IPAs, due to their smaller hopping schedule and use of English hops, tend to be more floral and spicey. American and Imperial IPAs, due to their increased hopping schedule and use of American hops, tend to be more citrusy. A light biscuit or toasty maltiness is common. No yeast or diacytl should be present.

Appearance: Dark pale to copper is most common. Occasionally, an IPA may even verge on the red end. A lovely, firm white to tan head should be persistent, often with excellent lacing. Carbonation should be medium to high. Very clean and clear. Although some brewers who dry or wet hop may not filter their beers, thus leaving a slight haze to it.

Flavor: Hop forward with a pronounced bitterness and sharpness. English IPAs will have a spicy, grassy, rosy quality to them. American IPAs will have a citrusy character with hints of lemon, orange, grapefruit, and/or pineapple. They may also have a spicy character of rose, spruce, pine, or sassafras. A good, strong malt back bone should help balance the hops with toasted bread, biscuit, or sweet malt. The use of hard water helps keep the beer crisp and light without letting it fall flat. And the yeast should be very clean. A slight booziness can help clean the palate. Oak can be present in an English IPA.

Mouthfeel: Very clean, crisp and sharp. There should be a drying or astringent quality to the end. And the large carbonation should help clean the palate and leave a prickle to the tongue.

Ingredients: Pale ales with some lighter specialty malts. English hops for English IPAs and American hops for American IPAs. Burton salts to harden the water are appropriate. A clean ale yeast.

Technical Notes:
Original Gravity:
Final Gravity: 1.010-1.012
SRM (Malt Color): 6-15
IBUs: 40-120

Commercial Examples:
English IPA:
Meantime India Pale Ale, Freeminer Trafalgar IPA, Fuller’s IPA, Ridgeway Bad Elf, Summit India Pale Ale, Samuel Smith’s India Ale, Hampshire Pride of Romsey IPA, Burton Bridge Empire IPA,Middle Ages ImPailed Ale, Goose Island IPA, Brooklyn East India Pale Ale
American IPA: Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale, AleSmith IPA, Russian River Blind Pig IPA, Stone IPA, Three Floyds Alpha King, Great Divide Titan IPA, Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA, Victory Hop Devil, Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, Anderson Valley Hop Ottin’, Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA, Founder’s Centennial IPA, Anchor Liberty Ale, Harpoon IPA, Avery IPA
Imperial IPA: Russian River Pliny the Elder, Three Floyd’s Dreadnaught, Avery Majaraja, Bell’s Hop Slam, Stone Ruination IPA, Great Divide Hercules Double IPA, Surly Furious, Rogue I2PA, Moylan’s Hopsickle Imperial India Pale Ale, Stoudt’s Double IPA, Dogfish Head 90-minute IPA, Victory Hop Wallop

Better Know Your Beer Style: Category 13 Stouts

27 04 2010

Before we get into the style of stouts, first a little history of the word “stout.” Most people’s first experience with the word “stout” comes from this song. When we think of the word “stout,” we think of “heft, thickness, and bulk.” As is the first definition according to But the word, as it was originally used, means “strength and boldness.” This definition is less popular these days. So while the original use of the name “stout” meant strength, people now think of it as meaning a “thick beer.” For the vast amount of beers that are known as “stout”, this creates a false impression that these beers are thick or high in calories. In reality, a Guinness has just about as many calories as a Budweiser or even a can of Coca-Cola. It is the creamy mouthfeel that gives the impression that the beer is thick.

While porters became popular among the British working class in the 1700’s, a darker and richer version also began picking up strength. The first use of the word “stout” in reference to a beer was in the lat 17th century. In this case, “stout” referred to any strong ale, usually in 7-8% ABV. But when porters grew in popularity and potency, “stout porters” became a very popular subsection of the style. When Arthur Guinness began brewing his beer, the name “Stout Porter” was on the label. It remained there until the 1970’s. Some older Irish men will still refer to Guinness as “stout porter.” And their even stronger, export quality, stout porter was referred to as “extra stout” a name that still remains on the label today.

Around the mid-19th century, stout became recognizable as its own style. Brewers would often brew richer, darker versions with higher alcohol in order to have it travel well. Queen Katherine of the Russian Imperial Court enjoyed stout so much, she asked for a shipment to be delivered to her personally. Knowing that beer travels better with higher alcohol and hops levels, a bigger batch was brewed for Her Highness–and thus the birth of the Russian Imperial Stout.

During WWII, when food was rationed, brewers attempted to embolden their beers with nonfermentable sugars in order to boost caloric intake of the British people. They added dried milk and oatmeal. The result is a creamy, silky, smooth beer that is rich in body and flavor.

As the British colonies spread throughout the 19th Century, so did its beer. In African and Caribbean colonies, extra stout became very popular. And to this day, the largest drinkers of Guinness Extra Stout and Foreign Stout are in West Africa and the Caribbean. It is hard to believe that stout would be very appetizing in such warm climates but many beer enthusiasts swear that the Guinness is just as refreshing in Jamaica as it is in Ireland.

Of course, as Americans got their hands on stouts, they boosted the key characteristics of the style. The pumped up the smokey and chocolate notes and gave rich, earthy hops an opportunity shine. While traditional Irish stouts are meant to be session beers, where one can drink several in one sitting. Americans have turned stouts into bold signature pieces that push the envelope and linger on the palate.

Better Know Your Beer Style: Category 13- Stouts

Photo Credit: Bernt Rostad CC

Subcategories: Dry, Sweet (Milk), Oatmeal, American, Russian Imperial

Aroma: All stouts will have smokey, chocolatey, and coffee-like notes. However, they all vary in strength according to style. Dry Stouts will have slight cocoa and coffee notes while the Export-style Stouts will have rich burnt characters with complex fruitiness ranging from purple fruits to herbs and spices including anise, licorice and smoke. Hop aroma will be slight but earthy with notes of moss, soil, and cedar. Very clean nose. No Diacetyl.

Appearance: Very Dark. Ranging from jet black with no highlights to dark brown with rich, red highlights. Head will range from bright, off-white to mocha brown. Often, stouts are served under nitrogen and will produce a cascade effect on the head where the bubbles will literally float down the side of the glass and then rise back up to form the head. Head is strong and persistent with excellent lacing.

Flavor: Malt forward with some acidic coffee bittersweet notes. A touch of smoke or chocolate is common. Styles will grow in complexity with the overall strength. Exports will echo aroma with complex, rich fruit notes and spices. Some overt sweetness may be present. Oatmeal stouts may have a bit of graininess resembling oatmeal. A very clean and dry palate on the back end. Exports should also have some alcohol present. Hops should be balancing and earthy with a certain amount of brightness. English hops should be used although Continental Noble Hops are appropriate as well.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied to full bodied. Rich, creamy and viscous are all appropriate qualities. Should be incredibly smooth and the dark malts may add a certain amount of astringency. Body is dependent on original gravity and some smaller beers may be lighter in body. Very light in carbonation, which should all be centralized in the head.

Ingredients: Dark malts, including a judicial use of Black Patent Malt. Unmalted grains can help with body and head retention. Some non-fermentable adjuncts can be used in sweet stouts (particularly milk and oatmeal) to add body. Water should be hard and rich in minerals. English and Continental hops and a strong ale yeast strain. Occasionally, oysters can be added to imbue a sweet, salty note.

Technical Notes:
Original Gravity:
Final Gravity: 1.007-1.035
IBUs: 20-90
SRM (Malt Color): 22-40
ABV: 4-12%

Commercial Examples:
Dry Stout: Guinness Draught Stout (also canned), Murphy’s Stout, Beamish Stout, O’Hara’s Celtic Stout, Russian River O.V.L. Stout, Three Floyd’s Black Sun Stout, Dorothy Goodbody’s Wholesome Stout, Orkney Dragonhead Stout, Old Dominion Stout, Goose Island Dublin Stout, Brooklyn Dry Stout
Sweet Stout: Mackeson’s XXX Stout, Watney’s Cream Stout, Farson’s Lacto Stout, St. Peter’s Cream Stout, Marston’s Oyster Stout, Sheaf Stout, Hitachino Nest Sweet Stout (Lacto), Samuel Adams Cream Stout, Left Hand Milk Stout, Widmer Snowplow Milk Stout
Oatmeal Stout: Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout, Young’s Oatmeal Stout, McAuslan Oatmeal Stout, Maclay’s Oat Malt Stout, Broughton Kinmount Willie Oatmeal Stout, Anderson Valley Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout, Troegs Oatmeal Stout, New Holland The Poet, Goose Island Oatmeal Stout, Wolaver’s Oatmeal Stout
Foreign Extra Stout: Tropical-Type: Lion Stout (Sri Lanka), Dragon Stout (Jamaica), ABC Stout (Singapore), Royal Extra “The Lion Stout” (Trinidad), Jamaica Stout (Jamaica), Export-Type: Freeminer Deep Shaft Stout, Guinness Foreign Extra Stout (bottled, not sold in the US), Ridgeway of Oxfordshire Foreign Extra Stout, Coopers Best Extra Stout, Elysian Dragonstooth Stout
American Stout: Rogue Shakespeare Stout, Deschutes Obsidian Stout, Sierra Nevada Stout, North Coast Old No. 38, Bar Harbor Cadillac Mountain Stout, Avery Out of Bounds Stout, Lost Coast 8 Ball Stout, Mad River Steelhead Extra Stout
Russian Imperial Stout: Three Floyd’s Dark Lord, Bell’s Expedition Stout, North Coast Old Rasputin Imperial Stout, Stone Imperial Stout, Samuel Smith Imperial Stout, Scotch Irish Tsarina Katarina Imperial Stout, Thirsty Dog Siberian Night, Deschutes The Abyss, Great Divide Yeti, Southampton Russian Imperial Stout, Rogue Imperial Stout, Bear Republic Big Bear Black Stout, Great Lakes Blackout Stout, Avery The Czar, Founders Imperial Stout, Victory Storm King, Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout