Four years ago I sat down and hammered out my thoughts on the world of beer style. At the time, I had a website called the Beer Manifesto. I was also a member of a site called Ratebeer.com. Later, I became Editor of Ratebeer and overhauled the beer styles that the site had at the time. The original styles at Ratebeer, well I’m not sure quite where they came from but there were definitely some eyebrow raisers there. Thus, the Beer Styles Master’s Thesis from the Manifesto became the basis for the beer styles at Ratebeer.
There are a lot of beer style guides out there. Industry organizations, homebrew organizations, prominent writers and other web sites all have their own thoughts on the issue. It is not my intent to go through everyone else’s style theories and tear them apart, but suffice to say if I thought that someone else was bang-on I’d just go with their ideas. Likewise, if they thought I was bang-on, they wouldn’t bother writing down their own ideas.
One thing I do see is that other guides approach the issue from a very Anglo-American standpoint. There are reasons for this of course – they are American and English for one. But also, modern beer style theory started with an Englishman, Michael Jackson. Other ideas exist, but are not widely published in English. At Ratebeer, I’ve tried to take a world view of beer styles. There is still some Amerocentricity, which you’ll see with such American inventions as Abt/Quadrupel and English Pale Ale, which exist mainly because the American brewers have popularized and defined these styles, even though they were invented elsewhere. The truth is, people in Belgium and England have no concept of them. But this is to be expected – Americans brew more styles than anyone else and have taken a lead role in reviving, maintaining and developing styles over the past couple of decades.
But there are still some styles that we recognize that are not part of the American beer landscape. For example, English Winter Warmer is a fairly specific thing in England, whereas in America the term winter warmer is too vague to connote a specific style. Likewise, Americans don’t brew Kellerbiers very often and have little concept of Faro
and Unblended Lambic. Ask anybody in the English-speaking world about Lithuanian Farmhouse and they’ll give you a blank stare. You’ll have to go to Lithuania for that, and even then you’ll need to actually go out to the farms – finding it in Vilnius is tough work.
Another issue in the beer style universe is that many guidelines are built around the theory that all styles are created equal. I don’t agree with this. Some are styles, some are categories. A style is tightly defined, a category is loose and catches all the miscellany. So Witbier is a style, Belgian Ale is a category. For purposes of evaluation “to style”, this makes a big difference, and recognizing this difference is important to help the drinker understand what’s in his or her glass.
This guide is what I would consider advanced level thinking on the subject. There are brief explanations of the various beer styles to be found <a hrefhttp://www.ratebeer.com/BeerStyles.asp>here. You will find information and viewpoints here that are controversial. The purpose of this is not to help you rate beers “to style” but rather to understand the background of each beer style (and beer category) so that you have a sense of where it really comes from. The world of beer style is evolving. I plan to make regular updates to reflect this.
Research was conducted from dozens of sources, including Randy Mosher’s Radical Brewing, Martyn Cornell’s Beer: The Story of the Pint, and Michael Jackson’s many books and articles on beer style.
There are three scales to help outline the characteristics one can expect in a given style, these work on a 0-5 scale.
Flavour: 0 – Extremely bland to 5 – Extremely flavourful
Colour: 0 – Extremely pale to 5 – Pitch black
Sweetness: 0 – Extremely dry to 5 – Extremely sweet
The styles will be rolled out in groups, twice a week. Check back every Monday and Friday until we’re done.