The universe of beer styles is constantly changing. The 2013 Great American Beer Festival encompassed 84 categories. The style guide for the 2014 World Beer Cup lists 94. We don’t have to cover them all, but every year the judges of Beer Madness assess a diverse and changing assortment. This updated guide, listed in alphabetical order, 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.
Altbier: Literally “old beer” in German, this is a copper-hued ale popular in the city of Dusseldorf. Like Kolsch, it’s fermented under lagerlike conditions that give it a crisper, less fruity flavor than English or Belgian ales.
Bitter: An English term for a draft pale ale, low enough in alcohol to permit convivial drinking. A best or special bitter is a slightly stronger version.
Brown ale: Before the development of modern kilning techniques to produce pale malt, most beer was some shade of murky brown. Today, the term refers to a wide range of ales, amber to copper in color, that are moderate in alcohol and lack the more intense roasty flavors of porter or stout. American brown ales tend to be stronger and hoppier than their British counterparts.
California common: A style of lager, associated with California in the Gold Rush era, that undergoes a quick, warm fermentation, giving it a mildly fruity flavor. This style was originally called “steam beer” because of its brisk carbonation, but Anchor Brewing has since trademarked that term.
Dortmunder: A lager style once popular with miners and industrial workers in the German city of Dortmund. These full-bodied golden beers have a clean, malty flavor, but with a higher alcohol content and more aggressive hopping than helles lagers. Also called “export.”
Dry-hopping: In this technique, more hops are added after the boil, while the beer is fermenting. That enhances the hop aroma and flavor without adding more bitterness.
Grisette: A refreshing, low-alcohol, wheat-based ale, similar to saison, once quaffed by thirsty miners in Belgium’s Hainaut province. The term comes from the French word for “gray,” possibly a reference to the women in gray dresses (also called “grisettes”) who would offer beer to the miners when their workday was over.
Hefeweizen: Literally “yeast wheat beer,” this unfiltered, Bavarian-style wheat ale is fermented with a special yeast that lends the beer a distinctive “banana-clove” flavor.
Helles: Bavaria’s answer to a pilsener, this is a gentle, malt-accented golden lager of moderate strength.
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 British 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.
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 with a porter or stout. A Belgian pale such as Franklin’s Golden Opportunity 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, such as Budweiser, Heineken and Corona, are distant approximations of this style. Lost Rhino Zlaty Czech Pilsner is 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 is called a brown porter. A stronger, roastier variant (such as Evolution Lucky 7 Porter) is dubbed a robust porter.
Singel or Single: Abbey beers are secular brews patterned after the ales brewed by Trappist monks. A dubbel or double is a strong, dark ale with caramel and raisiny flavors. A tripel or triple is a pale gold ale, stronger still, with sugary, fruity or herbal notes. Much less often encountered are singels or singles: light-bodied, low-alcohol beers based on brews that the monks would have made for their own consumption. Also called patersbier.
Saison: A Belgian-style farmhouse ale with fruity and spicy notes. Originally, such beers were made low in alcohol and refreshing to quench the thirst of tired farmhands, but modern versions (3 Stars The Phoenix) can be moderate to strong.
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.