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 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 12- Porters

14 04 2010

Beer historians (yes, there are such things) know the origins of very few beer styles.  Beers created two-hundred and fifty years ago or earlier, we are pretty sure of where they come from: IPAs, Stouts, American Lagers, Vienna Lagers. But after that, the history gets pretty fuzzy. Unfortunately, that is right about the same time porters were developed. So, whereas we know who created the Oktoberfest beer or the Irish Stout, we only have pretty good theories of who developed the Porter. What we do know is this, around the time Pale Ales and Bitters became popular with the upper crust muckity-mucks in 18th century England, darker brown ales became more popular with working-class types. Also at this point, beers were poured off of casks. It was the job of the bartender to mix and blend the kegs as they aged. At some point, a darker, richer blend of brown ales became popular and brewers began to create beers that resembled these beers.

After that, there are some stories that float around. Some may be true but they are also disputed. In other words, we are not quite sure. Many historians believe the original porter was based off of a particular blend called “Three Threads.” Unfortunately, the first citation of this was mentioned in a history of porter that largely misinterprets brewing terminology of the time. What is most likely more accurate was that as blended and aged brown ales became more popular, brewers were able to more accurately and scientifically brew their beers using hydrometers and thermometers. Using science, porters were able to be recreated on a greater scale, thus making them the first industrially brewed beers.

It is largely believed that the name of the beer referred to the working-class drinkers of the beer. Presumably, this beer was very popular with the men who acted as porters, moving merchandise from one location to another within the cities.

Porters are a direct result of the Industrial Revolution in England. The use of hydrometers and thermometers helped make a more consistent product. Malt became roasted at more consistent rate. And the use of a new mechanical roasting drum allowed for darker and smokier malts. The use of “black patent” allowed for porters to get richer, darker, and roastier without getting smokier. And as English trade became more common to other parts of Europe, the Porter spread with it. Porter in Ireland soon became known as “stout” and bold, boozy, roasty Robust Porters were sent to the Colonies in America and Continental Europe. It is well documented that George Washington and Benjamin Franklin both had a taste for porters. And even bigger Baltic Porters were designed to survive the trip to the Russian Baltic States.

Photo Credit: Mostlymuppet CC

Better Know Your Beer Style: Category 12- Porters
Brown Porter, Robust Porter, Baltic Porter

Aroma: Mild to Rich malt aroma showcasing earthy maltiness of chocolate, coffee, toffee, caramel, biscuit, bread crust. Hops should not be present. A very yeast that gives off little to no fruity esters.

Appearence: Light to dark brown but never black. Ruby red highlights with a persistent off-white to tan head. Dark and opaque but should be very clear.

Flavor: Very malt forward with nice, complex, roasty sweetness of chocolate, coffee, toffee, caramel. There should be no to little black patent notes (burnt, smokey, bitterness). Should finish dry to sweet–never cloying. On some bigger Baltic Porters, licorice and purple fruit is acceptable. Some may even be lager-like in the dryness. Hops should help balance and help add to the clean, dry finish. A Continental hop, particularly Noble Hop should be used.

Mouthfeel: Medium to full bodied. Baltic Porters will be particularly full bodied and smooth. Very dry and clean on the back end. Slight carbonation. Some larger porters will have a slight boozy warmth to them.

Ingredients: The grainbill is predominately darker grains, particularly chocolate and caramel types. Brown porters rarely have Black Patent malts while the Robust and Baltic Porters may. Spicy European hops will be used. And soft water or burtonized water will help with the smoothness.

Technical Notes:
Original Gravity:
Final Gravity: 1.008-1.024
SRM (Malt Color): 17-35
IBUs: 18-50
ABV: 4.0-9.5%

Commercial Examples;
Brown Porters:
Fuller’s London Porter, Samuel Smith Taddy Porter, Burton Bridge Burton Porter, RCH Old Slug Porter, Nethergate Old Growler Porter, Hambleton Nightmare Porter, Harvey’s Tom Paine Original Old Porter, Salopian Entire Butt English Porter, St. Peters Old-Style Porter, Shepherd Neame Original Porter, Flag Porter, Wasatch Polygamy Porter
Robust Porters: Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter, Meantime London Porter, Anchor Porter, Smuttynose Robust Porter, Sierra Nevada Porter, Deschutes Black Butte Porter, Boulevard Bully! Porter, Rogue Mocha Porter, Avery New World Porter, Bell’s Porter, Great Divide Saint Bridget’s Porter
Baltic Porters: Sinebrychoff Porter (Finland), Okocim Porter (Poland), Zywiec Porter (Poland), Baltika #6 Porter (Russia), Carnegie Stark Porter (Sweden), Aldaris Porteris (Latvia), Utenos Porter (Lithuania), Stepan Razin Porter (Russia), Nøgne ø porter (Norway), Neuzeller Kloster-Bräu Neuzeller Porter (Germany), Southampton Imperial Baltic Porter

Better Know Your Beer Style: Category 11- English Brown Ale

23 03 2010

In many ways, British browns can be considered the “mother beer” for all British ales. Before maltsters had the precision of coke-fueled kilns, all malt was brown. And as all beer was cask-aged and and blended, brown ales eventually became the inspiration for porters and then stouts. Brown ales are the most basic of ales from the British Isles and the oldest, too. Generally, they are divided by geography (Norther Brown Ales and Southern Brown Ales) but a “Mild” version is found all over.

Northern Brown Ales (also known as Nut Brown Ales) are by far the most popular. They tend to be lighter, dryer and have larger alcohol. One of the most popular brands of the Northern Brown Ale is the Newcastle Brown. The popularity of it has found its way to this side of the Atlantic and many craft breweries will offer a Nut Brown or Brown Ale of their own.

Southern Brown Ales (also known as London-Style) are lest popular than their Northern cousins. They were probably developed later as a reaction to the rising popularity of the porter style. They tend to be darker, sweeter, and have a lower gravity. They are rarer than the Northern Style and usually found within the general London area.

Milds are the rarest of all. They tend to be cask conditioned and few breweries bother to make them at all. In modern terms, “Mild” may be in relation to “Bitter (Pale Ales)”. But traditionally, it was probably used in relation to the age of the beer in the casks as older beers would often take on a slight sour character.

As pale ales became the drink of choice for the rising middle class and gentry during England’s Industrial Revolution, brown ales were less expensive and remained being the drink for lower and working class types. This may relate to the geographcial distinction. Many of the most popular brown ales are from more traditionally working class cities including Manchester, Tadcaster, and Newcastle.

Better Know Your Beer Style: Category 11-English

Photo Credit: Russ Neumeier

Brown Ale

Subcategories: Mild, Northern English Brown Ale, Southern English Brown Ale

Aroma: All brown ales should be malt forward with low to now hop aromas. Southern Browns should have a rich toffee, caramel and dark raisin character. While Northern Browns and Milds should have light toffee and caramel character with very little buttery diacytl notes.

Appearance: Milds tend to be light brown to copper with a slight tan head to it. They are generally served unfiltered. Southern Browns can be dark brown to black and nearly always opaque. Generally clear although unfiltered. With a tan to off white head but with poor head retention. Northern Browns are a clear dark amber to reddish-brown color with low to moderate off-white to light tan head.

Flavor: Milds are malt forward with a wide variety of malt and yeast flavors. Can finish sweet or dry. With just enough bitterness to balance without overpowering. Southern Browns will be rich in malt roast with coffee, toffee, caramel and biscuit flavors. No to low hop bitterness perceived. Moderately sweet finish. Northern Browns will have a much more gentle maltiness as compared to the Southern style. A light malt toffee with a sweet, nutty flavor. A very well balanced but leaning more to the malt than the hop. A low, butterscotch diacetyl flavor may be noticeable.

Mouthfeel: Light to Medium body with low carbonation. Some may have a slight astringency to them due to darker roasts.

Ingredients: English pale malts as base with some specialty malts including caramel, biscuit and crystal. Light English hops and a characterful English yeast.

Technical Notes:
Original Gravity:
Final Gravity: 1.008-1.014
SRM (Malt Color): 10-35
IBUs: 10-30
ABV: 2.8-5.4%

Commercial Examples:
Moorhouse Black Cat, Gale’s Festival Mild, Theakston Traditional Mild, Highgate Mild, Sainsbury Mild, Brain’s Dark, Banks’s Mild, Coach House Gunpowder Strong Mild, Woodforde’s Mardler’s Mild, Greene King XX Mild, Motor City Brewing Ghettoblaster
Southern English Brown Ale: Mann’s Brown Ale (bottled, but not available in the US), Harvey’s Nut Brown Ale, Woodeforde’s Norfolk Nog
Northern English Brown Ale: Newcastle Brown Ale, Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale, Riggwelter Yorkshire Ale, Wychwood Hobgoblin, Tröegs Rugged Trail Ale, Alesmith Nautical Nut Brown Ale, Avery Ellie’s Brown Ale, Goose Island Nut Brown Ale, Samuel Adams Brown Ale