The word ‘Ale’ comes to us from the Old English ‘ealu’. A word probably used to describe all beer, or any fermented drink from grain from around the 5th and 6th century in much of England, and originated from a Proto-Germanic word from a time before the Anglo Saxons arrived in the British Isles. The Northern Europeans (Germanic and Celtic Peoples) have been brewers for many centuries. It is thought that they have been brewing since 3000BCE, where as the Southern half of Europe preferred wine, due to the warmer climate and availability of vines, it was grain that was readily available in the cooler North. Originally in Europe ‘Ale ‘ refered to unhopped beer and the term ‘beer’ refered to hopped beer. This explains historical quirks such as Porter and stout not being considered ales, and many in Britain and Ireland still don’t. The interpretation here is a relatively modern and predominantly North American one of the term ‘Ale’, that is of warm, top fermenting beer.
The differing styles that grew up across Europe was not down to a spark of inspiration by the village’s brewer, but due to the availability of ingredients. Beer has almost always been flavoured with something, and early brewers probably used what they found around them. Herbs, spice, bark, and fruit were thought to be early flavourings long before hops were widely used from around the 11th Century (Although records show them being used from the 9th Century) . Hops were only used in the British Isles from the 15th Century onwards, but are now grown all over the world, prized for the flavours they impart in beer.
Guidelines to Ale styles
These are just broad guidelines, and are not to be used as strict rules. Some beers you find will be stronger, weaker, hoppier, paler or darker than the parameters I have laid out here. These descriptions are what 90% of beers that use those names fall under and are never meant to inhibit the growth and development of brewing by confining beers to rigid boundaries. Beer always has and always will be an art, with the brewmaster holding the brush; and I’m sure new styles and variants are being created that follow no guidelines all the time, and they should be embraced. Although Stouts and Porters were not historically called ales, they are made with the warm, top-fermenting yeast which are often refered to as ‘ale-yeasts’ in current language
British Style Ales
This family of Ales are made all over the world, with many being updated and given new life from craft breweries in the USA, Canada and Australia, as well their ancestral home in Britain and Ireland.
Pale Ale and Bitter
This group of beers is probably the most popular of Ales drunk in the world today. These ales were the mainstay of 19th and 20th century brewing until the 1970s, when mass produced keg ale and lager started taking over in Britain. These styles have been embraced by North American craft brewers and given a new lease of life. In fact the craft brewing movement on the American side of the Atlantic has inspired a new generation of fantastic craft brewing on the British side. As Pale Ale and Bitter are thier mainstay beers, they have been the focus of the renewed vigour and passion in British Brewing. The colour can range from Mid Golden to a Deep Amber and can be fairly lightly hopped (30 IBU) to strongly hopped (90+IBU). The most commonly found examples are:
British Bitter (Ordinary, Best/Special Bitter and ESB)
Bitter in a British pub can be between 3% and 7% but usually hovers at around 3.8%-5.5%. Ordinary Bitter, or just ‘Bitter’ as it is more commonly known these days is the lightest in alcohol. It is usually between 3.5% and 4% and makes for a great session pub beer. Best Bitter is the brewery’s stronger and better quality brew, usually between 4% and 5% alcohol. ESB stands for Extra Special Bitter, and this is the top bitter a brewery will make. Stronger in flavour,richness and alcohol, these are best drunk with a good meal, like roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. They are all generally pale to dark Amber in colour and have a variety of hop levels and malt flavours.
3%-4% ABV (Ordinary Bitter) 4%-5% ABV (Special/Best Bitter) 5%-7% ABV (ESB)
British Pale Ale
There is not much difference between Bitter and Pale Ale in Britain, as the two terms have been synonymous through out most of their history (from 1840 on) but Pale Ale tends to be the name used when this style is bottled, bitter when on draught. It is usually around 4.5% +,and keeps to the paler amber colours.
American Pale Ale
The American version of the British Pale ale will be a well flavoured beer, usually more hoppy and crisp, and doesn’t often stray beneath 5% alcohol. Ales made in North America and Australia tend to be more carbonated than the British Ales, and American Pale Ale is no exception. This beer is often the stock-in-trade ale of a North American craft brewery.
India Pale Ale (British, American and Imperial/Double)
India Pale Ale or IPA was originally brewed in Britain for exporting by boat to India, to quench the terrible thirst of the British who worked out there in the 19th Century. It was on average 6% in alcohol, which was NOT stronger than the average beer brewed at the time, but was more heavily hopped than a standard pale ale to help last the voyage to India without spoiling. This beer was developed from the Burton Pale Ales of the early 18th Century, as well as the strong and well-hopped October Ale, designed for long cellaring. Modern examples can be extremely strong and extraordinarily hoppy and are usually called ‘Double’ or ‘Imperial’ IPA. American IPAs tend to be hoppier, and more citrusy than the British ones, due to the Pacific Northwest hop varieties used and the large amount of them American and Canadian brewers put in the brew.
5% – 7.5% ABV (British) 5.5% – 8% ABV (American) 7.5% – 11% ABV (Double/Imperial)
35 – 60 IBU (British) 35 – 70 IBU (American) 60 -100 IBU (Double/Imperial)
British Golden/Summer Ale
This is a fairly recent addition the brewing scene in the UK, and is an effort to tempt Lager drinkers to Ale on those hot steamy days by the barbecue or watching the cricket! The style is very pale, balanced and refreshing. This is a thirst quenching session beer, and the most well known of these is Hopback Summer lightning and is a top seller in England. The colour is very pale gold to pale amber and is nicely hopped for a touch of crispness. It is sometimes referred to as Blonde Ale by brewers, but isn’t to be confused with the Belgian Blonde Ales.
Brown ale is a very broad term used to describe a variety of non-historic styles. Before the development of pale malt most beer would have been brown as that was the colour of the malt used for brewing. This ‘style’ died out or evolved into porter, as pale malt is much more efficient for brewing. The term brown ale re-emerged in the early part of the twentieth century, and referred to a very dark brown ale which had some roasted notes and a sweetish finish.
Northern (English) Brown Ale (Amber-brown Ale)
Although not a historic style, this is the name given to a variety of beers including Newcastle Brown Ale. This beer has nothing much in common with the dark Brown Ales (Commonly labelled Southern English brown Ale). This is the nutty and malty ale, often called ‘ nut brown’ by some breweries due to hints of nutty notes that can be present. This is not a hoppy beer but has caramel notes with hints of toasted malt. Some examples have a mildly sweet finish, which makes this an excellent Autumn session beer. The colour is usually Deep Amber to mid brown.
Dark Brown Ale (AKA Southern Brown Ale)
Exemplified by Mann’s Brown Ale, this dark ale with low hopping has a slight roasted note, rich malty caramel flavours and a sweet finish. First brewed as a style in the early 20th Century, this style has no connection to the old Brown beers brewed before the development of pale malt.
20 – 25 IBU
2.5 – 5% ABV
American Brown Ale
The rebellious son of the Northern Brown Ale, it’s bigger and louder than its Old World parent. The most noticeable difference is the liberal use of American hops and a slightly darker colour. They are often more toasted as well but can be a variation of either extreme. It should be noted that not all Brown Ale brewed in the USA is in this style, some breweries make an excellent English version too!
This was originally the alternative to Old Ale, being of a milder flavour than all that oak aged beer due to the fact it was sold fresh and unaged, and did not have the sour flavours of old aged beer. Mostly brewed in the Midlands in England and in Wales these days, it has less nuttiness to it and a cleaner more refreshing finish than brown ales. This can be pale amber in colour (pale milds) or dark (labelled as Dark mild) and can have much commonality with Dark brown ales such as Mann’s Brown Ale. This ale is often called a dark ruby ale, due to the unfashionability of the word “mild”.
3.5% -5% ABV
Old Ale/Strong Ale/Barley Wine
In its’ truest sense, this is a strong ale that has been aged in oak for up to a year, and many will improve with age in a bottle. The colour goes from amber to dark brown and it often has dark rich fruity flavours, with a touch of malty sweetness. The hop notes are usually in the back ground, but present all the same. Some beers are called old ale but have not seen an oak barrel, but maintain the style and flavour profile, although are not as complex as the wooded varieties. Old ale used to be known as ‘Stale Ale’- the meaning of stale means kept rather than ‘off’ and would have had some sour and ‘funky’ notes. this was due largely to two things: the wild yeast infecting the beer – ‘Brettanomyces’ as well as Lactobacillus bacteria that gives the sour flavours. Both Old ale and Mild ale are not really styles in their own right but descriptors of beer either being aged or fresh.
The same as above but not necessarily aged in oak. These beers also have a rich deep maltiness and light hop character. They are usually above 6% ABV but not always.
Barley Wine (American & English)
Barley wine is a term that was given to strong ale, first used when Bass No.1 Strong Burton Ale was renamed in Britain. It tends to be the strongest of a brewery’s ales and it packs a punch in flavour as well as alcohol. Intense malt and dried fruit flavour are almost always present. The English style tends to have less hops than its American cousin, but still maintains a good balance. The American version usually has a mountain of hops to match the mountain of malt, and is not for the faint hearted! Both styles can age and give almost sweet sherry like notes. The colour of this ale can be from deep amber to deep brown, but golden barley wines exist as well.
6.5%-12.5% ABV (English) 7.5% – 13% ABV (American)
40-80 IBU (English) 50 – 100 IBU (American)
This is a historic style that is well worth mentioning. Until the mid 20th Century a style of fairly dark ale made with Pale and Crystal malts as well as dark brewing sugar (think molasses flavours) was made. This beer often had high hopping levels so would have had a delicious bitter – sweet profile. The ABV varied and now beers such as Young’s Winter Warmer and Fullers 1845 are the closest thing we have brewed regularly today.
30- 60 IBU (approx)
This is the classic London beer and has a lot of myth attached to its’ creation. What we call Porter and what has been called Porter over the years is probably a bit different from each other. The history of this beer comes from the early 18th Century when it was first mentioned, and probably was a development of brown beer (different to Brown Ale). The name comes from the people who drank it the most. The thirsty work of a porter in London deserved a beer that refreshed and relieved the stresses of the day. Market, ticket, goods and dockside porters may have all drunk this beer that, contrary to popular belief, did not originate from blending beers or ‘three threads’ but from “entire” beers- i.e. made from all the mashings from a single load of barley.
Often divided into robust and brown porter in America, these terms have no historic basis, basic porter is a well flavoured dark brown or black ale. it has notes of roasted barley and often has a touch of sweetness. Hop flavour may be very slight or more pronounced, it depends on the brewery. This is a full bodied ale, and goes well with roasted meats and casseroles.
This is a stronger version of Porter, brewed to a higher alcohol volume than the standard one for domestic consumption. Originally a copy of that Porters and stouts made for export to Russia and the Baltic states from Britain, it is now made primarily in the USA. At the time of export it wasn’t known as ‘Baltic Porter’ but was just another type of Imperial stout. Versions are made in the Baltic region, and Scandinavia, but no longer using ale yeast (warm, top-fermenting) as they use Lager yeasts these days. The colour ranges from dark Ruby Brown, with its reddish tinges, to inky black. This is a big mouthful of a porter with dark roasted malt flavours and aromas filling the senses. It usually has little or no hop taste to it.
The word Stout literally means strong, bold, firm, corpulent and hearty, and this should give you an idea why certain beers were given this name in Britain and Ireland. The history of this beer is entangled with porter, as the stout we drink today was originally ‘Stout Porter”. This was a version of the everyday Porter with more alcohol, body, and more richness to the mouth-feel.During and after the First World War strengths fell but the name remained, so “stout” had similar strengths to porters of the late 19th century. Made internationally famous by the Guinness brewery in Dublin, this beer has many styles to suit a variety of palates. Modern stouts and porters are fairly interchangeable as the original alcoholic strength of the ‘Stout Porter’ has been dialled down to that of the original Porter.
Irish Dry Stout
The use of roasted barley as well as black patent malt gives this style its’ dry bitter coffee bean notes. Still full of flavour and creaminess, this is by far the best selling type of stout in the world. The biggest sellers are the big three Irish producers (Guinness, Murphy’s & Beamish), but American craft breweries are making new ones without the Nitrogen delivery system. The colour is almost always a dense opaque black.
The term used for stouts that have been sweetened in some way are Milk or Cream stouts. These have been sweetened with Milk sugar lactose that doesn’t ferment, so remains to add to the flavour and not to the alcohol. Sweet Stout can also refer to an English style of stout that is not as dry as an Irish stout. This has a sweet, rich malty flavour, with the milk stouts giving an even more sweet creamy mouth-feel. The colour of this beer goes from very dark brown to black, and is always opaque.
15 -25 IBU
The addition of oats to a stout brew gives us yet another version that develops a silky creaminess to the taste. It is a full-bodied beer that fills the mouth with rich oaty roasted malt notes and a smooth finish. The oat flavours are more present in some stouts more than others, but none the less, are a pleasant addition to this classic beer.
This is a stronger version of stout, also called ‘Double Stout’, brewed to last the journey to distant parts of the British Empire. This style is now brewed in the countries that loved it, and people in the West Indies, and parts of West Africa still would mark this out as their favourite beer! It is always a deep black colour, and a fuller-bodied cousin of the domestic brews. More hops tend to be added, so some Foreign Stouts have a marked hoppy note , but not all of them.
‘Imperial’ in front of a beer’s name historically suggested that this was the brewer’s strongest beer, and Imperial stouts and porters are mentioned before it was used in connection with Russian exports. The Russian aristocracy favoured the strong stouts and porters being imported from Britain but it was not until the early 20th century that ‘Russian’ was added to ‘Imperial’ to describe this beer. More modern references to Russia are consequently often found in the beers’ names. (Like the excellent North Coast Brewing’s ‘Old Rasputin’ Russian Imperial Stout). This beer can have rich roasted caramel malt flavours, backed by dried fruitcake notes, and often a surprising balance of hoppiness on the creamy finish. The colour, as you might expect, is a deep black.
Not all beers brewed in Scotland did or do now conform to these ‘rules’ but it is an established style that was popular in Scotland during and after industrialisation. So a Scottish Pale Ale that had a similar flavour to its’ Southern counterpart, would just be categorised as British Pale Ale, this is not a slight on the brewers of Scotland! The tradition is similar to some of the brews made all over the British Isles at the time, and in fact Edinburgh was a large brewer of pale ales and IPAs. Many beers labelled Scotch or Scottish contain less hops than many other styles, but this seems to be a modern interpretation rather than historical fact. The number attached is a rough designation to alcoholic strength, and is the Shilling value of the barrel (at some point in time) which was greater as the strength went up, which was used to an extent all over Great Britain in the 19th Century.
Light Ale (6o/-) Heavy (70/-) Export (80/-)
These are the three basic strengths of Scottish ale, and is quite often asked for in a pub as ‘A pint of 80′ for example. The style ranges from light and dry with just a good hint of hoppiness, and nice rounded malt flavour (60/-) to fuller flavours of toasted caramel (70/-) to a richer malty toffee-ish brew with strong notes of roasted barley. Occasionally some makers brew it with a smokey peat flavour that harks back to a way the style was brewed before the 18th Century. The colour ranges from amber to ruby and dark brown. Some modern brewers of Scottish Ales contend that they were all less hoppy due to the distance of the hop growing regions to the centres of Scottish brewing. This isn’t the case, as Edinburgh was the third largest exporter of IPAs, and brewers’ records from the 19th and early 20th century show recipes that are similar in hopping levels to their English counterparts. However the style has become a maltier rather than a hoppy style in North America.
2.5%-3.5% ABV (60/-) 3.5%-4.5%ABV (70/-) 4%-5.5%ABV (80/-)
Wee Heavy/Scotch Ale (90/- to 120/-)
This is the strongest of the Scottish Ales, and the nick name which is now widely used is ‘Wee Heavy’. This comes from “wee” meaning little, and that would refer to the old ‘nip’ bottles (1/3 Imperial Pint) that strong ales were sold in, and ‘heavy’ being a stronger beer, in the first case it was a 12 Guinea ale from Fowler’s Brewery. The term Scotch Ale would probably have been ‘Strong Scotch Ale’, but now has been abbreviated as a label for the style. Many examples of these could fall into the Barley Wine category, but that tends to be an English term, so we will separate them out here. The style is very full-bodied, rich and complex. The well toasted malt is at the fore of the flavours, with a helping of toffee caramel, and hints of Christmas pudding present in many examples. The Shilling designation is usually between 90 /- and 120 /-, but there is not an official system. The colour is usually deep amber to a rich ruby brown.
Irish Red Ale
This is essentially an Irish Bitter and comes in range of hoppiness. Some are quite mild, and some (usually American examples) can be quite hoppy. The colour comes from the roasted malt that is used, as it imparts ruddy hues to the finished Ale. This is a smooth tasting beer with definite highlights of roasted malt.
Belgian Style Ales
A person cannot go through life, thinking they know beer, without experiencing the rich tapestry that is Belgian beer. This is a country that gloried in the variety of styles, and treated the brewer as an artisan, not just someone who provided something to get drunk on. The brew-masters of Belgium were never constricted by rules or the drinking public’s monotone tastes, so they could develop some fantastic brews, and the tradition not only continues but is thriving today. Although Belgium saw a downturn in the quality of their beers in the latter half of the 19th century, following the First World War, breweries began to rebuild and rediscover their roots. Abbeys that stopped, started brewing again; new breweries starting popping up, old breweries were re-invigoratedand and quality beer was back in the fore. They have not only exported their beers to great acclaim around the world, but also their methods. Breweries in the USA have taken the torch and are producing some great examples of Belgian style ales. There was also a tradition of monks brewing, so they could support themselves and finance the running of their abbeys; today there are six monasteries in Belgium still brewing (and one in the Netherlands) and they produce some of Belgium’s classic brews. Belgian ales don’t always fit easily into neat categories, and so there is alot of overlap between styles, so on this site some leeway will have to be given when categorising the plethora of Belgian Beers.
Belgian Pale Ale
This style can be quite a broad church, so encompasses a variety of great beers. In common with British and American Pale Ales, they are very drinkable, have a crispness to the palate, light malt and some hoppy notes. The Belgian yeasts that are used give them their distinct Belgian flavour though, adding a subtle, sweet spicy taste. The colour can range from gold to deep amber. Some ales labelled ‘Blonde’ will fit into this category, other stronger Blonde Ales will fit into our next style.
Strong Golden Ale
Also known as Blonde beer, the most famous example of this style is Duvel. It is renowned the world over for its strong, dry, crisp flavour, topped with a lively, fluffy head. Despite its strength, it is extraordinarily drinkable and has been imitated around the globe, largely by American craft breweries. It is made with very pale malt, usually a type of pilsner malt, that gives it a very crisp and clean flavour. It will also have some bright hoppy notes coming right through, aided and abetted by some spice and slightly candied fruit. The finish is dry with some pleasant bitterness.
Strong Dark Ale
This is another large family of Ales which many Belgian Beers fall under. They tend to be full-bodied, with a gobful of sweet, brown caramel malt, not much in the way of hop character, and have a variety rich fruity notes. The colour ranges from deep amber to dark brown, and needs to be drunk with hearty food, such as a Belgian ale braised beef stew!
This group is yet another broad selection of styles and beers that easily crossover into the other kinds mentioned in this section. Essentially the term ‘Trappist’ is a legally protected term under European Law. The beer must be brewed within the walls of a Trappist Abbey by or under control of Trappist Monks, and it must not be for profit, as the money goes to the upkeep of the order and the Abbey. They have their own logo guaranteeing its trappist origin that can be found on the beer labels, as well as other products such as cheese that they produce. There are seven abbeys currently brewing their own beer, six in Belgium and one in The Netherlands. Abbey beer was a term used to describe beers that were brewed under license of an abbey, in the Trappist style, giving the monks a royalty to use the name. Now, although that can still be the case (Leffe being a famous example), brewers can carry on using an abbey name, long after the abbey has become defunct. There are also beers brewed which seem to have no connection with an abbey whatsoever, but as the beer is in the Trappist style, they use the abbey moniker.
This is the basic monastery ale, brewed for consumption by the monks. It is not strong and is for everyday drinking. It is basically a standard Belgian Pale Ale by another name. Although the use of this term is now rare, you might find some examples out there.
This is the stock in trade of an abbey/trappist brewery. It is usually rich in colour, from dark amber to brown, and has a corresponding malty, fruity taste. There can be complex notes of dried fruit, dark muscovado sugar and dark cocoa bean. There is not much in the way of hop flavours, and it makes a great accompaniment for many rich and well flavoured foods. Try them with a sumptuous chocolate pudding or steaks marinated in sweet spicy sauce.
6%-8% ABV (modern US versions are getting stronger)
This is essentially a sub strand of Belgian Strong Golden Ale, as it ticks many of the same boxes. They tend to be on the stronger side though, so watch out! Their colour is anything in the ‘Gold’ range as a Tripel is made with very pale malt, and comes with the refreshing crispness you’d expect. The hops are definitely present too, but the alcoholic strength is not completely hidden. This style warms the belly.
Not many Brewers use this term, and can be interchangeable with ‘Strong Dark Ale’, although can be a bit stronger in alcohol and paler. The most famous is La Trappe Quadrupel, and it feels like an Abbey barley wine to me! This style is often deep rich and dark, but can be paler like Gulden Draak 9000. There are layered notes of dried fruit, such as dates and raisins, sweet caramelised sugary malt, and a definite hit of alcohol. There is little or no hop presence and the colour is usually amber to a deep brown.
Traditionally this was brewed by farmers and their wives for seasonal workers, who would be labouring in the summer up until harvest time on the farms in rural Belgium in the 19th century (and probably long before). Although the beers that these farmers brewed were not exactly the beer we have today, it is likely that they made the ancestor of a modern Saison. The signature pale colour is a more recent development, when very pale malts became readily available, so the beers of yesteryear were probably somewhat darker, but brewed in the same way with traditional yeasts. Sometimes, but not always, spices are added to the brew to give the beer more bite. The colour these days tends to be golden to a mid amber, and the flavour contains refreshing hop notes, clean pale malt and a dry spicy finish. It is a great summer refresher, and goes well with grilled chicken and salad, and flavoursome cheese.
‘Wit’ means ‘white’ in English, and this refers to the pale cloudy appearance of the beer. It is brewed with unmalted wheat, a small amount of oats and is unfiltered, giving it a very different feel to all malt beers. Most brewers add coriander and orange peel, accentuating the natural spicy citrus flavour of the brew. Cloudy wheat beers are not exclusively Belgian, but were brewed all over Europe in centuries gone by. Germany still has some, but other countries no longer keep the tradition alive. This style was largely rediscovered by Pierre Cellis in the late 60s when he started producing what we know as Hoegaarden. That beer has gained massive popularity around the world and thanks to Celis, craft breweries everywhere are joining the bandwagon and producing their own. A great example from North America would be Driftwood’s White Bark, from Vancouver Island, 5000 km away on Canada’s West coast! Colour is always a pale cloudy gold, and is light, spicy, with citrus notes on the palate.
The key characteristic to all Lambics is that the are not fermented by a brewer’s particular yeast, but by wild strains that are naturally in the atmosphere. This usually gives a tart acidic flavour, which many find too sour. To counter this, sweet fruit was added to make the beer more palatable, and now brewers like Lindeman’s make a range of fruit Lambics. Beer labelled as Lambic with no fruit added is an unblended and unsweetened ‘straight’ version, but is generally only found in Belgium.
These are bottle conditioned blends of lambics, which mellows a little of the sourness, but is definitely an acquired taste. Not many are found outside Belgium, but are worth trying for the complexity that the wild fermentation gives to the beer. The colour is usually mid-gold to amber, and is very lightly hopped.
These are unblended Lambics, that start life as a very sour beer that very sweet fruit syrup and sometimes whole fruit is added to. They are much more widely available than Geuze, and are very drinkable. the fruit flavours vary greatly, but the most common are Kreik (cherry), Framboise (raspberry), Péche (peach), Cassis (blackcurrant) and Pomme (apple).
If you hunt around you might be able to find a Lambic flavoured with caramel syrup. Spices are often added, making this a good winter beer.
Flanders Oud brown/Flanders Red Ale
These beer styles are born of the same parent, and there is much crossover, so for our puposes I have grouped them together. This style usually has some tart acidity, but many of the browns (although not all) balance this with some sweet caramel malt notes. The Red ales tend to stick to the sharper tasting end of the spectrum but are usually blended with older, more mellow beers. Both styles can be aged in oak and blended, and these examples have a rich complexity. The colour of this ale ranges from a ruddy brown to a deep brown hue. These beers often taste better with food, and you can’t have delicate flavours that the beer will overwhelm, so pair with a really tangy aged cheddar (the real stuff, not the mass produced rubbish!) or a well flavoured roasted meat dish.
Other European Ales
Before the Lager yeast was used in beer making, all brews would have been made with the warm, top fermenting ale yeast. There are still some examples in the lager loving countries of Germany and France, and here they are.
Biere de Garde
The only French Ale style still readily available in its home country, and now being made stateside by craft brewers as well. The translation of its name means “beer to keep”, and was a traditional farmhouse ale made early in the year, for drinking later on, not unlike the Belgian Saison. As this beer is traditionally made in the north of France, near the Belgian border, it is not surprising that it is a ‘cousin’ of the Saison style. This beer can be from pale amber to brown in colour, but tends to keep to the paler shades these days. It has a complex malty character with a light hop presence. The strength in alcohol makes this one a belly warmer!
Kölsch is the palest and lightest of ales and officially is only brewed in the city of Köln (Cologne), where it gets it name, although non-German breweries, especially in the USA use the term without any litigious consequences. Kölsch is a light, crisp and subtly hoppy ale, that can have a mild fruitiness to the palate. Its colour is always a pale gold and is best served chilled.
‘Alt’ means old in German and refers not to an old ale in the British style, but reminds the drinker that this was the old way of making beer, that it’s an ale, not a lager. This is a great style for a session beer and is usually found in an attractive copper colour with a light frothy head. This style has a hoppy flavour with some pleasant dry malty notes. In Germany you may find a stronger version called ‘Sticke’ which is brewed as a seasonal beer.
The Reinheitsgebot (Beer Purity Laws) of Germany did not allow the addition of wheat to beer except for ale called wheat beer (at least 50%), So this Bavarian traditional style could live on, and is now as popular as ever.
Weiss means white, Hefe means yeast and Weizen means wheat; so that explains what everything means but what about the beer? The colour is pale gold to pale amber and has a haze of yeast which is suspended in the brew. This is a classic summer refresher, and is often served with a slice of lemon to accentuate the zing of the beer. Other flavours are present too; zest, subtle notes of tropical fruit and spicy clove fill the mouth, but it still maintains a crisp, thirst-quenching quality. Although Weissbiers are hopped, those notes are limited if not completely absent. They are served with an expansive creamy head, which finishes the look of this popular style.
This is a dark version of a Weissbier, as it is made with roasted and caramel malts as opposed to the very pale malt. It still has over 50% wheat malt in the brew so maintains the flavours associated with the pale Weissbiers, of clove, banana and vanilla, but adds a richer, maltier dimension to the beer with notes of caramel and nutmeg. The Colour ranges from pale amber to amber-brown and is served with that large fluffy head of its paler counterparts.
Weizenbock & Weizendoppelbock
This is the stronger version of either a Weissbier or Dunkelweizen, and usually is amber in colour. There are more caramel notes in these beers and perhaps a more roasted taste too. The fruit flavours can be more pronounced and a little richer or dried in profile. The bitterness is subtle or absent, as the stronger it is the more sweet it tastes.
6%-7.5% ABV (Weizenbock) 7%-9.5% ABV (Weizendoppelbock)
An old classic finding new life, both in Its German homeland and in the craft breweries of the U.S. This is traditionally a reasonably low in alcohol beer, although more recent versions go up to 5%. These beers are refreshing with a crisp, almost sour finish. They were designed as a summer session beer, with the ability to be drunk in volume (hence the traditional alcohol volume of 2 – 3.5%). They can be served with flavoured syrups to counter the tartness; these are a red raspberry syrup (Himbeere) or a green woodruff syrup (Waldmeister).
3 -10 IBU
American / Canadian Ales
Although the craft brewing movement in the US has changed the world of beer for good, they did so by adapting older styles of beer, and also recreating ales which had not been brewed to their original styles in their home countries for decades. IPAs, for the most part, had been weakened and de-hopped in Great Britain, and for all intents and purposes was just a name for a 4% pale ale. The micro breweries stateside decided to research the original idea behind the IPA and recreate it. Garret Oliver, at The Brooklyn Brewery, brewed a stylish beer from an old recipe and that became his East India Pale Ale, others have made this style with North West hop varieties, made it stronger and hoppier- The American IPA was born. I have included this and other American developments of traditional styles as sub styles in their original categories, and reserved this section for ales that were invented in the USA.
Canadian micro-breweries and brewpubs also started in the early 1980s and largely produced Pilsner style lagers as well as traditional British and Irish ales. They were helping people discover classic real beer from the European tradition. Alongside this, particularly in British Columbia, many of the new style ‘West Coast’ beers were being developed and brewed, probably due to their proximity of Pacific North-West hop varieties as well as the movement south of the border in Oregon and Washington. Now breweries from BC probably have more in common with their Cascadian colleagues than East Coast Canadian brewers.
American Amber Ale
This now covers a variety of beers from the malty to the hoppy, and all it refers to is the caramel malt that is used in making a slightly darker, less hoppy version of a pale ale. When good breweries make a decent version, they can produce a well balanced session beer, not unlike a British best bitter, but more carbonated and using the more citrusy American hops.
This style was originally a blend of an old ale and a lager but is now brewed using pale malts with an ale yeast. However they usually undergo a Lager like cold conditioning period to reduce the ale-like fruitiness. Some examples even add a Lager yeast for the secondary fermentation when the beer goes into storage for conditioning. This is a light gold style of Ale with a clean and crisp taste, just a bit more malt flavour than a standard Lager, and has a creamy head that tops it off. Many breweries make a version flavoured with honey for the summer season.
4%- 5.5% ABV (Although stronger versions are being made)
Fruit Wheat Ales
This is a style invented in the U.S. as a summer seasonal, often aimed at Lager drinkers, unused to bitter Ale flavours, or women drinkers (somewhat condescendingly). Usually a light wheat ale style with fruit syrup added. The fruit flavour generally overwhelms the beer, but there are some better versions out there.
4% – 5% ABV
15 – 25 IBU
This is more than just a flavoured beer, but a fun American classic. This is always an Autumnal seasonal ale, released in time for Hallowe’en, usually with a playful label to match. Although Pumpkin Ale is usually based on a malty amber ale, it is not always the case, as many breweries experiment with all sorts of styles, including barley wine or wheat ale! Spices are sometimes added for a further flavour sensation; think pumpkin pie and you get ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and allspice, used to some degree or other in the brew. Hop levels are typically low, and the rich malt lays the backbone for this tasty beer.
4.5% – 8% ABV
10 – 20 IBU
Cascadian Dark Ale
Sometimes called Cascadian Brown Ale, this is a recent name given to beers that have previously been known as ‘India Dark Ale’, or ‘Dark IPA’. These names didn’t make sense for a number of reasons, not least the oxymoron of being a dark pale ale, but also this style having no link to India or the original IPA other than simple hopping levels. This beer should be, at the palest, a deep ruby brown to a dark brown-black colour with a high level of hopping. This style must use Cacadian hop varietals from the Pacific North-West of the US and Canada. These are primarily Cascade, Chinook, Centennial, Willamette, and Columbus, although there are other varieties around. Their flavour is spicy and full of grapefruit citrus notes that make this a beer of delicious contrasts.
5.5% -7.5 ABV
Obviously the previous two ales could be put in this section, but I wanted to highlight the fact that they were born in the USA, and in reviews they would both qualify for the Flavoured category. All beers are flavoured, but they are flavoured with one ingredient above all others: The Hop. Brewers have found that this flower was perfect to balance the sweetness of the malted barley for centuries, and it became the norm in Europe, and from there to brewing nations around the world. Before the Hop was widespread, brewers used a variety of fruit, vegetables, tree bark, spices and herbs, and now craft brewers are rediscovering these ingredients to further diversify the flavour of the humble pint!
Fruit & Herb Ales
These Ales are a large group, and don’t really conform to a style, other than they have been flavoured with a fruit or herb. So expect anything from a porter to a hefeweizen and everything inbetween. On this site each fruit/herb beer will have this as a category, as well as the original style in which it was brewed.
These can be based on a number of styles, but usually keep to the stronger beers. Scotch Ales, Brown Ales, ESBs, Porter and Barley wine as well as Belgian strong ales (brown, pale and dark) have all been flavoured with spices to create a festive brew. Flavours used can include nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, orange zest, vanilla bean and ginger. Hop usage tends to be low, and can almost be absent in contrast to the seasonal spices used in this brew. Some Christmas Ales are not flavoured but are just strong warming seasonal brews, often having dried or candied fruit notes.
This is a style of British seasonal ale which is generally not spiced, but some examples can be and consequently are called ‘Spiced Winter Warmer’ by some beer reviewers and brewers. It is generally a strong and malty beer, like a Scottish export, malty brown ale, strong ale or old ale, with a mild or absent hop flavour. They tend to be dark amber to dark brown in colour, and other fermentable sugar might be added, such as molasses or treacle to give it extra strength and richer, sweeter notes.
5% – 8% ABV
10 – 30 IBU
Spiced Christmas Ale
In Britain this is a Winter Warmer style that will be spiced and flavoured with festive ingredients, often associated with mulled wine, brewed to be a warming, rich and slightly sweet beer. In Belgium the spices will be similar but the base style will of course be Belgian. A strong dark or malty brown ale is the usual starting point, and it will be a bit stronger on average than its British counterpart. Again, extra fermentable sugar may well be added such as treacle, molasses, honey or maple syrup which will add to the alcoholic strength and depth of festive flavour. In North America both British and Belgian styles are brewed, with the usual extravagant approach. These will not be shy beers, and are usually full bodied with a sackful of spices and flavours.
5% -10% ABV
10 -30 IBU