Today we’re getting back into my post series on the Cicerone Certified Beer Server exam. I’ve ignored this for a while but it’s time to get back into it. This is some serious information that any good server, bar tender, or beer fan should know. In this post, we’ll start looking at the basic styles of beer and what makes them up. This will be a 2 part post, since there is a LOT of information to cover, even in the basic format.
One of the most important skills when talking about beer to friends or customers is understanding the basic styles of beer. Quite often you will get questions about the difference between two styles, or what the difference between an ale and a lager is. Knowing what makes up the basic styles of beer will help you to describe this as well as make it easier for you to determine a specific beer or home-brew.
The major styles of beer we will cover here are:
We will touch on a few of the sub-styles for each beer as well, giving you some solid information to describe, sell, and recognize different styles of beer. These are the basic beer styles the Cicerone Certified Beer Server exam tests on as well, so they are definitely the best place to start. Let’s get started.
Specific Beer Styles
1. German/Czech Beers
The first style we will look at is the German/Czech styles and it’s sub styles. As the name states, these were originally developed in German and/or Czech parts of the world, lending German hops and grain, as well as a unique water character from this part of the world. Today these styles can be made anywhere, with a focus on hops, malt, and water Ph.
The word Lager is a German word that means “storage.” This speaks directly to how these beer are created. Lagers use a yeast that is bottom-fermenting, which means it sinks to the bottom of the vessel as it does it’s work. This is different from ale yeast that foams at the top while working. Basically a lager is fermented at a slightly cooler temperature of 50* F, then when fermentation is complete, it is stored, or Lagered, for around 30 days at near freezing. This changes the taste character and completes the layering process.
Lagers were developed sometime in the 16th Century in what is today Southern Germany. Hop character is emphasized, but over-the-top bitterness as seen in some IPAs is not. Lagers are known to have a smooth, clean taste, which is why this is such a common and popular style.
Pale lagers are the most commonly available style in the lager family. Some popular lagers in the United States are:
The beer style pilsner takes its name from the city this pale style of lager was developed in, the city of Pilsen in what is now the Czech Republic. The first pilsner beers using lager yeast were brewed there in the mid 1840s, but the history of pilsner beer goes back to the 1200s here.
Pilsners are known primarily for their hop character. The flavor profile off a pilsner is similar to that of a standard lager, but with a huge focus on bitterness and hops. THe original style of this beer was brewed by the Czechs, but it has gained popularity with the German style as well. While Czech pilasters like Pilsner Urquell are ver heavy handed with the hops, German styles are a little more even with their hop profile, using Noble hops like Saaz, Hallertauer, Spalt, and Tettnanger. A popular German-style pilsner is Prima Pils by Victory Brewing Company, or Beck’s from Brauerei Beck & Co.
- Aroma – The aroma should be a grainy malt character with a very distinctive flowery or spicy hop presence. This noticeable hop character comes from the use of noble hops. Other than that, the aroma should be clean and free of any esters or fruity smells. There is a possibility of a slight initial sulfury aroma with these. This can come from yeast and possibly from the water.
- Appearance – Pilsners, color-wise, are straw to light gold, which is a 2-5 on the SRM scale. Clarity is brilliant to very clear, and the head should be creamy, white, and long lasting.
- Flavor – The flavor is where Pilsners show their lager roots. You should experience a crisp, bitter taste with a dry finish. Low to balanced malt character should be present, with hop flavor dominating. The hop character should be present and up front for the taste, through the finish, and linger slightly after the aftertaste. Hop flavor should come from only German noble hops.
- Stats – The ABV of a pilsner should be from 4.4% to 5.2% ABV, and IBUs should be in the range of 25-45.
The original Oktoberfest beer is credited to Gabriel Sedlmayr and is based on a variation of a Vienna lager from 1840. Oktoberfest beers are generally brewed in the spring to signal the end of the traditional brewing season. They were then stored in cold caves during the war summer months and enjoyed in the fall during harvest celebrations.
These beers are smooth, clean, and have a solid malt flavor that can be golden to amber in color. Oktoberfest beers usually feature German Viella malt and Munich malt in their grain bills, with noble hops and somewhat alkaline water.
- Aroma – Light to moderate toasted malt aroma can be present, but caramel aromas are incorrect. No hop aroma should be present, with no fruity esters. A light, clean aroma.
- Appearance – These can range from dark gold to deep orange-red in color. Clarity should be bright and excellent, and the foam should be solid and off-white.
- Flavor – Malty sweetness with a somewhat dry finish. There should be a moderate hop flavor with none of the noble hop-specific flavors present. Basically a clean lager profile with no roasted flavors, caramel, of fruity esters.
- Stats – The ABV of an Oktoberfest should be 4.8-5.2% ABV, and IBUs should be in the 20-28 range. SRM can be from 7-14.
Bocks were initially created in the German city of Einbeck. The name “Bock” actually came from a misuse of the town’s name. These tend to be strong, dark, malty beers that have a nice, toasty flavor while keeping the clean look and taste of a lager.
Doppelbocks first came from the monks of St. Francis of Paula. The term Doppel (double) bock was given to this beer by consumers and referred to the higher alcohol and richness of this beer, and how that relates to the standard bock. Commercial examples generally have “ator” ending the name of the beer, helping to signal this style.
- Aroma – Strong maltiness and toasty overtones. No hop aroma should be present, except for pale doppelbocks, where a slight noble hop aroma can be present. The main feature of aroma for nocks and doppelbocks is the malty character, lack of hop aroma, and slight caramel in the background.
- Appearance – Light copper to brown for nocks, and deep gold to dark brown for doppelbocks. Both should have excellent clarity from layering, and both should feature off-white heads.
- Flavor – Both styles here are dominated by maltiness and toasty flavors. hop bitterness should only be present enough to balance the maltiness, and should not be overpowering. For doppelbocks, an alcoholic taste will most likely be present, but should not dominate the flavor. These can be somewhat sweet, but should not be cloying and should have a dry finish.
- Bock – The ABV for a bock is 6.3-7.2%, the IBU should be 20-27, and the SRM should be in the range of 14-22.
- Doppelbock – The ABV for doppelbocks is 7-10%, IBUs should be 16-26, and SRM in the range of 6-25.
That’s it for part 1 of this 2 part post. As you can see, there is a lot to learn about beer styles so we’ll leave it here for now and pick up the other styles in the next part of this post. If you’re new to this series, check out all the Cicerone posts so far to get caught up for the next part of the Basic Beer Styles posts.
Until next time,