It’s Beer Fact Friday, friends. Time for some beer education. This week, we’re answering a question sent in by a Four Peaks fan: “What’s the difference between different ‘types’ of beer—IPA, stout, red ale, etc.?” A big question. And the best way to answer it is to talk about “style.”
Take a look at these two stylish gentlemen. There’s a group of characteristics—clothing, eyewear, general demeanor—that defines each guy’s individual “style.” So it is with beer. A beer’s style is the sum of all of its qualities: color, carbonation, aroma, flavor, ingredients, and more.
India Pale Ale, or IPA, is a style characterized by pale color, high bitterness, moderate alcohol content, and in-your-face hop flavor and aroma. Stout is made with roasted malts, which leads to a dark color and flavors of coffee and chocolate. Lambic is fermented with wild yeast and bacteria, leading to sour and funky flavors. But these are general differences; there’s a lot more that separates each of these styles from each other, and from the dozens of others that we recognize.
So the answer to what differentiates specific styles of beer is: a lot. The Beer Judge Certification Program maintains and regularly updates guidelines of recognized styles so beers made by homebrewers can be judged against one another in competition. The most recent version of their guidelines, updated in 2015, includes descriptions for more than 100 different beer styles and substyles. (We’ve linked them in our profile; look them over if you’d like to know more about the aspects of each style.) The Brewers Association also maintains style guidelines of its own, which are used in major beer competitions like the Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup.
We’re big believers in brewing to style, and we strive to make most of our beers the best examples of classic styles that they can be. (We’ve even won a couple dozen awards at the aforementioned competitions for our efforts.) But there are hundreds of beers out there that don’t fit neatly into any style category but are still outrageously tasty. As with the guys in the photo, you’ll have to decide for yourself how much style matters to you.
Got a topic you’d like us to cover next Friday? Let us know in the comments.