Wort, IBU, ABV, OG, malt, sparge, ale, lager, trub, hops, yeast, hot liquor back, fermenter, bright tanks . . .. The world of brewing beer can be quite complex, but that does not mean consuming it has to be. This article looks to clarify (brewing pun intended) the differences between some of the common beer styles in the area. For those beginning their journey with craft beer, to those looking to expand beyond their go-to beer choices, the majority of the following styles can be found at our local breweries. Some are available year-round; others, seasonally.
Pilsner - A lager style beer. Lagers utilize different strains of yeast for fermentation than do ales and require colder fermentation temperatures. Pilsners originally came from the Pilsen Region of Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic). They are light, nearly clear, and straw colored. The crisp flavor of Pilsners can be attributed to the very soft water of the Pilsen Region, light barley that was partially malted, and the addition of a healthy dose of Saaz hops. Brewers in other regions commonly soften water to replicate that of the Pilsen region. According to Pilsner Urquell, pilsners account for over 70% of all beer consumed today. A light, refreshing beer enjoyed by many.
Kolsch - A style of beer that originated in Cologne, Germany, kolsch somewhat bridges the differences between ales and lagers. Kolsch beers are fermented with ale yeast, but are finished at colder temperatures like a lager and sometimes have lager yeast added for the final cold-conditioning. The end result is a very light colored and very crisp and refreshing beer that is perfect for warm days or pairing with German sausages and Bavarian pretzels.
Pale Ale - Often referred to as a “bitter” in England, yet Pale Ales brewed in England tend to be less bitter than those made in America. American Pale Ales often have less maltiness, that imparts a sweeter taste, and more hop bitterness. They are golden or amber in color and contain less alcohol by volume (ABV) and less hop bitterness (IBUs - International Bitterness Units) than India Pale Ales. Often a good beer choice for those looking to try something different than a lager, but not ready for an IPA.
India Pale Ale (IPA) - During the age of English Colonialism, water and most beers would go rancid when shipped from England to India. Since hops help prevent spoilage, brewers added larger quantities of hops to their brews, creating a beer that could make the voyage to India and still be consumed. IPAs are a lighter colored golden or copper beer and not the first choice of those who do not like hop bitterness. Although the English versions have become less hoppy, American brewers keep pushing the envelope of how much hop bitterness a consumer can enjoy. If you develop a taste for IPAs, there is a vast world of hoppy IPAs to sample. Brewers can also add more malt and hops to an IPA, resulting in a double IPA or Imperial IPA. These tend to have more of a caramel flavor from the additional malt and a higher ABV often in excess of 9%.
Porter - These dark beers get their color and flavor profile from the addition of dark malts to the grain bill. They are not as dark as stouts and have a deep ruby color when held up to a light. Many porters will have a dry, almost dusty, mouthfeel and more of a roasted finish than a typical brown ale. Despite the slightly roasted finish, porters generally do not include roasted barley as an ingredient like a stout does. A great choice for colder weather or when a darker beer is what the evening demands.
Stout - Stouts are black-colored ales that get their colors and flavors from roasted barley. Variations can include dry stouts, oatmeal stouts, imperial stouts, milk stouts, and more. Many people misrepresent stouts thinking they are all “stronger” beers. Many stouts, however, are actually lower in alcohol content (ABV) and calories than lighter colored beers. Stouts are commonly barrel aged or cask conditioned in liquor or wine barrels, resulting in an incredibly flavorful beer containing notes of whatever type of liquor or wine barrel was used in the aging or conditioning process. February is stout month and a great time to get acquainted with these beers that drink well during cold weather.
Rauchbier - This German-style beer is a unique smoky tasting beer that gets its smoky flavors from malted barley that is dried over an open flame. Today's brewers can often find industrially made smoked malts to craft their rauchbiers, saving them the time of drying their own barley over a fire. Although any beer can be used to make a rauchbier, they are commonly made from a lager. Some of these unique brews contain subtle smoky flavors, and others could almost be described as a campfire in a beer glass.
Sour - Sour beers traditionally referred to beers that were left uncovered and were fermented by wild yeast strains that naturally blew into the batches. Since the fermentation process was uncontrolled, the resulting beers were often tart, which gave “sours” their name. Final batches could vary widely due to the lack of control of what types of yeast caused the fermentation. Modern brewers still use wild fermentation, but many use wild yeast strains in a controlled environment referred to as “kettle souring” to better control the finished product. Others add Brettanomyces yeast before corking bottles to create bottled “Brett” sours. Sour beers can be slightly sour or so tart they make your mouth pucker and eyes water and have been made with all sorts of weird strains of yeast including those found in the beard hairs of Rogue Breweries brewmaster.
Written by John Wagner
John is a Colorado native and the Outdoor Recreation and Fitness Coordinator for the Montrose Recreation District. When not working, he enjoys spending time pursuing outdoor endeavors, exploring new areas, and acquiring new hobbies. You can often find him hanging out with friends and enjoying a craft beer at one of the local breweries or other microbreweries around the state.