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What is Craft Beer?

Updated: Oct 12, 2023


Craft beer is a commonly heard term used to describe many of the beers we drink today, but what, exactly, is craft beer? When did the term become popular, and what does the future of craft beer look like for the UK and across the globe?


An Attempted Definition

With phrases like hipster hops, bottle conditioned and real ale being used in relation to craft brewing. along with beers described as hazy (unfiltered) and smoked (malted barley dried over an open flame), the re-emergence and growing popularity of beers such as bocks, porters and wheat beer, back into our drinking culture. We attempt to explore some of the varying definitions and explain the technical terminology.


Trying to create a definitive guide for what constitutes craft beer is a contentious task. However there is, to some extent, an acceptance of the following generalisations, outlining the basic principles, types of producers and beers:


A craft beer is a beer that has been produced by a craft brewery, which is often defined by being below an annual production threshold. Another suggested qualifying factor is that at least half of the beers produced must be full malt beers. Therefore craft breweries by definition produce smaller quantities of beer annually, are independently owned and typically focus more on experimentation, product variety and varied brewing techniques. Whatever the size and annual production of the craft brewery, craft beers stay true to style and are usually packed with distinct, detectable flavours, aromas and characteristics. Craft breweries tend to be characterised by enthusiasm and put heart and soul into the research and development of their recipes, while sparing no effort experimenting and concocting delicious batches of craft beer.


The opposite of craft beer is mass produced commercial beer, which typically uses chemical additives for flavour and also preserve and prolong the shelf-life of the beer, as opposed to relying on the natural preservative effects of alcohol and hops.

The craft brewery concept is derived from the microbrewery movement, with its beginnings attributed to the UK and USA in the 1970’s. Although traditional artisanal brewing has existed in Europe for centuries and subsequently spread to other countries. As the movement grew and breweries increased their production and distribution, the more encompassing concept of craft brewing emerged to describe the activity.


Producer Definitions

Brew Pub

This is an abbreviated term referring to the combination of a brewery and public house, or restaurant combination, brewing beer on the premises. Fiscal definitions in some countries are based upon the percentage of production sold on site e.g. 25% or more of the beer produced must be sold on site and combined with significant food services. Whereas a taproom brewery defines a commercial brewery, without food services, again selling 25% or more of its production on site (USA).


Under EU legislation brewpubs in some countries receive tax relief via a system of progressive beer duty, which originated in Bavaria. In UK brewpubs brewing up to 5,000 hectolitres per annum (c.880,000 pints) receive a 50% discount on beer duty.


Craft Brewery

As previously explained, craft brewing is a comprehensive term for the developments in the brewing industry, following on from the microbrewing movement of the late 20th century. The definition is not entirely consistent, but typically applies to relatively small, independently owned, commercial breweries, employing traditional brewing methods. The various craft brewing methods take time and can be considered an art. In the UK the Assured Independent British Craft Brewer initiative, run by the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA), attempts to ensure that any breweries using the Independent Craft Brewer logo are relatively small, independently owned and brewing authentic and traditional quality beer.


Farm Brewery

This term or “farmhouse brewery” has been around for centuries. <p>Several beer styles are considered “farmhouse” originally produced as fairly low alcohol beers as an incentive for field workers. Farm breweries were originally not commercial enterprises and had smaller and often unique brewing and fermentation methods, creating unconventional flavours.


The term “farm brewery” has more recently found its way into legislature, with attendant agricultural related privileges, not normally associated with brewery licensing and taxation and in relation to the ingredients grown and used in the brewing process.


Microbrewery

Although the original use of this term was in relation to the size of a brewing operation, it has gradually evolved into also meaning an alternative attitude and approach to brewing adaptability, experimentation, flexibility and customer service. The term has been widely used since the 1980’s and in the USA is designated by annual production volumes.


Nanobrewery

Often described as scaled-down microbreweries and typically run by solo entrepreneurs, producing beer in small batches, from home, garages and small industrial units. Often transitioning from hobby to commercial enterprise. Despite the size the brewery will still be subject to licensing laws.


How Do You Choose A Craft Beer?

The market demand for craft beer has continued to grow steadily over the past 30 years, and it does not appear to be slowing up anytime soon. It is estimated that there are currently c.2,000 independent craft breweries in the UK and new types of craft beer appear every year. If you consider yourself a serious beer drinker and/or connoisseur, you should know about varieties like hazy IPAs, session beers, sours and wild ales etc.


Beers are categorised by three types of yeast. The two most common are ale yeast (a top-fermenting yeast that works best at warm temperatures) and lager yeast, which ferments on the bottom at lower temperatures. The third uses a spontaneous yeast in the environment to make sour and wild beers.


What does that mean for you? The yeast affects the overall flavour of the beer. Therefore lagers, such as Mexican beers, American pale beers, pilsners and German bocks, are usually easy to drink with light and crisp flavours. Ales, on the other hand, are denser and lean towards higher alcohol contents. There are a wide variety of ales, from hoppy IPAs to dense, dark porters and stouts, so it’s hard to make general statements about their flavour.


The grains and hops used, other sources of starch and sugar, along with flavour additives and the brewing and fermentation process itself, all contribute to the appearance, colour and flavour of beers, but live yeast is without doubt the most important ingredient in beer.


After fermentation, many large commercial breweries remove live yeast through filtration and pasteurisation. Beers from craft breweries, on the other hand, will often contain live yeast for the purpose of carbonation.


In addition to the foregoing, at AxelJack brewery we believe that three other guiding principles based on authenticity, responsibility and sustainability are also fundamentally important elements of the craft brewing process.

Sustainable Sourcing

We believe that it is important to only source our ingredients from sustainably farmed producers, avoiding to the extent possible GM and chemically sprayed crops. Where it is not possible for us to source organically produced ingredients, we will always seek supply at fair-trade prices, that provides the opportunity for sustainment of supply and producer livelihood.


Responsible Production

This applies to our processes and manufacturing decisions in relation to environmental considerations and covers chemical usage, distribution, packaging, recycling and consideration for the carbon footprint of the business and individuals.


Authenticity

Our adherence to classic ingredients and recipes, is never compromised by by including processed foodstuffs in modern adaptations for new beers, Neither will we use chemicals in our beers, believing in the preservative capabilities of alcohol and hops to be sufficient, thereby maintaining the authentic colours, textures and taste of authentic craft beers.


Craft Beer Types

Altbier

These German-style brown ales are rested for a longer period of time than most beers. In fact, the word “alt” in German literally translates to “old” in English. Because they rest for so long, similar to lager, these dark amber beers are mellow and smooth. They have more hop presence than most German beers, although brewers usually use spicy hops instead of more citrus-forward varieties.

Examples for reference:

Lagunitas Doppel Sticky, Ninkasi Sleigh’r & Uerige DoppelSticke.


Amber Beer/Red Ale

Amber beers are often also called red ales. They are typically low-alcohol (c. 5%ABV) with a full-bodied malt characteristic that tastes toasty. Their decent level of hops gives them a balanced flavour, distinguishing them from darker-coloured beers where malt presence overwhelms the palate. In general, red ales tend to a have a stronger flavour of hops than ambers, but the terms can generally be used interchangeably.

Examples for reference:

Alaskan Brewing Amber & Yuengling Traditional.


American Brett

Wild ales that are brewed with Brettanomyces bacteria (see Wild Ale), have a specific earthy flavour profile. Some people describe it as barn-yard-like, while others detect aromas of horses, or leather. These beers can be rustic, but they’re not necessarily sour with acidic notes. You’ll find Brett beers typically in a 6% to 9%ABV range.

Examples for reference:

Crooked Stave Nightmare On Brett, Russian River Sanctification & Stone Brewing Enjoy After Brett IPA


American IPA

American IPA's take hop presence to the next level! Instead of using hops just as a preservative (as they were in the original India pale ales), breweries use hops to add extreme levels of bitterness as well as piney, herbaceous and citrus flavours. These beers tend to be higher in alcohol than most ales, ranging from 5.5% to 7.5%ABV.

Examples for reference:

Lagunitise IPA & Stone IPA.


American Lager

These beers have very little hop or malt presence, making them light, crisp and clean. They’re almost always straw or golden coloured and typically contain alcohol contents lower than 5%.

Examples for reference:

Budweiser, Coors, Corona & Miller.


American Pale Ale

With American pale ales (APA), you start seeing darker-coloured beers that range from dark gold to amber. These beers also have more hop presence, although they’re not as bitter as IPAs. If you’re looking for a beer that has a good balance between caramel flavour and hop brightness, an APA is the right choice. They also have moderate alcohol percentages, ranging from 4.5% to 6.5% ABV.

The AxelJack brewery Welsh Pale Ale is based upon an APA.

Other examples for reference:

Deschutes Brewery Mirror Pond Pale Ale & Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.


American Porter

This beer has many facets and can be brewed with coffee to add bitter flavours or chocolate to accentuate the roasted malts. They may even be aged in whiskey barrels to add depth and heat! Typically dark-coloured with low levels of hop bitterness and under 7%ABV.

Examples for reference:

Breckenridge Brewery Vanilla Porter, Deschutes Black Butte Porter, Maui Brewing Coconut Hiwa Porter & Rogue Ales Mocha Porter.


American Wheat

The American version of hefeweizen skips all the fruity flavours and aromatic clove-like phenols and has more of a neutral flavour. They still have all the chewiness of a German hefeweizen, but they’re usually filtered to remove the cloudy appearance. Some American breweries also add a moderate amount of hops to give these wheat beers a bitter edge for balance. Like hefeweizen, you’ll find these beers range from 4 to 7% ABV.

Examples for reference:

Bell's Brewery Oberon, Blue Moon & Boulevard Unfiltered Wheat.


Baltic Porter

These strong, 7 to 10%ABV are dark brown in colour and have a bitter finish. They were originally brewed strong to survive their shipment across the North Sea, becoming pleasantly acidic along the journey.

Examples for reference:

Arcadia Brewing Shipwreck Porter & Smuttynose Baltic Porter.


Barley Wine

Despite the name, these “wines” are actually beers. They can be sweet and fruity, but they are always very strong thanks to their typically, very high, 8% to 15%ABV content. To achieve such high alcohol levels, brewers use a lot of malts, giving the beer a thick texture and a dark colour. Many barley wines are barrel-aged to temper the intense flavours and introduce additional ones by using sherry or whisky barrels, which can also be cellared and aged, just like wine.

Examples for reference:

Gold Label Barley Wine & Pohjala Plum Barleywine.


Barrel-Aged Beer

Barrel-aged beer refers to any beer, from lagers to pale ales and porters, that are aged in a wooden barrel. Some brewers prefer to use wood chips or spirals instead of using whole barrels. As the beer comes in contact with the wood, it usually deepens in flavour and gains vanilla-like flavours.

Examples for reference:

Fraoch Barrel Aged 2022 & Trappist Westvletern-12.


Belgian Gueuze

If you blend together young and old Lambic beers (see below), you get a Gueuze. These beers are aged for a few years to develop fruity flavours and help the beer finish with a dryer character. Brewers often add fruits (like raspberries) to accentuate and balance out the sour, acidic flavours.

Examples for reference:

Cantillon Gueuze 100% Lambic, Lindemans Framboise & Oude Gueuze.


Belgian Lambic

Lambics are an interesting beer: They are the result of spontaneous fermentation. No commercial yeasts are added to these typically 5% to 6.5%ABV beers, so they tend to taste of the place in which they are brewed. They are acidic, sharp and crisp and difficult to find outside of Belgium.

Examples for reference:

Cantillon Iris, Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen Zenne Y Frontera & Vanberg & DeWulf Lambickx.


Belgian Pale

Unlike American pale ales, Belgian-style pale ale has less hop presence and a sweet, more malt-forward flavour. The yeast used for these beers also adds a fruity flavour and a spicy aroma that’s missing in American versions. Expect to see 4.5 to 7% ABV on these beers.

Examples for reference:

Orval Trappist Ale, Petrus Aged Pale & Russian River Redemption.


Belgian Witbier

Belgium’s version of wheat beer is often brewed with oats to give the beer a darker pale colour and increase the cloudiness of appearance. The yeast used also gives the beer a slightly spicy flavour, and additional spices like coriander and orange peel are often added to boost the fruity characteristic. Traditional wits have low alcohol by volume, although they can go as high as 7%ABV.

Examples for reference:

Avery White Rascal, Hoegaarden Original White Ale, Shock Top Belgian White & Unibroue Blanche de Chambly.


Berliner Weisse

These low-alcohol beers can be a great introduction to sour beers because they’re not too edgy. Berliner Weisse is pale in colour and slightly tart, or acidic. Typically a low alcohol content of c. 3.4%ABV, or less. Most breweries serve them with a flavoured syrup called Woodruff to balance out the acidic flavours.

Examples for reference:

BrewBoard Frambweisse, Berliner Kindl Weisse Himbeere & Berliner Kindl Weisse Waldmeister.


Black IPA

Also referred to as Cascadian Dark, these IPAs are as dark as porters and stouts without most of the heavy, roasted flavours. They are hopped as aggressively as regular IPAs, giving them a bitter taste with citrus and herbaceous notes, and they tend to have the same alcohol content as regular IPAs 6% to 7.5%ABV.

Examples for reference:

21st Amendment Back in Black & Uinta Dubhe.


Blonde or Golden Ale

Despite their pale, golden colour, blonde ales are usually made with ale yeast (although, not always, because sometimes they are lagered instead). They are one of the easiest drinking ales with a smooth flavour and no dominant malt or hop presence. They are sometimes called golden ale because of their vibrant colour and range from 4 to 5% ABV.

The AxelJack Brewery Welsh Golden Ale is an example of this beer type

Other examples for reference:

Deschutes Brewery Twilight Summer Ale, Kona Brewing Big Wave Golden Ale & Victory Summer Love.


Brown Ale

As their name suggests, brown ales have a deep caramel or chocolate colour. The roasted malts used in the mash gives the beer a full body, and they tend to be almost nutty in flavour. Most English-style browns are lowish alcohol and have no hop presence, but American versions can range up to 8%ABV and have a slight bitterness from the hops.

Examples for reference:

Newcastle Brown Ale & Samuel Smith Nut Brown Ale.


Brut IPA

A relatively new craft beer format that first appeared in California in 2017. These beers are lighter in colour than regular IPAs, and they are quite dry and effervescent on the palette, similar to champagne. Their alcohol content is fairly similar to regular IPAs, ranging from 6% to 7.5%ABV.

Examples for reference:

New Belgium Brut IPA & Sierra Nevada Brut IPA.


California Common (Steam Beer)

Like Kolsch, the California common bear (also known as steam beer) is brewed with a lager yeast that works best at warm, ale temperatures. These beers have darker colours, ranging from light amber to deep red. They have a decent malt presence and a full-bodied texture but finish light and slightly hoppy in flavour. You’ll find these beers from 4% to 6%ABV.

Examples for reference:

Anchor Steam Beer & Steamworks Brewing Steam Engine Lager.


Cream Ale

A hybrid beer, similar to kolsch in terms of the yeast mixture, but a slightly different brewing process. They are usually brewed with ale yeast and finished with lager yeast (or, mixed together with a lager beer). This provides the creamy texture they are named after. Because there is so much leeway with this style, you’ll find low-alcohol, sweet versions of cream ale and 8% ABV imperial cream ales with a lot of hop bitterness. If you can find one of these craft beers, try it as the lack of carbonation increases the creaminess of texture.

Examples for reference:

Anderson Valley Summer Solstice & New Belgium Dayblazer.


Doppelbock

These German-style beers are big and strong in flavour and alcohol content, typically at 6.5% to 8%ABV. Originating in Bavaria, these beers were originally brewed by monks as an accompaniment to food. They have sweet, malty flavours, although not unpalatable sweet; they can almost remind you of a toasted bread flavour.Still a great beer to drink with a meal.

Examples for reference:

Spaten Optimator, Paulaner Salvator Doppel Bock, Samichlaus Classic Bier & Spaten Optimator.


Dubbel

If you’re looking for something rich and fruity, you might want to check out this Belgian-style ale. These beers are dark coloured and sweet like caramel. They have a full body and high alcohol content, typically up to 9%ABV. The original Dubbels were brewed by Belgian monks and are also called Trappist ales.

Examples for reference:

Brewery Ommegang Abbey Ale, Trappistes Rochefort 6, Unibroue Maudite, Westmalle Trappist Dubbel & Westvleteren 8.


Dunkel

These dark beers are often a surprise! Although Dunkels are dark in colour, they are smooth and easy to drink, thanks to the lager yeast they’re brewed with. They have almost no hop presence, but the malt flavours are typically deep and rich. Because they’re so light in flavour, they’re also light in alcohol; at around 4% to 6%ABV.

Examples for reference:

Ayinger Altbairisch Dunkel, Harpoon Dark, Hofbrauhaus Dunkel & Spaten Dunkel.


English Style Mild

Like ESBs, English-style mild ales are low in hop bitterness and have a decent grain bill, giving the beer its deep amber colour. You can expect these beers to have toasty flavours and chewy textures, but they are easy to drink , similar in that respect to a lighter coloured beer. It helps that they’re often less than 6% ABV.

Examples for reference:

Goose Island Mild Winter & Guinness Generous Ale.


Extra Special Bitter (ESB)

Although the word “bitter” is in the title, these beers do not really taste bitter at all! They are dark gold or copper coloured and have a balanced, pleasantly drinkable flavour. If you can find this beer on cask, try it, because the flavour is enhanced if they are barely carbonated. Many ESBs are low in alcohol, but they can be as high as 7%ABV.

Examples for reference:

Black Sheep Ale & Fullers EXB.


Farmhouse Ale

Farmhouse ales do not describe a single beer, but rather a category of styles (including Belgian saison). If it has a slightly earthy flavour, an aroma that reminds you of wet hay, or a tart, crisp finish, it is probably a farmhouse ale! These beers are typically low alcohol and have a dry character that makes them easy to drink on a hot summer day.

Examples for reference:

Brasserie Fantôme Hiver & Goose Island Sofie.


Flanders Red Ale

These sour, Belgian-style ales almost taste like red wine! They are fruity but sharply sour, finishing dry with wine-like tannins. They are usually aged in oak (hence the tannins) and younger beers can be blended with older beers to achieve the desired flavour profile. Although they taste big, their alcohol content is usually less than 6.5%.ABV.

Examples for reference:

Bruery Terreux Oude Tart, Duchesse De Bourgogne & Rodenbach Grand Cru.


German Pilsner

Unlike other straw-coloured lagers, German pilsners have a notable sweetness from the malts used during the brewing process. They can contain a slight hop bitterness, which balances out the sweet flavours to finish crisp and refreshing. They are usually less than 5% ABV.

The AxelJack Brewery Welsh Premium Pilsner is an example of this beer type.

Other examples for reference:

Becks & Warsteiner.


Gose

This type of craft beer is brewed with salt! You may not be able to taste it, but it’s definitely there, bringing all the other flavours together. Technically, this beer is a sour beer, but it’s usually not acidic and tart. Instead, it’s light and crisp, and it blends well with fruits. It can be enjoyed as a summer beer, but can be considered an acquired taste.

Examples for reference:

Pohjala Orange Gose & To Øl Gose To Hollywood.


Hefeweizen

Traditionally, German hefeweizen beers are made with 50% barley and 50% wheat, although sometimes they contain even more wheat than that. This gives them a light colour, an almost chewy texture and a cloudy appearance. The ale yeast used for these beers also has a fruity,banana-like flavour, and many hefeweizen beers contain clove-spice flavours. These beers range in alcohol content, but generally settle between 4 to 5%.ABV.

Examples for reference:

Ayinger, Spaten, Weihenstephaner & Widmer Hefeweizen.


Helles

Helles German beers are perfect for hot, summer days! They’re light-coloured and sweet like pilsners, but with a spicy hop presence and a fuller, more bread-like malt character. They tend to be around 5.5% ABV.

Examples for reference:

Hofbrauhaus, Paulaner, Spaten & Weihenstephan.


Imperial IPA

Also called double IPAs, these high-alcohol beers are a strengthened version of American IPA. With robust malt profiles and extreme amounts of hops, expect a full-bodied beer with strong, forward flavours that leave little doubt about what you are drinking. Do not try to drink a lot of these beers, either; the alcohol content can vary from 7% to 12%ABV.

Examples for reference:

Green Flash West Coast IPA & Russian RIver Pliny The Elder.


Irish Dry Stout

These beers are very dark, you almost can’t see light through the glass! Like stouts, they use roasted barley, but they have a more forward, robust profile and a creamy texture. Best drunk from cask because the reduced carbonation levels helps with the sweetness. Look for these low-alcohol, 4 to 5% stouts on nitro, where the lack of carbonation helps them finish sweet.. Alcohol contents are4% to 5%ABV.

Examples for reference:

Guinness Draught, Murphy’s Irish Stout & O’Hara’s Irish Stout.


Irish Red

Like amber beers, Irish reds have a sweet and malty backbone that is balanced by hops, providing a subtle element of bitterness. They are often brewed with lager yeasts instead of ale yeasts to give them a crisp finish. Like ambers, you’ll usually find them around 5%ABV.

Examples for reference:

George Killians Irish Red & Three Floyds Brian Boru Old Irish.


Japanese Rice Lagers

Rice lagers have the same light, crisp profile as American lagers, with one notable distinction: They contain a lot of rice! This keeps the flavours light but adds a signature dry finish, making them a perfect pairing with sushi. You can find rice lagers with as much as 6.5% ABV, but most are around 4% to 5% ABV.

Examples for reference:

Asahi, Kirin & Sapporo.


Kolsch

This unique hybrid beer, popular in the USA, uses lager yeasts but is fermented at warmer, ale temperatures. Like its lager cousins, it is light in colour but with fruitier flavours and a dryer finish. Kolsch beers are as refreshing as lagers, but their spicy, herbal hop presence and full mouthfeel make them as satisfying as ales.

Examples for reference:

Alaskan Brewing Kolsch, Ballast Point California Kolsch, Samuel Adams East-West Kolsch.


Lager

Lager is the most commonly drunk beer type in the world. The bottom-fermented techniques used to brew it result in a crisp, refreshing beer, though it's a surprisingly diverse group. Lagers include many of the most well known consumer brands, although craft lager is different. The style goes far beyond those big names and includes all of the great Bavarian Pilsners, as well as Bocks, Dunkels, and Oktoberfest.The alcohol content can vary considerably between c.4.5% to 13%ABV.


What Is the Difference Between Lager and Ale?

The primary definition of a lager is that it is a bottom-fermented beer. The yeasts used to ferment the beer flocculate (gather) at the bottom of the fermentation tank. Ales are just the opposite and use yeasts that are top-fermenting.


Lager yeasts can also tolerate much lower temperatures than yeasts used for ales. Typically between 7°C to13°C these lower temperatures reduce the number of by-products during the fermentation stage and produce a cleaner, crisper beer.


The more tolerant lagers can handle longer ageing times than ales. Called "lagering”, these beers can be aged for months at much lower cellar temperatures (12°C to 14°C).


Lagers are also a younger beer. Hops were introduced to brewed alcoholic beverages in c. 1000 A.D. and primarily produced ales. Lagers were discovered by serendipity in the 1500’s when it was found that storing brews made with cold-resistant yeast for a month, produced a crisper beer. Even in a historical lager-brewing region like Bavaria in Germany, the famous hoppy German Pilsners are a 19th-century discovery. The other famous Czech and German lagers are not much older.


Lagers are a tighter group of beers than ales. While there are countless styles of ale, there are only a few styles within the lager family. Generally, the characteristics of a lager include a light, crisp taste that is mellow and smooth. They also tend to have more carbonation than ales and are less bitter. Some, however, are quite different. Bocks have a great barley flavour and can range from amber to dark brown in colour and Oktoberfest and Dunkels are known for their malty flavours.


Common Styles

Amber Lager

Most famous among the amber lagers, Märzenbier (March beer) is as well-known as Oktoberfest. These beers are simultaneously sweet and crisp, a characteristic of a specific blend of hops. Vienna lagers are similar but use a lighter roasted malt than the Munich-derived Märzens. Amber lagers tend to be slightly stronger, averaging around c.5%ABV.


Bock

Strong, malty, and warming, Bocks are German sipping beers. A number of sub-styles are included, such as light-coloured and creamy Maibocks (or Pale/Helles Bocks), dark and rich Doppelbocks, and sweeter, almost chocolate flavoured, dark and American bocks. Most are at least c.6%ABV but can reach 10%ABV. Eisbock is generally one of the strongest and most flavourful, with an average alcohol content of c.9% to 13%ABV due to freeze-distillation.


Czech Lager

Czech lagers are diverse and enjoy a tradition as rich as German beers. Graded by colour and alcohol content, they include the pale Světlé(Pilsner), the amber Polotmavé, the dark Tmavé, and the black Cerné. The typical alcohol content ranges from 3% to 9%ABV although the country measures strength using the Plato gravity scale, which is expressed in degrees.


Dunkel

Dunkel is German for "dark" and it's a classic pub beer from Bavaria, specifically the Munich area. Possibly the original lager style, it's made with dark roasted malts with a red-tinted colour from amber to mahogany. The flavours can include nuts, bread, coffee, and chocolate marked with the characteristic lager crispness and a delicate flavour of hops. The alcohol content and bitterness is relatively low.


Helles

Helles, or Hell (meaning "bright" or "pale") lagers are similar to Pilsners, but with more emphasis on a soft malt flavour. This southern German pale lager is golden with a mildly sweet, light hop profile, full-body, low bitterness and alcohol content.


Pilsner

Pilsner is the pale beer that defines the essence of a lager. Czech pilsners are golden and full-bodied, a result of floor-malted barley. German pilsners use delicate and spicy hops, producing a thin, light colour that tastes "cleaner." All pilsners are noted for their refreshing crispness, low-range alcohol content, and delicate bitterness.


Mass-Market Lager

The general term "mass-market lager" describes easy-drinking pilsners that are adapted to appeal for mass-consumption. The the characteristic golden colour and white head remain, but these lagers don't have the full body or hoppy flavour of a pilsner. They are often simply labelled "lager." Produced worldwide, this style includes most of the big-name beers.

Examples for reference:

Amstel, Budweiser, Carling, Fosters, Stella Artois etc,


Food Pairings

In general, lagers are an excellent choice for food pairings. Amber lagers are possibly the most versatile and pair particularly well with simple dishes like pizza, burgers, and other pub favourites, as well as spicy Mexican wraps, roast chicken, beef stroganoff, hearty chilis and even macaroni and cheese.

Pilsner and other pale lagers are perfect for light foods like salads, herb or satay chicken and pasta dishes. They are also a great choice with German favourites like bratwurst and schnitzel.


Bocks are a great accompaniment for spicy foods as well as chocolate flavoured desserts, perfectly complementing the sweetness.

The AxelJack Brewery Welsh Craft Lager is an example of this beer type and a good choice with pub style food dishes and snacks.


Marzen/Oktoberfest

Most American-brewed Marzen beers are labelled as Oktoberfest, but these golden-coloured beers are actually the same style. Whereas with German produced beers there are more noticeable differences. Before refrigeration, it was impossible to brew beer in hot summer temperatures, so beers brewed in the spring were labelled as Marzen, the German word for March. They are typically light in alcohol (usually less than 6.5%ABV) and have a full-bodied, malt-forward flavour.

Examples for reference:

Hacker-Pschorr Original Oktoberfest Amber Marzen, Paulaner Oktoberfest, Samuel Adams Oktoberfest & Spaten Oktoberfest.


Milk Stout

Can you guess what the secret ingredient is in these stouts? Milk sugar or lactose is added to the beer to give it more body, accentuating the stout’s sweet flavour and caramel notes. Anyone with lactose intolerance will definitely want to avoid these 3 to 6%ABV beers.

Examples for reference:

Young’s Double Chocolate Stout & Southern Tier Creme Brulee Imperial Milk Stout.


New England IPA

Another relatively new beer style is the hazy IPA originating from New England (USA). These beers are full of hops, but they’re added at the end of the brew, giving the beer a huge burst of hop aroma and flavour without any extra bitterness. Many brewers also add oats or wheat to the grain bill to make the beers hazy. Expect to see these beers in the same alcohol range as American IPAs 6% to 7.5%ABV.

Examples for reference:

Farmstead Abner & Trillium Brewing Congress Street IPA.


Pumpkin Beer

American craft brewers could not possibly help but develop the brewing of fall-flavoured beers using pumpkins and they have become so popular as to create a new category! These beers are now being brewed outside of the USA and use both real pumpkin and artificial flavourings, depending on the brewery. They can be made from a variety of beer recipes e.g. Ambers, IPAs, Porters, Stouts and more.

Examples for reference:

Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale & Southern Tier Pumpking


Quadruple

These Belgian Trappist beers are strong in alcoholic content. They can be as high as 14%ABV. They have bolder flavours, darker colours and a fuller body than Triples and Dubbel beers, but they’re also full of phenols that make them spicy. Because they have such a high alcohol content, they cellar very well.

Examples for reference:

Brewery Ommegang Three Philosophers, Trappistes Rochefort 10 & Westvleteren 12.


Russian Imperial Stout

These stouts have a very high alcohol content, up to c. 12%ABV. Like most stouts, they have a dark colour and a dry finish, but their alcohol content also brings out dried fruit aromas and dark chocolate flavours. If you’re planning to eat raw oysters on the half shell, try pairing them with one of these. Often a good accompaniment with fresh, raw and cooked seafood, such as crab, lobster, oysters and prawns.

Examples for reference:

Bell's Brewery Expedition Stout & Sierra Nevada Narwhal.


Rye Beer

These beers are spicy and aromatic, thanks to the addition to rye in the mash. In general, rye beers are not very hoppy, but they can be sweet or dry, depending on whether they’re made with ale or lager yeast.

Examples for reference:

Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye & Founders Red’s Rye


Saison

These Belgian beers are the most popular form of farmhouse ales. They are often bottle-conditioned, which means yeast is added to the bottle to naturally carbonate the beer. That makes them strongly yeast -flavoured and produces a hazy appearance. Many saisons are light and crisp, although some have high amounts of hop bitterness. The original saisons were less than 5% ABV, although today you can find them as high as 8.5%ABV.

Examples for reference:

Brewery Ommegang Hennepin, Fantome Saison & Saison Dupont


Schwarzbier

Another dark German lager, Schwarzbier, originates from the eastern state of Thuringia. This rarer style is characteristically dark chestnut to ruby-black in colour with a complex taste featuring roasted malt, chocolate and liquorice. It has a dry, smooth finish, low alcohol content, and mild bitterness.

Examples for reference:

Einbecker Schwarzbier, Köstritzer Schwarzbier & Samuel Adams Black Lager.


Scotch Ale

Scotch ale’s are sweet, spicy and smoky. They’re similar to barley wines in their malt presence, but heavier and more caramel-forward. They taste like a big beer, but they usually range from 6.5% to 8.5%ABV.

Examples for reference:

Alesmith Brewing Wee Heavy.


Session Beer

A session beer can be any type of craft beer: Breweries brew session IPAs, pale ales and ambers. It just has to have less than 5% alcohol by volume, which makes it easy to drink, light and refreshing. If you’re planning to drink at an event, or for an extended period, you should probably choose a session beer!

Examples for reference:

AxelJack Welsh Craft Lager, AxelJack Welsh Golden Ale, AxelJack Welsh Pale Ale & AxelJack Welsh Premium Pilsner.


Sour Beer

Sour beer, also known as Sours, is beer which has an intentionally acidic, tart, or sour taste. Traditional sour beer styles include Belgian Lambics, Gueuze and Flanders Red Ale. Along with German Gose and Berliner Weisse.


Like session beers, sour beers can describe any number of craft beer varieties. A beer can become sour from the introduction of a wild yeast or inoculated with bacteria that adds acidic, sharp, tart flavours. They can range in appearance and alcohol content, beers with a higher alcohol can be cellared for years. If the beer is soured in stainless steel instead of wooden barrels, it’s usually called a kettle sour.

Examples for reference:

New Belgium La Folie & The Bruery Oude Tart.


Steam Beer

Steam beer is made by fermenting lager yeast at a warmer than normal temperature, thereby creating a higher level of steam in the brewing process.


Historically steam beer came from Bavaria, Germany, but is strongly associated with San Francisco and the West Coast of the USA. It was an improvised process, originating out of necessity,[1] and was considered a cheap, low-quality beer, as shown by references to it in literature of the 1890s and 1900s.


Modern steam beer, also known as California common beer, originated with the Anchor Brewing Company, which trademarked the term in 1981.

Examples for reference:

Anchor Steam Beer


Strong Dark Ale

Like Quadruples, these beers are high in alcohol (12%ABV) and have bold, strong flavours. They can be complex with mixtures of fruity flavours or simply offer a deep, dark drinking experience. These beers tend to have intense flavours and are best drunk as an accompaniment with a meal.

Examples for reference:

Chimay Grande Reserve, Gulden Draak & Unibroue Trois Pistoles.


Stout

Like porters, stouts are dark in colour but finish dryer and more roasted, thanks to the use of roasted barley in the mash. They can have coffee and chocolate flavours, or they can remain unflavoured to accentuate the bitterness of the roasted grains. Like porters, they’re usually under 7%ABV.

Examples for reference:

Guinness Extra Stout, Mackesons Stout & Murphy's Irish Stout.


Tropical Stout

Tropical Stouts first originated in the West Indies (most notably the Caribbean) and Africa. This style was actually considered a variation of the Foreign Extra Stout (FES) until 2015, when the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) guidelines, deemed it no longer a variation of FES, but worthy of its own type classification.


Tropical Stouts, by definition, are dark, noticeably sweet, fruity, moderately strong ales with smooth roasty flavours without a burnt harshness. In other words, they are almost like higher gravity sweet stouts without any lactose undertones and more fruit esters.


The AxelJack Brewery Tropic Stout is an example of this beer type.


Triple

Do not be discouraged by the bright yellow colours of triple beers. They use three times the malt of Trappist table beers, making them as high as 12%ABV. The beer has a bitter presence to balance out the super sweet, dense, creamy flavour of the malts, but they also finish fruity on the palette. Many brewers add Belgian candi sugar (an invert sugar, one that has been converted from sucrose to a mixture of fructose and glucose by heating with water and some acid)to add alcohol to the brew, which can make these beers quite sweet.

Examples for reference:

Chimay Tripel, Tripel Karmeliet & Unibroue La Fin Du Monde.


Vienna Lager

Although darker in colour (somewhere between pale to medium amber), these beers still have a light flavour and are as easy to drink as American lagers. These 4.5 to 5.5% alcohol beers originated in Vienna but they are now popular in breweries worldwide.

Examples for reference:

Dos Equis Ambar & Sam Adams Boston Lager.


Wild Ale

Wild ales use bacteria like Brettanomyces, Pediococcus and Lactobacillus to add earthy flavours to regular brews. True wild ales aren’t inoculated with lab-created bacteria's, but rather use oak barrels that naturally contain these products. Some breweries go one step further to use open-air fermentation tanks to capture these wild yeasts. These beers can vary from c.6% to 10%ABV.

Examples for reference:

Bruery Terreux Tart of Darkness, Cascade Brewing Sang Noir & New Belgium Le Terroir.


If you found this this of interest and would like to learn more about craft brewing, read our other blog articles on grain, hop, water and yeast selection.


References:




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