The Six Major Beer Style Categories
There are hundreds of beer styles, or types of beer, defined by several prominent organizations.
- The Brewers Association Style Guidelines (PDF file) contain descriptions of over 142 styles organized by country of origin.
- In 2012, The Great American Beer Festival will judge beers in 84 categories with numerous sub-categories (visit Great American Beer Festival Beer Styles).
- The Beer Judge Certification Program recognizes 23 beer categories, BJCP Style Guidelines (PDF file).
Most style guidelines define various lager and ale styles by providing detailed descriptions of their characteristic aroma, flavor, bitterness (International Bittering Units), alcohol range and color. This is often more information than many beer beginners care to know. However, as one’s beer journey expands beyond the world of mass-produced adjunct lagers and into the world of craft beer, the desire for more information, more choice and more diversity often follows.
Ingredients in Styles
Craft brewers use a wide variety of ingredients to achieve the flavors and aromas they desire in their beer. Most beers brewed in the US prior to 1980 used only four standard ingredients: yeast, water, malt and hops. Today’s craft brewers have taken the main styles of beer from great brewing countries such as England, Germany, and Belgium and added their own twist by increasing the amount of ingredients used, by using new and non-traditional beer ingredients or by altering the brewing process. These changes have resulted in more flavor and diversity in today’s beers. For those who appreciate choice, it’s a very good time to be a beer lover! Check out Specialty Beers for an example of what this is all about.
Do All Craft Brewers Brew Their Beers to Style?
Today’s American craft brewers are viewed as artists whose canvases are painted with the ingredients they use and the processes they employ. It is up to each individual brewer to decide whether they want to create beer within specific style guidelines or whether to forge a new path outside of style parameters. Because so many brewers have decided to brew outside the box, a unique and beautiful beer culture has developed in the US.
A special thank you to Randy Mosher, author of Tasting Beer: An Insiders Guide to the World’s Greatest Drink, for preparing the beer style breakdown provided in these sections.
Note: All brands listed in this section have won a medal at the Great American Beer Festival. As many beers from smaller producing breweries happen to be either seasonal or limited release some of the brands in this section may no longer be produced by the brewery. However, at the time of production, they were deemed to be a shining example of the mentioned beer style.