A Short Intro to Popular Craft Beer Styles
With a new blog post on sour beers out soon, we thought we’d publish a quick intro we wrote a while back for our friends atThe Idle Man on some of the most popular craft beers styles.
Probably the most widely known and easily appreciated of the major styles, pale ale is a catch-all term to describe beers that are light to copper in colour, bitter and generally hop-forward. Pale ales in many guises have been produced in England since at least the 1700s, though it’s the generally the intensely aromatic, ultra fruity, American hopped ones that are most strongly associated with the new wave of craft brewers both here and in the US.
Similar in style to a pale ale but with more alcohol and more hops, India Pale Ale got its name in the 19th century when UK brewers sent stronger versions of their pale ales to British India – the higher alcohol and hop content ensuring it could last the long journey at sea. IPA is now the most popular craft beer style in the world, the modern version developed throughout the 1980s by pioneering US craft brewers characterised by big US hops, high bitterness and a medium malt body weighing in at 6-7.5% alcohol.
Though originally a term to describe a stronger version of any beer style, stout these days refers to the stout porters that dominated the London beer scene in the late 18th and early 19th century. First gaining popularity with the East End workers for which the style is named, stout porters are deep brown or black and have a rich, roasted character often associated with cocoa and coffee with any hop character firmly in the background. Particularly popular with craft brewers is the Imperial stout – generally 8% and above – prized for its complexity of flavours that can include dried fruits, dark chocolate, smoke and spice.
A new and exciting style, Black IPA or Cascadian Dark Ale emerged from the craft brewing mecca of the US Pacific Northwest in the late 1990s or early 2000s. Black IPAs are dark like a stout but hopped like an IPA. Light to medium bodied, they’re usually dominated by fruity, piney, resinous hop flavours with hints of chocolate and caramel from roasted malts in the background. Fairly strong at around 6-8.5%, they finish dry with high bitterness.
Though normally considered a fault in brewing, a new wave of craft brewers are harnessing sourness to create a range of unique, high acidity beers, taking inspiration from traditional Belgian and German sour styles. Sourness is achieved by introducing bacteria such as lactobacillus & pediococcus to the beer which as well as giving a refreshing tartness, can add complexity and savouriness. Many craft brewers will also age their sour beers in oak barrels, softening the acidity and adding texture.