The World of Craft Beer: An Introduction

So, you’ve fallen in love with beer but don’t know exactly how to talk about it. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. This introductory guide is geared towards beginners, like you, who enjoy sipping on great brews and chatting about them too. With the help of this guide, we’re hoping you and your fellow beer lovers find commonality and even more to love about your favorite drafts!

This guide’s details are separated into two sections: The common terms used to describe beer’s flavor and the general beer styles with examples. Now that we’ve got that covered, we hope you’re ready to learn more about craft beer with our brief introduction to the info necessary for beer-centric conversations. Let’s hop right in (pun intended).

Common Terms Used to Describe Beer:

Light, Medium, Dark: This refers to the color of the beer only. Light beers are typically yellow, gold, and tanish. Medium beers vary from amber to red to a coppery orange. Dark beers can be brown, black, and look coffee-like.

Light, Medium, Full Bodied: These terms are used to describe the mouthfeel of the beer or the consistency of the drink. Light-bodied beers are clean and crisp. Full-bodied beers tend to cling to the mouth and leave an aftertaste, but they also feel rich and full.

Malty: Malted barley is a main ingredient of beer. The degree of roasting determines the color and flavor (much like how roasting affects coffee beans). Lighter malts taste nutty and biscuity (kind of like cereal); medium roasts taste sweeter like toffee or caramel; dark roasts may taste like coffee, dark chocolate, and dried fruits.

Hoppy: Hops are another main beer ingredient that affects the flavor and aroma of a beer. Hops can be fruity: apple, citrus, tropical fruits; they can be piney: pine needles, wood; they can also be floral, earthy, spicy, and grassy. The flavors can vary a lot.

Bitter: Bitterness in beer comes from the hops we mentioned above, but not all hoppy beers are bitter. It all depends on when you add the hops. When balanced with strong malt body, the bitterness can make for a very pleasant beer.

Fruity: Common fruity flavors and aromas found in craft beer are lemon, banana, grapefruit, apricot, plum, cherry, and apple. These flavors help accentuate flavors already found in the beer.

Spicy: Craft beer described as “spicy” won’t taste fiery like hot sauce. Instead, think of spicy as flavors that are reminiscent of coriander, clove, or pepper. These flavors also accentuate flavors already found in the beer.

Tart or Funky: Craft beer with these qualities will taste somewhere in the range of sour, rustic, earthy, and possibly wine-like. Some actually contain the addition of fruit, while others that are oak-aged will be decidedly more “funky.”

Crisp: Both light and refreshing, a crisp craft beer may be accentuated with fruity, hoppy, or malty undertones.

Roasted: Using rich coffee and cocoa flavors, these beers can be medium-light to full-bodied, very dominant, and range from soft and silky to dark and dry.

Smoky: A smoky beer is one that uses malts smoked over a fire or aged in oak barrels.

General Styles of Beer:

Pale Ales/India Pale Ales (IPA)

All pale ales and IPAs use hops, but the American versions are much hoppier. English ales lean towards spicy and green, while American ales lean towards citrus and pine.

Examples: Firestone Walker DBA (English style pale ale), Bear Republic Racer 5 (American style IPA)

Wheat

Most beers use 100% malt, but that’s not the case with these beers, which use 40-60% wheat instead of malted barley. This results in a lighter-bodied, clean taste. German hefeweizens have strong banana, bubblegum, and/or clove flavors, while Belgian whites typically lean more towards the side of citrus, coriander, and other spices for their main flavors.

Examples: Schneider Weisse, Allagash White

Reds/Ambers/Browns/Porters/Stouts

Reds, ambers, and browns tend to be light-to medium-bodied with toast, toffee, and caramel flavors. Porters and stouts are medium-to-heavy-bodied with chocolate, coffee, and roasty notes. Too much roastiness can come off as bitter, but sub-styles like an oatmeal or milk stout are creamier and sweeter to compensate for the bitterness, thereby balancing the flavors.

Examples: Hangar 24 Alt-Bier Amber Ale, Alesmith Nut Brown, Deschutes Black Butte Porter, North Coast Old No. 38 Stout

Belgian

These beers include a combination of yeast and adjuncts like brown sugar and spices. Belgian pales are light in color (sometimes in body) and tend to have striking spice flavors like coriander and pepper. The opposite side of the spectrum are the Belgian dubbels and quadruples, which are dark in color and heavy in body with licorice and dark fruit flavors.

Examples: Delirium Tremens, Saison Dupont, Allagash Tripel

Lagers and Pilsners

Most Americans are familiar with this style because of flavors and brands like: Coors, Bud, and Pabst Blue Ribbon. Craft versions, however, typically use malted barley and no corn. Light bodied, bright and crisp, lagers and pilsners are clean in flavor.

Examples: Victory Prima Pils, Spaten Lager

That concludes our mini, crash-course on craft beer terminology and flavors. We’d like to end this introduction by welcoming you to the world of beer! It’s nuanced and fascinating, and even the most well-versed beer experts learn something new every so often. Whether or not you feel like a craft beer expert, we hope you’ll come grab a drink with us at the Casual Pint, it’s where beer lovers meet.

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