Thursday, June 4, 2009

“CHEAT SHEET”: Beer Styles and Flavors

“Put it back in the horse!”
-- H. Allen Smith, after he drank his first American beer.

When shopping for a beer, one is greeted with a dizzying array of imported and domestic beers to choose from. Colorful labels almost beckon with a “come-hither” gesture, as if to invite one to enjoy the bubbly brew that is awaiting within. The label of a beer is more than a marketing tool, and is often an extension of the beer/brewer/brewery's personality itself. When we are in a crunch to select a beer and don't know where to start, the label is the first place we look to, hoping that the elegant script or the dancing pink elephant on the front is indicative to some extent of the experience we will have upon opening it.

Unlike many ambiguous wine labels, which almost seem to mock the uneducated wine buyer, beer labels are more like your friendly next door neighbor; they willingly divulge the style, taste and sometimes, way to pour. Pending on where the beer was brewed and what combination of hops, yeast and malt used, there can be a large variation in a given style. If you don't like one beer, don't rule out all others in the same style/category. Most beers claiming to be of a certain style have certain characteristics as a base, and from there, can stray in a number of different directions. If you are unfamiliar with the characteristics of a certain style of beer, try one out! Often you can spend as little as $2 to try something new. Here's a simple cheat sheet to get you started:

“CHEAT SHEET”: Beer Styles and Flavors***

Abbey – Strong, fruity, spicy, aromatic, complex
Altbier – Bronze-colored, snappy bitterness, full malt flavor
Amber – Color signals caramelized flavors in amber ales and lagers
Barleywine – Very Strong, dark, bittersweet, malty, complex – a sipping beer
Bière de Garde – Full-bodied, herbal, flavors of anise and earth
Bitter – Fruity and racy, subtle, low carbonation, robust hopping
Bock – Dark (usually), strong, malty, toffeeish, full-bodied, with restrained bitterness
Brown Ale – Dark, caramelized, fruity, light chocolate and coffee
Doppelbock – Very strong, dark, toffeeish, with some sweetness
Dortmunder Export – Golden, dry, bready, moderate bitterness
Dubbel – Dark, fruity, complex, raisiny, spicy
Dunkel/Dunkels – Dark, malty, juicy, bready, moderate bitterness
ESB -- “Extra Special Bitter,” amber, fruity, slightly strong, hoppy
Framboise/Frambozen – Beer made with raspberries; can be sweet or dry
Gueuze – Pale, dry, funky, wildly complex, quite tart
Hefeweizen – Wheat beer with yeast, light-bodied, spritzy, clovey, banana-like
Helles – Golden, light-bodied, malty, bready, restrained bitterness
Imperial Stout – Very strong, dark, roasty, coffeeish, chocolatey, robust
IPA -- "India Pale Ale", amber, strong, dry, robust hop bitterness and aroma
Kölsch – Very pale gold, bready, lightly fruity, restrained bitterness
Kriek – Beer made with cherries; can be sweet or dry
Lambic – Fermented by wild yeasts; tart base for gueuze and fruit beers; funky
Märzenbier – Amber, bready, round, malty, caramelized, juicy, medium-bodied
Mild -- Dark, lightly hopped, caramelized, raisiny, light-bodied
Oktoberfest – Should be the same as Märzenbier but sometimes paler
Old Ale – Somewhat strong, dark, caramelized, fruity, balanced bitterness
Oud Bruin -- “Old Brown,” dark, sweet-and-sour, fruity, juicy, raisiny, complex
Pale Ale – Amber, snappy, dry, fruity, hoppy, with some caramel flavors
Pilsner – If genuine – golden, dry, sharply bitter, flowery, bready, snappy
Porter – Very dark, chocolatey, coffeeish, caramelized, hoppy
Rauchbier -- “Smoked beer”; smokey flavors and aromatics, juicy, caramelized
Saison – Dry, sharp, spicy, complex, refreshing, hoppy, slightly strong
Schwarzbier -- “Black beer,” dark, bitter chocolate, dry, caramelized, bready
Scotch Ale – Dark, sometimes strong, malty, full-bodied, restrained bitterness
Stout – Black, coffeeish, chocolatey; can be dry or sweet, strong or modest
Trappist – Made by monks; strong, fruity, spicy, complex
Tripel – Pale, strong, dry, fruity, complex, spicy, rummy, spiritous
Vienna-Style – Bronze, sweetish, malty, bready, caramelized, light bitterness
Weisse/Weissbier – Wheat beer, usually with yeast. See Hefeweizen
Witbier – Belgian wheat beer, hazy yellow, light-bodied, citric, spritzy, slightly tangy

Try something new or amazing? Curious about my favorites? Send questions and comments my way.

I'll be seeing you at rounds. Cheers!

Aly Iwamoto
Surfas Cheese and Charcuterie Lady
Beer Lover, Enthusiast, and Brewer

hey.beermeplz at

***Oliver, Garrett. The Brewmaster's Table. New York, NY: HarperCollins Books, 2003. Print.

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