When I first started my journey into the discovery of great beer one of the questions I was asked most often was ‘what’s so interesting about beer? All beers are alike’.
That question couldn’t be further from reality. The very reason that motivates my passion for beer is indeed its staggering diversity of styles. Ingredients, recipes and brewing techniques all have a massive impact on the final product. Beer can be alcohol-free or as strong as a wine, its colour can range from pale-straw to inky-black; it can be acidic, sweet and/or bitter, flat or fizzy. Most beers are meant to be drunk as fresh as possible, but some can even age well.
If you’re new to beer this may sound a bit intimidating, yet hopefully intriguing at the same time. To give you an idea of the diversity you can expect from beer, I’m giving you a few examples of beer styles that you can enjoy in the coming warm season, with references to labels from some of UK’s leading craft breweries.
India Pale Ale, aka IPA: In the 18th Century British troops stationed in the Indies were supplied with ale from the motherland. To survive the long journey on sea, beers were heavily hopped and stronger than normal ales, as both hop and alcohol have preservative properties.
Today this style is leading the world’s craft beer revolution. Flavourful hops from the New World are often used to make powerfully bitter beers full of citrus, tropical fruits and resinous aromas. Colour tends to range from pale yellow to deep golden/amber.
Pilsner: Pilsner is exactly what comes to your mind when you think of beer. Golden, pronounced malt aroma, and often a gentle bitterness. Mass-produced stuff is mostly dull and uninteresting, but a properly-made pilsner is actually one of the best things you could ever drink in your life. Lately, small British breweries have been able to master the art of pilsner-making, with very promising results. It needs to be drunk as fresh as possible.
Saison: The 'Saison' ('season' in French) originated in Belgium. It’s not a proper beer style but rather a generically refreshing, golden-coloured ale that used to quench Belgian farmers’ thirst while working all day in the fields.
The story goes that this style used to contain seasonal herbs or other ingredients, hence the name. Today the ‘saison’ style often refers to golden ales brewed with unusual ingredients, which reflects modern brewer’s tendency to experiment.
Fruit Beers: Whether you believe it or not, pretty much any ingredient can be added to beer. Specifically, fruits have been added to beer for centuries - and still are in several places. In Africa for instance, banana is often added to millet beer, while in Belgium sour strawberry and cherry beers are a delicacy. Expect some refreshing tartness.
Porter and Stout: Porters and Stouts are the dark side of beer. They’re brewed using malt dried at high temperatures, which gives these beers their characteristic dark colour, roasted notes of coffee, scents of liquorice and cocoa beans.
‘Dark’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘strong and heavy’, and can be just as refreshing as a zesty golden ale. However, remember that some heavier Stouts might come in handy given the unpredictable British weather...
Enjoy your summery beer explorations! Cheers, Jacopo