Beer Madness 2013: a style guide and glossary

March 19, 2013

The universe of beer styles is constantly expanding. The style guide for the biannual World Beer Cup is now up to 95. We can’t cover them all, but we did judge a diverse lot of beers running the full gamut of flavors. This brief guide should give you an idea of the workout our palates experienced.

Ale: One of the two major classifications of beer; the other is lager. Ales are made with yeast that collects at the top of the vessel after primary fermentation. They are fermented at warmer temperatures than lagers, and for shorter periods. Ales often display fruity, spicy and yeasty flavors not found in lagers.

Dry-hopping: Adding additional hops after the boil, while the beer is fermenting. This technique enhances the hop aroma and flavor without adding extra bitterness.

Dubbel: Also called double, a style that originated in Belgian Trappist breweries but is often emulated by American brewers: a strong, dark ale with fruity and caramel flavors. Resurrection from the Brewer’s Art is a dubbel. The terms “Belgian dark ale” and “Belgian strong dark ale” are sometimes used for similar beers that are even higher in alcohol than a dubbel’s 6-7 percent by volume, or that contain extra fruits or spices.

Imperial or double beer: Used to describe just about any beer style that’s been supersized to pump up the alcohol, body and/or hop content: i.e., imperial Pilsener, imperial IPA.

The Washington Post’s annual Beer Madness focused on selections from local craft breweries in the annual tournament pitting 32 beers against each other in a bracket-style tournament. (Zoeann Murphy/The Washington Post)

India pale ale or IPA: One of the most popular styles, an especially strong, well-hopped pale ale that was originally formulated to withstand the long sea journey to Her Majesty’s troops in India. American IPA is a sub-style that’s stronger and more aggressively hopped than the English version, incorporating bold, resiny/citrusy Pacific Northwest hops.

Kellerbier: Also called “cellar beer,” an unfiltered, unpasteurized lager, the German equivalent of an English cask ale.  It’s roughly synonymous with Zwickelbier, which takes its name from the valve that allows the brewer to draw off a sample of fermenting beer.

Kolsch: A hybrid German style, originating in the city of Cologne, that’s fermented with an ale yeast but cold-aged like a lager for a crisp, hoppy, lightly fruity flavor.

Lager: One of the two major classifications of beer; the other is ale. Lagers are made with yeast that sinks to the bottom of the vessel after primary fermentation. They are fermented at cooler temperatures than ales, and for longer periods. This gives them a mellow, well-integrated flavor.

Pale ale: A hoppy, gold- to copper-colored ale; it’s “pale” compared to a porter or stout. A Belgian pale ale like DC Brau’s The Citizen is fermented with a Belgian yeast strain that adds an extra layer of fruitiness

Pilsener: A crisp, hoppy, golden lager. The world’s major brands, i.e., Budweiser, Heineken and Corona, are distant approximations of this style. St. George Pilsner and Legend Pilsner are truer to the original conception.

Porter: A dark, full-bodied ale supposedly descended from a blend of beers called “three threads” that was popular in 18th-century London. A lighter, sweeter version (like Pagan Porter) is called a brown porter. A stronger, roastier variant (such as Lucky 7) is dubbed a robust porter.

Saison: A Belgian-style farmhouse ale with fruity and spicy notes. Originally, these beers were made low in alcohol and refreshing to quench the thirst of tired farmhands, but modern versions can be moderately strong. (Examples: Stillwater Cellar Door, 3 Stars Peppercorn Saison.)

Stout: Darker yet than porters, stouts derive their ebony color and coffeelike flavors from highly roasted malts or roasted, unmalted barley. An Irish-style dry stout is light in body with a dry, roasty flavor and moderate alcohol. A sweet stout contains a little more unfermented sugar for extra body. A milk stout is dosed with lactose, or milk sugar, to make it smoother and richer. An imperial stout or Russian imperial stout is an aggressively flavored, high-alcohol variant originally brewed for export to the czar’s court.

Vienna lager: Like its stylistic cousins Marzen and Oktoberfest, this term refers to an amber-colored lager with a caramel sweetness and lightly toasted flavor, a little heftier than your everyday drinking beer.

Witbier: Also called white beer, this is a Belgian-style wheat-based ale flavored with orange peel, coriander and sometimes other spices.

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