The craft beer scene has been popping for a few years, but that doesn’t mean that everyone is hip with the nomenclature. To help you out, here is a basic guide to craft beer in 2018.
HOW MANY TYPES OF BEER ARE THERE?
A billion. But all of these riff on two major styles of beer, which are defined by the types of yeast used. Lagers (think Budweiser, Canadian) and ales (think the kind of stuff your hipster neighbour drinks).
WHAT EVEN IS AN IPA ANYWAY?
The India style Pale Ale is probably the most popular style of craft beer, so it’s worth knowing a little bit about it. The name is a little misleading, because it’s actually a British creation.
In the early 19th century, British troops were stationed down in India, and beer was shipped to them from home. The only problem? The voyage was too long, and the beer would spoil before it reached them.
So brewers began to load their beer with a ridiculous amount of hops — a plant used in brewing which works as a natural preservative — in order to have the beer survive. This wound up giving the beer the bitter, hoppy taste that people have grown to love.
The irony? Now anyone will tell you that an IPA needs to be drank quickly, within three months of canning, in order to preserve the flavours of the hops!
Bonus tid-bit: a New England IPA is a hazy, unfiltered one that basically looks like orange juice (big fruit flavours!) and Milkshake IPAs are IPAs brewed with lactose sugar so they aren’t vegan and, while a bit creamy, they don’t really taste like milkshakes.
WHY DO PEOPLE CARE ABOUT PORTERS?
Porters — and stouts, like Guinness, which is a type of porter — are the most highly sought after, best reviewed beers you’re going to find and that’s because they’re so deep and dark and different.
Porters are thick and loaded with complex, varied flavours. This can include coffee porters, brewed with real coffee, oatmeal stouts, using oats as a malt and chili, chocolate stouts, brewed with chocolate and hot peppers.
WHAT MAKES A BEER SOUR?
Emerging as a dominant style over the past couple of years, sours are bold and arresting. But what is it that makes them taste so funky?
They’re fermented with delicious bacteria from wild and weird strains of yeast.
To avoid these sour flavours throughout history, most mainstream, modern brewing has cultivated yeasts and made them manageable and predictable, for an accessible and consistently delicious product. Until recently, soured beers were often thrown away, being dismissed as rotten, foul beer, rather than a craft specialty.
But that has changed and the heyday of the sour is here. These puppies make for great summery, fruity flavours, but they can certainly also be a little off-putting. For a more controlled fruity taste, maybe drink a cider instead — they’re generally made with only apples and controlled yeasts.
WHAT IS AN IMPERIAL BEER?
If a beer is an imperial, that just means it’s strong. Imperial stouts, imperial (or ‘double’) IPAs, they’re defined by being at least 8 per cent alcohol by volume.
A lot of the pricy imperial beers you’re going to find these days are ‘barrel-aged,’ which is exactly what it sounds like. These ‘vintages’ often have big, cool flavours soaked up from the wood in barrels formerly used to age other alcohols (usually whiskey).
WHAT IS A WHEAT BEER?
Wheat beer — or ‘white’ beer, because wheat literally means ‘that which is white’ — is classified under several different styles like wit, Weiss or gose. These beautiful babies — often classified as Belgian — showed up just about everywhere about ten years ago with the then heretical and now ho-hum idea of serving a pint with a slice of orange in it.
Most wheat beers are going to taste like cloves and coriander (because that’s what they’re brewed with), but the defining feature of the category ‘wheat beer’ is really just that it’s brewed with a predominantly wheat malt. They’re a cool way to capture complex, summery flavours, while staying fairly accessible to the average palate.
WHAT SHOULD I ORDER AT A CRAFT BEER BAR?
If you’re at a place that only sells craft beer, don’t be intimidated. There are tones of “starter” beers that make getting into craft an easy transition. If you want a Budweiser but you also want to grow a bushy beard and listen to Future Islands on vinyl, drink a kölsch. If you want something crazy, bold and fruity, drink a sour. If you want something refreshing, drink a half juice, half beer radler (which translates in German to cyclist, for whom the beverage was originally crafted).