The History of Beer
The first evidence of beer production dates back some 7,000 years ago, in modern day Iran. Almost any cereal containing certain sugars can undergo spontaneous fermentation due to wild yeast in the air. It is therefore possible that beer-like drinks were independently developed around the world soon after a tribe or culture had domesticated cereal. Early beers were brewed and consumed in large communal vats, using reed straws to avoid the bitter solids left over from fermentation. There is evidence of grain fermentation in ancient china, though it is unknown if it was discovered independently or brought over from the middle east. Throughout the world beer was often used in religious rituals until the popularization of wine by the ancient Romans.
The first evidence of "large scale", local beer production comes from ancient Egypt, where it made up part of the ration provided to workers. Before this, all beer was only made in small batches by a handful of individuals in their spare time. In ancient China beer never really took off due to inefficient fermentation processes and a lack of hops to preserve the beer, leading to beers disappearance in the area by the end of the Tang dynasty. With the collapse of the Egyptian empire and the rise of the wine loving Romans, beer production scaled back until the middle ages, when it began to be produced by catholic monks. Even then, beer was considered a poor mans drink as wine was far more preferred.
With the coming of the industrial revolution, technologies such as efficient steam engines, the thermometer, and the hydrometer, as well as different brewing techniques allowed brewers to create beers that lacked the undesirable qualities which had established it as a poor mans drink. The industrialization of beer production, improved flavor, and lower cost, when coupled with the advent of rapid, mass transit, caused a surge of popularity. The industrialization of beer also allowed a relatively small number of breweries to dominate the market by producing ever increasing quantities of beer for cheaper, at the cost of quality. In recent years however, with the market flooded with cheep, low quality beer, there is an ever growing demand for higher quality beer, leading to an explosion of "craft" or "micro" breweries. These breweries are much smaller scale and often only export locally, but focus on quality over quantity. The one major complaint with some of these breweries is that, to keep things interesting, their recipes can change often and vary wildly, meaning that when a preferred beer is produced, there is a very limited quantity and there is no guarantee that it will continue to be produced, causing prices to skyrocket in comparison to most other beers.
Beer style is a term used to differentiate and categorize beers by various factors, including appearance, flavor, ingredients, production method, history, or origin. The structuring of world beers into defined categories was largely done by Michael James Jackson in 1977, and further expanded upon by Fred Eckhardt in 1989.
The unfortunate truth is that there is no universally agreed upon list of beer styles, as different countries and organisations have their own criteria. The following list are styles commonly found and referred to in the United States.
India Pale Ale (IPA)
India Pale Ale's, more commonly known as IPA's, were invented around 1840 in England. IPA's are typically lighter in color, bitter, and have light, floral and or citrus flavors. The first beer to be labeled "IPA" was crafted by Burton breweries under the behest of the East India Company. The East India Company was looking for a light beer that was capable of surviving the long voyage from England to India, and as hops also act as a preservative, Burton ended up crafting a very hoppy, light ale which quickly gained popularity over the other beer being shipped to India at the time, porter. IPA's have seen a recent explosion in popularity in recent years, particularly in the United States; where new styles have begun to emerge.
West vs East- In the United States, IPA's can often be separated between east coast and west coast brews. East coast IPA's often relying on spicier European hops and specialty malts, as well as a stronger malt presence to balance out the hops. Whereas west coast IPA's tend to be more hoppy due to their proximity to hop fields in the pacific northwest.
Double IPA's- Also known as Imperial IPA's, this variety is an even more hoppy version of IPA with a higher alcohol content, often above 7.5%. This style of IPA has gained such popularity in California that some people have begun to refer to it as "San Diego pale ale".
New England IPA's- This IPA style is characterized by juicy, citrus, and floral flavors, with a emphasis on hop aroma and low bitterness. NEIPA's have a smooth constancy and mouthfeel as well as a hazy appearance. This is achieved by using a combination of brewing techniques, including the use of particular strains of yeast, the timing of adding the hops, and adjusting the chemistry of the water. NEIPA's no longer need to be brewed in New England as it was officially recognized as it's own beer style by the Brewers association in 2018.
Black IPA's- Also known as Cascadian Dark Ale or American Black Ale, share the bitter hoppy flavors of their IPA cousins, however the use of roasted malts gives them a much darker malty flavor.
Lager is a style of beer that originated in Germany, but has since become popular almost world wide; largely due to the great variety that exist within this style. Unlike most beers where the yeast ferments at the top of the brew, lagers use a special hybrid strain of yeast that sinks to the bottom of the brew and also ferments at a relatively low temperature followed by maturation in cold storage. Lagers range in color from golden blond, to copper or deep amber, all the way to dark brown and even black; however light lagers are the most consumed style of lager.
List of common lager styles from light to dark:
Helles- A light pale lager traditionally brewed in southern Germany around Munich.
Pilsner- A light pale lager originally from the city of Plzeň in the Czech Republic, which has heavily influenced the modern American lager style.
Marzen- A light to amber colored lager traditionally brewed in Munich for the celebration of Oktoberfest, also known as a festbier.
Bock- A medium-amber colored lager originating in Einbeck in central Germany. Bocks often have a higher alcohol content than other lagers and has several other sub-styles including maibock, doppelbock, and eisbock.
Red Lager- A medium amber to red colored lager with a malty flavor.
Vienna Lager- A medium amber to brown colored lager originating from Vienna Austria, but later also heavily influencing brewing in Mexico.
Dunkel- A dark brown colored lager traditionally brewed all over Germany.
Schwarzbier- A dark brown to black colored lager. It's name comes from the German "black beer".
Lagers Across the Spectrum
Pale Lager- Pale lagers are the most common style of lager produced worldwide. These lagers are pale to golden in color with mild flavor, well attenuated body, and noble hop bitterness.
Notable examples are: Miller, Stella Artois, Corona, Heineken, Carlsberg, and Budweiser Budvar.
Vienna Lager- Vienna Lager is an amber colored lager that was invented in Vienna Austria in 1841. The style was brought to Mexico in the 1860's where it quickly grew in popularity. Traditional Vienna lager is a reddish-brown or copper-colored beer with medium body and slight malt sweetness, whereas Mexican Vienna lager has a darker color and slightly roasted flavor. Despite the name, Vienna lagers are uncommon in central Europe today, but can easily be found in North America, where it is also called "pre-prohibition lager" due to the styles popularity in the United States before prohibition.
Notable examples are: Samuel Adams Boston Lager, Yuengling traditional lager, Dos Equis ambar, and Negra Modelo.
Dark Lager- Traditional lagers would have been mainly dark before 1840, as pale lagers were not common until the later half of the 19th century. These lagers are dark brown to black in color with a roasted or even burnt flavor; occasionally with hints of licorice or chocolate, similar to a porter.
Notable examples are: Sapporo Black, Full Sail Session Black, Leinenkugel Creamy Dark, and Praga Dark.
Stout is a very dark beer with several variations and mid to high alcohol content. Initially, "stout" simply referred to strong porters. Over time however, the name stout became synonymous with dark beer, weather it was strong or not. Even today, there are not many distinctions between stouts and porters, and the terms are used by different breweries almost interchangeably to describe dark ales, as the two styles have more in common than in distinction. Despite the close connection with porter, there are several styles of stout.
Milk Stout- Also called sweet or cream stout, Milk stout contains lactose, a sugar derived from milk; which beer yeast cannot consume. This left behind sugar adds sweetness and body to the beer.
Irish Stout- Also known as dry stout, is the "traditional" stout. As milk and sweet stout became dominate, Ireland became the last bastion of the traditional "dry" stout. With the other major stout producers, England and America, moving to sweeter stouts and Ireland sticking to traditional stout, any traditional / dry stout became known as Irish stout. The most famous and best selling stout is Guinness Irish stout, with approximately 1.8 billion pints sold annually. Draught Irish stout is often served with a nitrogen propellant to create a creamy, long lasting head; unlike the carbon dioxide propellant used by other beers. Some canned and bottled stouts include a special device called a "widget" to nitrogenate the beer in the container.
Oatmeal Stout- Oatmeal stout does not usually taste of oats, but is often known for it's smoothness. This comes from the high content of proteins, lipids, and gums imparted by the oats. The gums increase the viscosity and body adding to the sense of smoothness.
Oyster Stout- In the 18th century, oysters were often served with stouts, as the saltiness of the oysters complimented the natural chocolate flavors in stout; as well as the sweetness of the oyster helping to reduce the bitterness of the stout's bitter finish. In the 20th century, brewers started adding whole oysters or oyster concentrate directly into the brew, giving the stout a subtle oyster flavor. Some research may be needed to determine weather or not a stout is a true oyster stout (contains oysters or oyster concentrate), as some breweries label some of their stouts as oyster stouts even though they contain no oysters as they are simply meant to pair well with oysters.
Chocolate Stout- This label is given by some brewers to stouts that have a noticeable dark chocolate flavor. This flavor is obtained through the use of "chocolate" malts: which is a darker, more aromatic malt which has been roasted in a kiln until it acquires a dark chocolate color. Some chocolate stouts are brewed with a small amount of actual chocolate or chocolate flavoring, however this practice is not widespread.
Imperial Stout- Imperial stout is one of the darkest style of beer available, with a percentage of alcohol often above 9% ABV. Imperial stouts were originally made in England and were exclusively for export to the Russian court. This first imperial stout had an ABV above 10% and was extremely hoppy; with over ten pounds of hops in the barrel. Over time the hoppyness was dramatically reduced and the word "imperial" came to mean any beer with a high alcohol content; including IPA's, lagers, and ales. American imperial stouts often include ingredients such as vanilla beans, chili powder, maple syrup, coffee, marshmallows, and are commonly aged in bourbon barrels to add an additional layer of flavor.
Ale is brewed using warm fermentation, (15-24C, 60-75F) resulting in a sweet, full bodied beer with a fruity taste. Ale traditionally did not use hops, and instead used gruit as a bittering agent to balance out the malt flavor of the ale; however gruit was slowly fazed out and replaced by hops.
In the middle ages, ale was an important source of nutrition and was one of three major sources of grain. This ale was not like most ales, which were known as "strong ale", and was instead called "small beer". Small beer had a much lower alcohol content than even modern light beer, with only .5%-2% ABV, and was consumed by people of all ages, often in place of water. Small beer was safer to drink than water, not because of the hops or alcohol content, (which was too low to act as a disinfectant) but because of the hours of boiling required in production. Records show that the average middle age person consumed between 1-3 gallons of small beer per day.
Types of Ale
Brown Ale- Brown ale tends to be lightly hopped with a fairly mild flavor and often a nutty taste. Brown ale often comes in two types: Dark brown ale, which is usually sweet and palatable with 3%-4% ABV; and Red-Brown ale, which is drier with 4%-5% ABV.
Pale Ale- Pale ale is made with malt dried with coke, producing a light, bitter beer. People began to call these beers "bitters" to distinguish them from other light beers, and eventually IPA's.
Golden Ale- Golden ale is lighter than pale ale, and is brewed with lager or other low temperature malts. Golden ale is served chilled and generally has an ABV of 3.5%-5%.
Scotch Ale- Scotch ale is primarily made in Scotland and tends to be darker, sweeter, and less hoppy. The term scotch ale is also used internationally to denote a strong, malty ale that may also use malt that has been slightly caramelized to give the beer toffee notes.
Mild Ale- Mild ale is an unaged ale that can be any strength or color, but is often dark brown and low in strength.
Old Ale- Old ale is a strong ale that is often aged for about a year. This aging gives the beer sharp, acidic flavors.
Belgian Ale- Belgium produces a wide variety of specialty ales that elude easy classification. Virtually all Belgian ales are high in alcoholic content but relatively light in body due to the substitution of sucrose for part of the grist, which provides an alcohol boost without adding unfermentable material to the finished product. This process is often said to make a beer more digestible.
Cask Ale- Cask ale is unfiltered and unpasteurized ale which is conditioned and served from a cask without nitrogen or carbon pressure.
Sour beer is any beer that has an intentionally acidic, tart, or sour taste, but is most common in Belgian lambics, gueuze, and Flanders red ale. Beer can be soured through exposure to wiled airborne yeast, the intentional addition of a particular bacteria, (usually one of two types) or by adding fruit to the brew which adds citric acid. While the traditional method involved letting the beer sit in wide, open air vats to collect wiled yeast, this method can take a lot of time and can be unreliable; which has lead to introducing specific bacteria, taking over as the primary method for creating sour beer. Whereas any beer can be soured, most sour beer comes from German and Belgian styles.