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Beer - Brewing Guidelines

Updated on October 28, 2009

A popular topic of conversation among small-scale brewers centers around the concept of beer styles. "Is the beer you brewed last week in the brown or robust porter style?" "Do you think the level of hop flavor in this beer is typical of the style?" "The rich malt character of the classic Oktoberfest style can only be achieved through decoction mashing." These are typical of things you may hear or read. What are beer styles and why do many brewers seem so preoccupied with them? Well, a style is sort of like a definition or description of a particular type of beer. Styles are a means for brewers to classify and describe their beers in terms that are understood by other brewers and by consumers. Beer styles provide guidelines for brewers seeking to emulate or approximate a particular variety of beer.
Styles are different from recipes. A recipe calls for exact amounts of specific ingredients to be combined in a certain order and then processed in a certain way. Following a particular recipe may result in a beer of a certain style. However, that same style can also be made using hundreds of other recipes. If you add or change the amount of an ingredient, you have a new recipe. There is room for variation within a style. Styles are more like guidelines that can be used to help achieve desired results. By designing a recipe that falls within the appropriate style guidelines, a brewer can make a stout instead of a pale ale.

The various parameters used to define a particular beer style include starting and finishing gravity, bitterness level, hop characteristics, color, alcohol content, and the degree of flavor contribution forms malt, esters, diacetyl, etc. Typically, these parameters are not defined exactly, but a range is given. Style guidelines focus on the types and amounts of ingredients and brewing procedures and techniques which, when used, should produce a beer that falls within the prescribed ranges and possess the desired characteristics.

Among the general population, few people are aware that different beer styles even exist. Prior to the craft brewing revolution in the United States, beer was, for the most part, just beer. With the exception of a few imports, only one beer style was available, American lager. Today, though many different styles are available thanks to microbreweries, brewpubs, and home brewers, the vast majority of beer consumed in the U.S. still falls under this one style. Although today's beer drinker can certainly be considered to be far more well informed and adventurous than he would have been a couple of decades ago, American lager stubbornly remains the largest seller in the U.S. and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.

However, brewers and beer aficionados know there are many alternatives. There are porters and pale ales, barley wines and dopplebocks, and many others. Some styles, like pale ale, originated hundreds of years ago. For these classic styles, a rich legacy of information exists to guide brewers. Others, such as American wheat, are relatively new and thus, are more open to interpretation. Variations in some styles have resulted in the development of substyles and, in some cases, of entirely new styles.

Continued In: Beer - Categories & Substyles

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