Beer StylesGreat American Craft BeerIPASweetwater Brewing

Beer styles continue to befuddle…

In writing my next book, Great American Craft Beer, I have spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about beer styles, writing about them, and revising my thoughts and sentences. And after a few months of these efforts, I’m pretty sure I know less about them than I did when I started this project (and not just because Ron Pattinson and others continue to pull the rug out from under us all). Barleywines versus old ales, export or foreign stouts, and IPA’s versus APA’s. Is there such a thing as an American Stout? And what the heck is a golden ale? Do Americans really know the difference between Czech and German-style pils? Are there any differences? I have no idea anymore. But at the end of it all, deep in my confusion, I get glimpses of light. Such is the case with the delightful Sweetwater IPA. Although listed as an IPA, I think it may be the perfect example of an American Pale Ale, which just adds to the confusion (or fun). I’m looking forward to finishing this confounded project up in a few weeks…

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13 thoughts on “Beer styles continue to befuddle…

  1. The various style guidelines are good for two things only.
    1) Judging in certain competition formats where some “objective” criteria are needed against which beers are evaluated.
    2) Giving the drinker a vague notion of what to expect in a beer.
    Beyond that they are useless.

  2. I know the feeling. I couldn’t find anything that definitively differentiated Old Ale from Barley Wine. Except that Old Ale is usually dark.

    My list of British beer styles is pretty damn short:

    Pale Ale
    Strong Ale
    Brown Ale

    And as for Czech Pilsner, that doesn’t exist at all. Apart from Pilsner Urquell.

  3. Scottish beer styles. They don’t really exist, either. All that 60/-, 70/-, 80/- nonsense. I’m in Scotland currently looking at records in the Scottish Brewing Archive. Maclays brewed a 54/- Mild and a 54/- PA.

  4. Hello everyone and thanks for chiming in on this little break from the book. @Michael I’ve written similarly here and in past books and generally agree. In putting together this project, I think I’ve come to a slight corollary to rule 2. Hopefully without sounding too relativistic, beer styles are what we make of them, not so much as individuals but as a society (however that is defined). If we expect a certain style to taste a specific way and there are enough versions (or a powerful singular example) of it to have created that shared perception, that is perhaps the most important service and definition of a style. And while nerds such as Ron, myself, and others can geek out over historical numbers, this is probably a really out-dated way of looking at styles. While relying heavily upon styles as I define them (with touches of history where properly flushed out by Ron and others, but mainly directed by this collective approach) in my new book, I focus more on grouping beers by common flavors and how novice drinkers will achieve better success than memorizing style histories.



  5. I suppose Michael Jackson introduced many of us to beer styles back in the ’80s. In the World Guide, he tied styles to geographic areas, history and cultures. This was useful and appropriate.

    Michael (who posted above, not Michael Jackson!) mentioned two uses for styles. I would add that rigidly defined styles are useful for homebrewers to learn how to hit specific flavor and analytical targets when they brew a beer. Unfortunately, this mindset seems to have leaked into other realms of the beer world.

  6. I look forward to seeing how you make sense of the confusing world of beer styles. American brewers definitely add to the confusion-and I don’t consider this a bad thing at all! I would say an APA is hoppier than a stardard British pale-see Seirra Nevada and Anchor Liberty for two original definitive versions. IPAs have more of everything than an IPA-(gravity, hops, etc). As far as Pilsners- the Czech versions are hoppier and a bit bigger than the German style.

  7. Hi Eliot and welcome. Well for one in my book I abandon any view that a British pale ale actually exists. To my view there is no distinction to be drawn between BPA’s and Bitters (of any stripe). And while modern IPA’s have more of everything, that wasn’t always the case. As to the pilsners, I’m not sure I agree fully with Ron but I don’t think your take is quite definitive either. Although I believe I had an excellent German version at your Wausau pub a month or two back when I was in town…



  8. And thanks to you good folks at the various Dane locations for brewing good beer I have long enjoyed (including a decidedly not traditional yet delicious Tri Pepper Pils…)

  9. I have also been confused about porters versus stouts-I was originally “taught” that porter was distinct from stouts (not including imperial stouts!) by virtue of being heavier/higher gravity but have heard/seen/read/tasted many contradictions to this in my twenty years in the beer world.

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