It's time to choose a beer to brew!
Pop quiz: how many differnet kinds of beer are there? If you said two, congratulations! While there are myriad styles out there with more constantly being invented, the only two true kinds of beer are ales and lagers. Ales are top-fermented, meaning the yeast sits on top of the beer, while lagers are bottom-fermented.
Once you've chosen whether to make an ale or a lager, the beer world is your oyster! There's even a style of stout brewed with oysters! Really, the hardest part about brewing is often just deciding what kind of beer to make. With so many delicious styles to choose from making a decision can be daunting. These are a few common styles that can be made at home.
India Pale Ales, better known as IPAs, originated in the early 19th century. Hops, a natural preserver, were added in abundance to ales being shipped off to India to stave off bacteria during the long journey.
IPAs are characterized by a strong hop presence both in flavor and aroma. A stronger light malt backbone typically accompanies the hops - a key distinction between IPAs and pale ales.
Big and bold beers tend to be more forgiving when brewed, so IPAs are a perfect beginner beer to get started with!
With origins dating back to early 18th century England, porters are famous for their rich dark color, strong roasty flavor and aroma, higher alcohol content and ease of production. ‘Stout’ was initially just a way to describe a strong porter; today the two styles are virtually interchangeable.
Guinness is far and away the most widely recognized stout in the world, but it is one of many types available to drink and to brew. Lactose can be added to the recipe, yielding a milk stout. The addition of oats results in an oatmeal stout, and using certain dark malts can impart a chocolate flavor, resulting in a chocolate stout. Actual chocolate can even be added! The aforementioned Guinness is a Dry or Irish stout, which is lighter in body and lower in alcohol than many of its bretheren. And yes, like I promised, there exists an oyster stout. It's rich and slightly briny and delicous!
Much like IPAs, Stouts are a great beginner beer to brew. Rich and full of flavor, their depth can often mask imperfections that are likely to happen when brewing.
Another style with origins in 18th century England, this golden hoppy concoction is notable for its use of light pale malts.
'Pale Ale' is an intentionally generic term - while North Americans are accustomed to pale ales being a hoppy but slightly lower alcohol little sister of the IPA, historically and globally they span a wide range of hop levels and malt profiles. Blonde ales for example are especially popular in France and Belgium and have a relatively low hop and malt profile, sometimes obtaining fruity notes during fermentation.
Ever drank Blue Moon or Shock Top? That’s a Belgian white ale, one of many styles of beer brewed with wheat. The wheat beer has been popular in Germany, Belgium, France and elsewhere across Europe for centuries, and has since become wildly popular all over the world.
Variants on the wheat beer include the sweet hefeweizen and tart, salty gose (Germany), the light and hazy witbier (France, Netherlands), and sour Lambic (Belgium).
Remember the pop quiz earlier? Red and amber ales are a prime example that there are really only two kinds of beer. While reds and ambers have rightfully earned their place on supermarket shelves and tap lists around the world, they are essentially just a beer that is uses too much pale malt to be called a porter, and too much dark malt to be a pale ale or IPA.
Largely popularized in the United Staes by New Belgium’s Fat Tire, reds and ambers can vary from low to high happiness, and tend to balance hoppy bite with malty sweetness very effectively.
The only lager covered in You Brew You’s beer style guide, Pilsners have achieved worldwide popularity thanks to their crisp and refreshing bite, perfect for a hot summer day. Their origin however harkens to the mid-19th century in the city of Pilsen, which is now part of the Czech Republic. First brewed by Pilsner Urquell, the pilsner is responsible for most of the cheap beer available today.
Like most pale lagers, pilsners are relatively difficult to brew thanks to their mild flavor. Any imperfections are more easily noticeable, and the lower fermentation temperature they require makes them ill-advised for the beginner brewer. Many brewers agree that the most difficult beer to brew is the American adjunct lager (Coors, PBR, etc), due to their total absence of flavor!
If you were impressed that beer was being produced in the early 1700s, you’d better sit down for this one. Belgian beer originates all the way back to the 12th century, when local abbeys across the country received permission from the Catholic Church to begin brewing beer.
Today, belgian beers are notable in their utilization of belgian yeast, which imparts distinctive flavors often likened to clove, banana and even bubble gum. With so many centuries of history, belgian beers come in many styles. The Saison (French for ‘season’), is a light and refreshing ale often brewed with additives like orange peel, coriander and other spices, imparting spicy notes. The Belgian blonde (i.e. Duvel) and Tripel (i.e. Chimay) are categories determined by the beer’s gravity and malt profile. Belgian white ales use wheat, and are covered in the wheat beer section.
Don’t be scared to brew a Belgian beer! Many are easily brewed with a basic setup. I would recommend going out and trying one first if you haven't before - they can have a notably different taste than most American style beers.