Nenad Trifunovic

Your Definitive Beer Styles guide


We all like to drink beer, but how much do we actually know about different styles of beer? Join us on an adventure with one of our regular beer geeks where we will teach you about the beer styles and what makes them unique. We even recommend some classic examples to go with the descriptions.

Although beers have been brewed for thousands of years the concept of beer styles as we know them today is a novelty. The great Michael Jackson (not that one) was the first one to make a comprehensive overview of beer styles in his capital work The World Guide to Beer, which was published in 1977. 

A couple of years later the Brewers Association used his guide to provide beer style descriptions as a reference for brewers. Some of the attributes used to differentiate different styles are:

  • Colour
  • Aroma
  • Flavour
  • Mouthfeel
  • Ingredients
  • Alcohol by Volume
  • Production method

Beer Judge Certification Program

Apart from the beer attributes mentioned above, there is historical significance for some types of beers that is also taken into account. Since brewers are always experimenting and creating new recipes, the beer styles must also be updated regularly. Aside from the Brewers Association’s 158 styles, there are some other classifications of beer styles like Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) which recognizes 118 different styles. Beer rating apps like Ratebeer and Untappd also have their own style taxonomies and descriptions. 

Historical beer styles that are no more 

Some historical styles like Dampfbier or Kotbusser have vanished over the years. Others like Berliner weisse or Gose fell into obscurity only to be reinvented by modern brewers. There used to be a couple of hundred Lambic producers in Belgium, today there are no more than 20. Certain styles have their specialty glassware. In Bruxelles you’ll get a Lambic in a lambic tumbler glass and in some Bavarian establishments Keller beer is served in ceramic steins. 

Also, different beer styles can be affected by their storage conditions in different ways. You’d want to keep your Hazy IPA in a cold place and drink it as soon as possible. On the other hand some styles like barleywines or lambic can gain from ageing at room temperature for a certain period of time. That’s one of the reasons the majority of IPAs these days are packaged in cans which protect them from light and oxidation, because nobody likes skunky beer. 

Country specific beer styles 

Styles can also be linked to certain countries. Some common regions that are used in beer descriptions are: Anglo-american, Belgian, German and Irish styles. A genuine Sahti style is very hard to find outside of Finland. Some styles are more local – for instance, most known Rauchbiers are still made in Bamberg, Lambics in Senne valley and Altbiers in Düsseldorf. There are also styles which might seem local, but are now produced all over the world. Baltic Porter, Berliner Weisse and Scotch Ale come to my mind as good examples. 

Sometimes the name of the style is the reference to the period of the year when the beer is brewed or consumed. Märzen is a German lager style traditionally brewed in March, they are also known as Oktoberfestbiers since they were served at the famous beer festival in Germany. Saisons were traditionally brewed in the colder months and kept until summer when they were served to field workers. That’s why they are also known as “farmhouse ales”. 

Last time around we covered Ale vs. Lager differences, this time we continue our beer journey. 

Most common beer styles 

American IPAMost modern day craft breweries make some version of these, which make it a symbol of the craft beer revolution from the early days until now.. Lately the classic American IPA has been losing its status since the market has become overwhelmed by Hazy IPAs. Should be handled with care and drank fresh since hop aromas and flavours tend to deteriorate with time.

BJCP Guideline Notes

ABV: 5.5 – 7.5%   IBUs:  40 – 70

Aroma: A prominent to intense hop aroma featuring one or more characteristics of American or New World hops, such as citrus, floral, pine, resinous, spicy, tropical fruit, stone fruit, berry, melon, etc. Many versions are dry hopped and can have an additional fresh hop aroma; this is desirable but not required.

Appearance: Color ranges from medium gold to light reddish-amber. Should be clear, although unfiltered dry-hopped versions may be a bit hazy. Medium-sized, white to off-white head with good persistence.

Flavor: Hop flavor is medium to very high, and should reflect an American or New World hop character, such as citrus, floral, pine, resinous, spicy, tropical fruit, stone fruit, berry, melon, etc. Medium-high to very high hop bitterness. Malt flavor should be low to medium-low, and is generally clean and grainy-malty although some light caramel or toasty flavors are acceptable.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light to medium body, with a smooth texture. Medium to medium-high carbonation. No harsh hop-derived astringency. Very light, smooth alcohol warming not a fault if it does not intrude into overall balance.

Commercial Examples: Nova Runda C4, Zmajska Pozoj, Medvedgrad Fakin IPA, Stone IPA, Brewdog Punk IPA

Weissbier – Very popular and widely distributed German style made with wheat. If there was such a thing as craft before craft in Croatia this was it. Erdinger and Paulaner weissbier have been imported since anyone can remember and Medvedgrad debuted their Dva Klasa Weissbier back in 1995.

BJCP Guideline Notes

ABV: 4.3 – 5.6%  IBUs: 8 – 15  

Aroma: Moderate phenols (usually clove) and fruity esters (usually banana). Hop aroma ranges from low to none, and may be lightly floral, spicy, or herbal. A light to moderate wheat aroma (which might be perceived as bready, doughy or grainy) may be present and is often accompanied by a caramel, bread crust, or richer malt aroma.

Appearance: Light copper to mahogany brown in color. A very thick, moussy, long-lasting off-white head is characteristic. The high protein content of wheat impairs clarity in this traditionally unfiltered style, although the level of haze is somewhat variable.

Flavor: Low to moderately strong banana and clove flavor. The soft, somewhat bready, doughy, or grainy flavor of wheat is complementary, as is a richer caramel, toast, or bread crust flavor. The malty richness can be low to medium-high, and supports the yeast character. A spicy, herbal, or floral hop flavor is very low to none, and hop bitterness is very low to low.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light to medium-full body. The texture of wheat as well as yeast in suspension imparts the sensation of a fluffy, creamy fullness that may progress to a lighter finish, aided by moderate to high carbonation.

Commercial Examples: Pulfer Brundelweiss, Zeppelin Marmun, Medvedgrad Dva Klasa, Paulaner Hefe-Weizen Naturtrüb, Schneider Weisse Unser Original, Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbiersmiling bearded male drinking beer in pub - beer styles

International Pale LagerThese are usually industrial lagers which can be found in every shop around the world. Don’t expect much flavor or aroma. On the other hand, you might expect a headache since cheaper ingredients are often used as a substitute for the quality traditional ingredients.

BJCP Guideline Notes

ABV: 4.6 – 6.0%   IBUs:  18 – 25

Aroma: Low to medium-low malt aroma, which can be grainy-malty or slightly corny-sweet. Hop aroma may range from very low to a medium, spicy or floral hop presence.

Appearance: Pale straw to gold color. White, frothy head may not be long lasting. Very clear.

Flavor: Low to moderate levels of grainy-malt flavor, with a crisp, dry, well-attenuated finish. The grain character can be somewhat neutral, or show a light bready-crackery quality or up to moderate corny or malty sweetness. Hop flavor ranges from none to medium levels, and often showing a floral, spicy, or herbal character if detected. Hop bitterness at medium-low to medium level.

Mouthfeel: Light to medium body. Moderately high to highly carbonated.

Commercial Examples: Red Stripe, Asahi, Singha

American Pale AleThe IPAs younger brother. Easily drinkable and sometimes considered the go-to beer for beer enthusiasts that are transitioning from industrial beer to craft. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is probably the recipe most replicated by homebrewers.

BJCP Guideline Notes

IBUs:  30 – 50  ABV: 4.5 – 6.2%

Aroma: Moderate to strong hop aroma from American or New World hop varieties with a wide range of possible characteristics, including citrus, floral, pine, resinous, spicy, tropical fruit, stone fruit, berry, or melon. None of these specific characteristics are required, but hops should be apparent. Low to moderate maltiness supports the hop presentation, and may optionally show small amounts of specialty malt character (bready, toasty, biscuit, caramelly).

Appearance: Pale golden to light amber. Moderately large white to off-white head with good retention. Generally quite clear, although dry-hopped versions may be slightly hazy.

Flavor: Moderate to high hop flavor, typically showing an American or New World hop character (citrus, floral, pine, resinous, spicy, tropical fruit, stone fruit, berry, melon, etc.). Low to moderate clean grainy-malt character supports the hop presentation, and may optionally show small amounts of specialty malt character (bready, toasty, biscuity). The balance is typically towards the late hops and bitterness, but the malt presence should be supportive, not distracting. Hop flavor and bitterness often lingers into the finish, but the aftertaste should generally be clean and not harsh.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light to medium body. Moderate to high carbonation. Overall smooth finish without astringency and harshness.

Commercial Examples: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Nova Runda APA, Pulfer Zihersmiling bearded male drinking beer in pub

Czech Premium Pale LagerAlso known as Czech or Bohemian pilsner since it was first brewed in Czech town of Plzeň in 1842. It is believed the locals were not satisfied with the top fermentation beers which varied in quality so town officials founded a new brewery and hired German brewer Josef Groll who brewed the first pale lager in the world. 

BJCP Guideline Notes

IBUs:  30 – 45  ABV: 4.2 – 5.8%

Aroma: Medium to medium-high bready-rich malt and medium-low to medium-high spicy, floral, or herbal hop bouquet; though the balance between the malt and hops may vary, the interplay is rich and complex.

Appearance: Gold to deep gold color. Brilliant to very clear clarity. Dense, long-lasting, creamy white head.

Flavor: Rich, complex, bready maltiness combined with a pronounced yet soft and rounded bitterness and floral and spicy hop flavor. Malt and hop flavors are medium to medium-high, and the malt may contain a slight impression of caramel. Bitterness is prominent but never harsh. The long finish can be balanced towards hops or malt but is never aggressively tilted either way.

Mouthfeel: Medium body. Moderate to low carbonation.

Commercial Examples: Pilsner Urquell, Bernard Sváteční ležák, Mlinarica Czech Style Lager, Varionica Papak

Oatmeal StoutExploring the history of oatmeal stout will take you to the late 19th century UK where small Scottish brewery Maclay advertised their oatmeal stout as disease curing ale. Today the market is shifting to higher ABV imperial versions of stouts and styles like oatmeal stout are becoming harder to find. 

IBUs:  25 – 40  ABV: 4.2 – 5.9%

Aroma: Mild roasted grain aromas, generally with a coffee-like character. A light malty sweetness can suggest a coffee-and-cream impression. Fruitiness should be low to medium-high. Hop aroma medium-low to none, earthy or floral. A light grainy-nutty oatmeal aroma is optional.

Appearance: Medium brown to black in color. Thick, creamy, persistent tan- to brown-colored head.

Flavor: Similar to the aroma, with a mild roasted coffee to coffee-and-cream flavor, and low to moderately-high fruitiness. Oats and dark roasted grains provide some flavor complexity; the oats can add a nutty, grainy or earthy flavor. Dark grains can combine with malt sweetness to give the impression of milk chocolate or coffee with cream. Medium hop bitterness with the balance toward malt. Medium-sweet to medium-dry finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium-full to full body, with a smooth, silky, velvety, sometimes an almost oily slickness from the oatmeal. Creamy. Medium to medium-high carbonation.

Commercial Examples: Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout, Young’s Oatmeal Stout, Varionica Neon Stout

Neven Sabic, founder @Pivarium


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