If you haven’t tasted these types of beer, you don’t know beer
Most beer drinkers don’t know the difference between a lager and an ale (and many couldn’t care less!). Even more mysterious and intimidating to most beer drinkers are the many, many beer sub-styles that exist. And don’t confuse beer styles with beer brands. Budweiser, Heineken, Beck’s and Corona may be different brands, but they are all the same style of beer: pale lager.
All told, there are approximately 70 styles and sub-styles of beer in the world. The only way to truly understand and appreciate this variety and diversity is to be intrepid and try as many of them as you can. There’s no guarantee that you will enjoy all of these, but at least you will have a better understanding of the world of beer –and maybe even a increased appreciation for the brewer’s art.
As you search out these various styles, be aware of regional interpretations and aggressive marketing strategies that pay little respect to brewing history and tradition. Brewers have a penchant for personalizing their brews with oddball ingredients or techniques and label hype often serves to confuse the consumer further.
To the point, then, here is a starter list of ten classic beer styles you should try before you die. To be true to brewing history and tradition, these should all be from their country and/or locale of origin.
- Pilsner- this hoppy golden lager was born in Plzen, Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) dating back to 1842. It was the first golden beer of any kind –and now its many imitators make Pilsner the most popular beer style in the world.
- Dry Stout– this dark roasty ale that is traced back to Ireland is typified by the inky beer brewed in Dublin by Guinness. Note that the Irish “dry” stout is just one of five different stout styles produced in the beer world.
- Lambic– this tart, spontaneously fermented ale can only be found in the Senne River Valley near Brussels, Belgium. Wild, airborne microflora is responsible for lambic fermentation. It is also produced in fruit-flavored varieties.
- Doppelbock– this rich, malty lager is a Spring (Christian Lent) staple in Bavaria. Like its name suggests, it is a “double bock,” meaning it is a stronger version of regular bock beer (6.5% to 8% alcohol by volume).
- Flanders Red Ale– this reddish colored sour, oaky ale is somewhat rare outside of the Flanders region in northwestern Belgium. Its distinctive character comes from long term fermentation in old oaken vats.
- Witbier- this pale, perfumy, citrusy wheat ale traces its roots to Hoegaarden, Belgium. Its pleasant fruity aroma and flavor is derived primarily from the use of the lemony coriander seed and Curacao orange peel.
- Rauchbier- this brownish smoky lager is a gift to the beer world from Bamberg, Germany. The smokiness of the beer comes from smoking the barley malt over beechwood fires.
- Weizenbier- this cloudy, spritzy golden ale is a Summertime favorite from Bavaria, Germany. Alternately known as weissbier (white beer), this wheat-based beer with the towering white head of foam is a great thirst-quencher.
- Berliner Weisse- this pale, sour ale from Berlin, Germany, is also wheat-based, but it is much paler and more acidic. Some Berliners choose to drink their weisse “mit schuss” –with a shot of woodruff or raspberry syrup to cut through the bracing tartness of the beer.
- American IPA– this spicy, citrusy, malty, tangy ale is a hop-driven India Pale Ale from the good old U.S. of A. The use of all-American hop varieties gives this brew an assertive tangy, citrusy character.
Some of these beer styles are relatively easy to find in the United States, but others may not be. Searching them out in your travels abroad make the experience all the more fun and rewarding.