We often approach the colorful world of beer with curiosity and a good dose of approximation. Beer's product culture is currently at a "pop" level and nonetheless, is not very vast. Most of us think of beer in terms of color, knowing there are blonde beers, red beers and dark beers, reducing it all to this aspect rather than to flavor, ingredients or of its history.
In reality, behind this elementary approximation there are dozens of different procedures, countless mixes of ingredients, geographical influences and years of tradition that open up a range of choice opportunities that we will look at briefly in this article.
So let's talk about beer STYLES.
We use this term to group together a collection of beers that share history, production practices and raw materials. Each style comes from habits of production and creation that have consolidated over time, but although this can, in a certain sense, help a consumer to orient himself in his choice or personal taste preferences, one must not fall into the error of thinking that within a style, all beers are alike.
Suffice it to say that the same raw material used to produce beer in one place compared to another can give the final product very different organoleptic characteristics. Hops, to mention the most famous ingredient, confers different aromas depending on the place of harvest. American hops give life to fruit aromas such as black currant and grapefruit, or balsamic and very aromatic, almost woody aromas. Malt, depending on the degree of roasting and the place of collection, confers aromas of coffee, biscuit, honey or bread crust. Even yeasts, based on their way of reacting, can influence the flavor and aroma of the product.
Let's try to orient ourselves a bit among the main, more traditional styles as we know them.
These are beers produced with high/top fermentation yeasts, grown at high temperatures and are aromatically intense with hints of fruit and flowers. These beers are now widespread all over the world but have their roots in Germany, Belgium and England. The sub-styles of Ale are innumerable, but we'll take a look at some of them. In England, the best known are perhaps the bitter and aromatic IPA (India Pale Ale), and the dark Porter and Stout, produced with toasted malts. Here in England, the hops flavors are enhanced with the hardness of water rich in mineral salts. Stouts are particularly recognizable for their strong coffee aroma linked to the use of highly roasted malt.
In Belgium, the tradition of master brewers is so varied that it is not easy to pigeonhole the product into a unique style. However, if we want to look for a well-known ensemble within which to enclose similar styles, we cannot fail to mention the Abbey beers, produced in medieval monasteries. Each beer has a characteristic that unites it to all other Abbey beers while making it unique thanks to the specific production techniques of that convent and the raw material available in that specific area. Abbey beers are very alcoholic and structured beers, extremely tasty and complex.
In Germany, the most famous Ales are those based on wheat (Weizen), which come in numerous variations that are sometimes even emigrated across the border (for example, Belgium with its delicate and fragrant Blanche).
On an aromatic level, in Weizen beers you can perceive aromas of citrus and varying degrees of banana. However, the banana aroma is a common feature of beers produced with high fermentation. The peach aroma, round and fresh, is another found in this type of beer, as well as the balsamic aroma of pine resins, or that of hay, not always easy to recognize, but which is similar to that of fresh cut grass.
The yeasts of the lagers are produced with low fermentation yeasts at lower temperatures, and Lagers are by far the most consumed beers in the world. Do you know why we talk about low fermentation, also known as bottom fermentation? Simply explained, during the beer making process, the yeast settles on the bottom of the vat.
The name Lager, derives from German, and means “warehouse”: it therefore refers to the method of storing beer, in a cool and dry place for about three months, in order to preserve its smooth and balanced tone.
In Lager beer, malt flavors prevail over those of hops, giving the beer rounder and less intense tones.
These beers find their gravitational center between Germany and the Czech Republic, although in recent years the United States has also been producing Lagers of a certain thickness, with a more pungent taste and a low alcohol content (between 4 and 5% ).
Lager's color is clear, almost transparent, very limpid, and the beer generates a dense and candid foam. To enhance its characteristics it is advisable to consume it fresh.
Beers with spontaneous fermentation yeasts
The best known beer belonging to the spontaneous yeast category is not very famous or widespread, but is an important beer and well-defined in its characteristics. We refer, for example, to the Belgian Lambic, which has a high percentage of wheat. Why spontaneous fermentation? This is the case because the wort is exposed during the night, and the yeasts come from the open air, unlike what happens in high or low fermentation beers where the yeast is inoculated by the master brewer. This particular process, added to a step of aging in barrels (which can last up to 3 years) and gives an almost barren flavor and little to no effervescence, make these beers almost similar to a wine, perfect for tasting. Beers of this type present aromas of wood, especially smoked wood, and cloves, sometimes mixed with pungent notes of pepper.
Therefore, you can see the style therefore does not have to do only with only the color, and it is not strictly linked to the alcohol content or the taste of the beer, either.
We can compare the style of a beer to a finished mosaic. Each piece, however small, contributes to creating a complex and articulated image. The chemistry of the process, the nature of the raw material, the method of conservation, the fermentation and aging times, the customization of tradition, the hand of the master brewer: each factor generates a particular nuance to each individual style. It is then up to the final consumer to choose which one is best suited to his palate, even if after all, why choose when you can try everything?