Beer is produced by steeping a starch source, most commonly malted barley, in water and then fermenting with yeast. Commonly beer is flavored with hops, which add bitterness and act as a natural preservative, although other flavorings such as herbs or fruit may on occasion be included.
The basic ingredients of beer are water, a starch source, a brewer’s yeast, and flavoring, such as hops. There are several steps in the brewing process, which generally include malting, milling, mashing, lautering, boiling, fermenting, conditioning, filtering, and packaging. The three main fermentation methods are warm, cool, and wild (or spontaneous). Fermentation may take place in open or closed vessels. There may be a secondary fermentation which can take place in the cask or in the bottle.
The traditional European beer-producing regions are Germany, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Poland, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, and Austria. The major producers among New World countries include the United States, Canada, Central America, and Australia. While there are many types of beer brewed, the basics of brewing beer are common among all of the major beer-producing regions, although stylistically they can vary from one country to the next.
The Main Styles of Beer
Ale– A style that is brewed from malted barley using warm fermentation. It is top-fermented which cultivates a wider range of flavors as well as a sweet, full bodied and fruity taste. Most ales contain hops, which act as preservative and impart a bitter herbal flavor that is intended to balance the sweetness of the malt. Examples: Delirium Tremens, Duvel
Amber Ale– A style of pale ale that is brewed with a proportion of crystal malt to produce an amber color. Amber ales possess varying degrees of bitterness and malty flavors. Examples: Innis & Gunn Oak Cask, Unibroue Maudite
Bock/Dopplebock– Strong lager beers of German origin, ranging in color from golden to dark brown. They are traditionally sweet, relatively strong, and lightly hopped. Examples: Ayinger Celebrator, Spaten Optimator
Brown Ale– Often ranging in color from deep amber to dark brown. These beers typically possess flavors of caramel and hints of chocolate, but can vary in sweetness as well as ABV. Examples: Newcastle, Brother Thelonius
Fruit Beer– Beer infused or brewed with fruit or fruit flavoring. Can range from lagers to dark stouts. Examples: Wild Blue, Sweetwater Blue
Hefeweizen– A beer brewed with a large proportion of wheat. Traditionally it is unfiltered with notes of clove, spices, and fruit. Examples: Tucher, Harpoon UFO
India Pale Ale (IPA)– A style of pale ale that ranges in color from pale gold to copper. It is dominated by bitter and floral hop flavors, and generally boasts a high ABV. Examples: North Coast Acme IPA, Great Divide Titan
Lager– Fermented at a much lower temperature using bottom-fermenting yeast which gives it cleaner, milder flavor. Pale lager is the most widely-consumed and commercially available style of beer in the world. Examples: Kronenburg, Peroni, Steinlager Pure
Lambic– A distinctive type of Belgian beer produced by spontaneous fermentation that has low ABV. They are typically cloudy in appearance with slightly sour flavors and are most often infused with fruit flavors. Example: Lindemann’s
Pale Ale– A major style of ale ranging in color from deep golden to copper. The bitterness, flavor, and aroma of the beer is determined by hops, which can range in strength from mild to strong. Example: Left Hand Stranger, North Coast Pranqster
Pilsner– A type of pale lager, typically golden in color, with a prominant hop character and flavors that tend to be dry, crisp, and clean. In North America Pilsner sometimes indicates a “premium” lager beer. Examples: Staropromen, Grolsch
Porter– A very dark, almost opaque style that is generally brewed with dark malts. The history of porters and stouts are almost interchangeable. Examples: Bell’s Porter, Flying Dog Gonzo
Stout– A style of dark beer made with roasted malt or barley that can offer a wide range of toasted hop and malt aromas. Traditionally the generic term for the strongest or stoutest porters. Examples: Guinness, Sierra Nevada Stout, Left Hand Milk Stout
Witbier/White Beer– A barley/wheat top-fermented beer that looks hazy or white when cold. A very refreshing style that is slightly hoppy with spicy, herbal, or fruity notes. Example: Hoegaarden, Blue Moon
Elements of Beer
Appearance- The visual characteristics of a beer includes color, clarity and nature of the head.
Color is typically imparted by the malts used, notably the darker beers contain more malts, although other ingredients may influence the color, such as those used in fruit beers.
Clarity may be broken down into three categories; transparent, cloudy, or opaque. Many beers are transparent, such as lagers, although those with a higher presence of yeast, such as a hefeweizen, may be cloudy. Opaque beers include porters, stouts, and black beer.
The head of the beer may be evaluated by its thickness or density, its retention, and the lace that it leaves on the glass.
Aroma- The aroma in a beer is generally formed from the type of malt and amount used, the type of hops used, the strength of the hops, the alcohol, and various other components such as the yeast strain, elements that may derive from the water, and the brewing process. Hops impart bitter aromas while malt contributes a toasty, sometimes smoky or caramel/toffee scent.
Flavor/Bitterness- The taste of a beer comes from the type of malt and amount used, flavors imparted by the yeast, alcohol, and strength of bitterness. Bittering agents include hops, roasted barley or herbs. Bitterness can be measured on an International Bitterness Units scale, or IBU. In North America a number of brewers record the bitterness on this scale.
Ingredients- The fundamental ingredients in beer include water, a starch source (which is mainly derived from grain, most commonly malted barley, although wheat, corn, and rice are also used), yeast, and flavoring (usually hops, but sometimes fruit or herbs are also used).
Mouthfeel- Literally the feel of a beer in the mouth, both from thickness of the liquid (viscosity) and from carbonation. A more dextrinous beer (one made from partly raw grain or containing un-fermentable matter) feels thicker in the mouth. Some beers have a thick and creamy feel, while others may have a crisp, prickly sensation.
Origin- The place from which the beer and/or its ingredients originated effect the flavor of the finished product. Elements such as water, yeast, hops, and malts all vary in taste depending on where they come from.
Strength– The general term for the amount of alcohol present. It can be quantified by the overall percentage of alcohol in the beer or the measurement of specific gravity, which is an estimate of the strength of a beer that is determined by measuring its density.
Sweetness– The amount of sugar present in the beer. Ales can have a sweet, full-bodied, and fruity taste from the brewer’s yeast used to ferment the beer. Most ales contain hops, which help preserve the beer and impart a bitter, herbal flavor that balances the sweetness of the malt.