If you’re planning to give home beer brewing a try, you might want to learn a little bit about the various types of beer that are available in kit form. Here’s an example: if you want to brew a light, fizzy beer that’s similar to Budweiser, you need to know what style of beer Budweiser is before you buy or order a kit. The Budweiser label says it’s an “American style of lager,” but that’s not much help unless you know what lager is and how it was transformed when it came from Germany to the United States. Or you might want to brew a beer similar to Bass, an English beer. Or Beck’s, a German beer. Here’s some info on beer styles that should help you narrow your choice.
There are two major types of beer: ales and lagers. The basic difference between them is the type of yeast used and the temperature at which the yeast ferments the sugars in the beer into alcohol. It’s as simple as this: ale is fermented at a higher temperature than lager. Ales can be served within a couple of weeks, while lagers require weeks (and sometime months) of aging before they are ready to serve. Within the broad categories of ale and lager are many subcategories that specify finer and finer distinctions between them based on ingredients used as well as color, alcohol content and country of origin.
While these fine distinctions may not matter to most people, they do to those who taste and evaluate beer at competitions. Beer judges go through a rigorous certification process that requires and demands in-depth knowledge of beer styles. The Beer Judge Certification Program publishes comprehensive style guidelines that are worth reading. Find and download the guidelines at: http://www.bjcp.org/stylecenter.html
Although the guidelines do contain some technical material, their basic intent is to set standards for brewing many types of beer, which makes them invaluable if you’re brewing beer at home. They’re especially helpful if you’re trying to “clone” your favorite commercial beer. Here’s an example: Let’s say one of your favorite beers is Bass ale, which is imported from England. If you search the style guidelines on “Bass,” you’ll learn that this beer is an English pale ale. The description of the English pale ale style in the guidelines discusses aroma, appearance, flavor, mouthfeel, overall impression, history, comments, ingredients, vital statistics and commercial examples. Although this may be more than you ever wanted to know about Bass, the description contains a lot of highly educational material on the pale ale style. This information will help you tailor and evaluate your beer against a known standard.