Defining a Craft Beer: 5 Ways to Describe a Style
Serving craft beer is the easy part. Even spouting off a list of characteristics is something anyone can memorize—but do you really know the details that go into a beer’s character?
Part of the fun of the craft beer industry is identifying and sampling flavors from around the world. What’s just as important, however, is understanding where they came from, why they look the way they do, and how the taste was developed.
Describing the style of beer is important, but you should know what that means, and why. The following are the 5 main ways to describe the style of a beer, and why breweries have chosen these factors to do so:
The only place to start on this list, is where everything starts: the origin. The birthplace is one of the most defining characteristics of a craft beer. Since beer developed all over the world at roughly the same time, each country and place of origin has a different style and means of brewing their beers. That’s because the brewing process was greatly impacted by the resources of the region.
The following are some common clues in craft beer, that will help you decipher the origin of the brew:
- English-Style: Earthy hops. Porters, stouts, and pale ales.
- American-Style: Citrus, resin, and pine flavors. A hop-forward style beer.
- Belgian-Style: Sour beers, and fruity/spicy ales.
- German-Style: Lagers with floral hops, and complex malt character.
There are many other countries that have different styles, and a few others that might pique your interest include: Ireland, Japan, and Canada.
Otherwise known as “vintage,” this is determined by the year the beer was produced. Although 90% of craft beers should be enjoyed fresh, there are some styles that do better with age. These are also known as “barrel aged” beers, and typically have some of the highest ABV in the craft beer kingdom.
Today’s craft brewers age beer in wood—with the intention of imparting the flavor into the beer itself. In most cases, the interiors of the barrels are charred or burned to further enhance the flavors of the beer. There are many varieties of wooden flavors in craft beer, that can range from: apple, to alder, hickory and oak. In other cases, the beer is aged in a barrel once used for brandy. This is done purposefully, with the intent of infusing the beer with brandy flavor notes.
You shouldn’t underestimate the color of beer as playing a role in it’s taste. Believe it or not, people often drink with their eyes first—and if something appears unappealing, they generally won’t be consuming it.
There are many clues that the color of a craft beer can give, as to how it tastes. Here are the most common colors and their flavor profiles:
- Styles: Belgian-style wit, blond ale, helles
- Flavors: bread-like, grainy
- Styles: amber lager, amber ale
- Flavors: bread crust, toasty
- Styles: dopplebock, brown ale, Marzen
- Flavors: toast, chocolate, roasted nuts
- Styles: American black, ale, porter, dry stout
- Flavors: dark chocolate, burnt toast, coffee, espresso
Yeast is the defining ingredient in craft beer, and the type of yeast used in the brewing process has a huge influence on the style of beer produced. Yeast divides beer into two categories: ales and lagers. In the world of craft beer, there is of course a gray area, but this standard will always divide the two generalities. The following is the major difference between ales and lagers:
- Ales: The main distinction between ales and lagers is their fermentation temperatures. The yeast in ales tend to ferment at warmer temperatures, and thus ales carry more yeast-derived flavors. This usually infuses a fruity (sometimes spicy) flavor in the beer. Common examples of ales include German weizens, whose main flavor note is banana.
- Lagers: These beers are described as “cleaner” than ales, because the yeast ferments at a much cooler temperature. This allows the yeast to take a back seat, as the flavors of malt and hops pull forward during the brewing process.
There is often a gray area between ales and lagers, as brewers are experimenting with non-traditional yeasts, temperatures, and ingredients.
Like any chef creating a recipe, craft brewers tend to experiment with different ingredients in their quest for developing the next great craft beer. Some special ingredients have become so popularly paired with beer, that they have created their own style categories altogether. The following are some common examples of special ingredients added to craft beer, that have become a hit in the industry:
- Fruit: cherries, peaches, raspberries, blueberries, etc.
- Herbs and Spices: cardamom, heather, cinnamon, ginger, etc.
As the industry continues to grow, the sky is the limit when it comes to infusing special ingredients into craft beer.
Spread the Knowledge
Now that you understand how a beer style is categorized, why not challenge yourself with a new craft beer on tap? If you decide to venture out on a new limb, make sure you understand everything there is to know about your new beer style, and advertise it like crazy.
TapHunter is a software program that can help you get the word out. From a simple dashboard, you can promote the new brew on all of your social media channels. You can also post to your business site, all in one fell swoop!
There is a simple reason why this new age of beer brewing is referred to as “craft”…because it is one. Understanding that there are many factors that contribute to a beer style (including origin, age, color, and ingredients) is the first step in thoroughly understanding the flavor profile, and selling it out in your bar.
Bars and Restaurants – Want to save hours daily, drive thirsty patrons through your door and create an engaging experience for your customers? Learn more about how TapHunter can help your business today!