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Beer - Categories & Substyles

Updated on October 28, 2009

Substyles are related to the parent style but differ enough to warrant their own categories. For example, American and English pale ales share many of the same characteristics, but differ mainly in the origins of the ingredients used to brew them. American pale ales are characterized by their use of American hop varieties such as Cascade, Centennial, and Chinook and also American yeast strains, instead of the traditional English hops and yeast strains. For a second example, consider the porter style. Stout evolved from porter to become a new style which now has its own substyles including Irish dry stout, sweet stout, oatmeal stout, foreign extra stout, and imperial stout. Substyles under the porter category include brown and robust porters. Robust porter differs from brown porter primarily because of its higher alcohol content, slightly stronger flavor, and higher degree of roast malt character in the aroma. The lines between substyles and styles are not always clear. Thus, it is difficult to classify some beers. Some beers may not actually fit in any particular style while others can fall under more than one style.

The nice thing about styles is they offer guidance for brewers and those wishing to learn more about beer. However, style guidelines should not be viewed as rigid and absolute. A brewer should feel free to stray beyond the style guidelines and to experiment with ingredients, procedures, and techniques. After all, how do you think we got all these different styles? If it wasn't for those brave brewers who dared to be different and venture beyond style guidelines, we would still only have one style, beer. Style guidelines provide a foundation upon which brewers can build.

When brewing for yourself, your friends, and your family, there is no reason to conform to specific guidelines unless you want to. If you want to make a highly hopped, 8% alcohol, raspberry ale using peat smoked malt, go for it. If you are happy with your results, who cares what ingredients and procedures you used. After all, the only thing that matters is that you like it. If however, you intend to enter a particular beer in a competition, it is important to follow style guidelines. Here, categorization allows judges to look for certain characteristics when evaluating a beer. Otherwise, it would be hard to rate a beer. Without style guidelines, the only way to choose between your smoked raspberry ale and the other guy's dunkelweizen is by preference. Thus, judges use style guidelines to help them rate and score entries in a competition.

Another time when it might be best to follow the guidelines for a particular style is when brewing a beer to take to your homebrew club meeting. Often club meetings focus on a particular style. An understanding of beer styles and the similarities and differences between them is important to brewers learning about recipe formulation and beer evaluation. When sharing your beer with fellow members, one of the first things they will ask is in what style is it made. In clubs, style is used as a tool to describe different beers and the ingredients, equipment, and processes used to arrive at them.

Thus, although it is not always necessary to brew to style, you may wish to increase your knowledge of beer and brewing by learning about beer styles. However, learning about different beer styles is somewhat confounded by the fact that there is no single authority on the subject. Style definitions are often rather loose and styles are categorized differently by different entities. In America, the Beer Judge Certification Program Guide to Beer Styles is widely accepted and is now used by the AHA for their National Home Brewers Competition. Another excellent reference is The Essentials of Beer Style: A Catalog of Classic Beer Styles for Brewers and Beer Enthusiasts by Fred Eckhardt.

Continued In: Beer - Top 8 Keys to Improving Quality - 1 & 2

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