All beer styles, be it lager, pilsner, bitter, stout, porter, old ale, mild or barley wine, are made from the same basic ingredients; water, malted grain, hops and yeast. By using different types of these ingredients and varying the quantities, brewers can produce a huge range of beers, diverse in both appearance and taste.
Minerals in the water are crucial to the style of beer produced and regional differences in water mineral content influence the beer style; for example, the hard water in London and Dublin is ideal for producing Porter and Stout, whereas the high levels of gypsum present in the waters of Burton on Trent produce pale, lighter beers. However, nowadays regional differences are less important as modern chemical analysis means brewers can copy 'local’ water precisely.
Keg or Real Ale
It's important to note that keg beers and real ales are not styles. They are brewed in similar ways but at the end of the process keg beers are filtered and sterilised (pasteurised) and packed into metal barrels, bottles or cans; real ales are put into either wooden casks or metal barrels, finings are then added to settle particles, such as yeast, to the bottom of the cask. Although this clears the ale it doesn’t kill off the yeast which continues to ferment gently, feeding on any remaining sugars in the brew. see Beer Story
The use and misuse of the 'A’ word continues to cause confusion. Simply put, Ale is beer made without hops, brewing with hops didn’t become widespread in England until the 15th century. Logically, you’d suppose Real Ale doesn’t have hops? Yes it does, Real Ale refers to the brewing process, or lack of it, rather than the ingredients. Real Ales are not filtered or pasteurised and are 'live’, continuing to mature in the cask.
Ale was a dark, fairly sweet and strong drink, which was often flavoured with herbs or spices, its main flaw, is it sours easily and has a short shelf life. Finding authentic un-hopped Ale is difficult although there are Scottish Ales such as Fraoch
which are brewed using heather and pine.
Of course, you could try brewing your own.
This style of beer is probably the closest to pre-hopped Ale and is more widely available. Although it is brewed using hops, they tend to be varieties low in the resins that give bitterness. Old Ales are often dark, fairly sweet and reasonably strong, although all of these characteristics can vary. The taste is rich and malty, fruity and mellow. Perhaps the best known examples are Theakston’s Old Peculiar, Gales Prize Old Ale and Thomas Hardy’s Ale.
This style of beer was hugely popular until the 1960’s, particularly in industrial areas and is still drunk more widely in the Midlands and the North of England, although even here, consumption has fallen dramatically. Mild is brewed in the same way as regular beers but uses well roasted malts, which produce a rich, dark colour and, as the name implies, it is less bitter in flavour because fewer hops are added. Mild tends to be lower in alcohol too, at around 3%, although stronger versions exist, for example Gales Festival Mild at 4.8%.
Milds generally have a nutty, chocolate, rounded flavour with just a hint of bitterness and slip down easily. Their popularity has been boosted in recent years through CAMRA’s 'Mild Month’ in May, with many regional and some national brewers producing a wide range, including golden variations. Milds are a misunderstood style and are well worth seeking out. Mild in bottles is usually called Brown Ale.
It’s believed that Porter got its name through its popularity with London’s market porters in the 18th century. A concoction, mixed in the glass, of Pale Ale, Brown Ale and Old Ale, became a popular drink known as ‘three threads’. A new brew ‘Entire’ was an attempt to reproduce the taste and body of ‘three threads’, thus creating an out-of–the-barrel entire ale, which then adopted its Porter name.
There is considerable debate about the validity of the Porter story and it may have been a way of describing a loose style of beer. Whatever its origins Porter was hugely successful and was the first mass produced beer, sometimes as much as 20,000 barrels were brewed in one go. It was sold worldwide and made Porter brewers, such as Whitbread and Truman, rich.
Porter is made using dark chocolate malts, and when brewed with high chloride water it produces almost black, full-bodied liquor with a smooth, rounded flavour. Stronger versions were called Stout Porter, eventually becoming known simply as Stout.
Stout is a strong form of Porter. The fact that everyone knows Stout, whilst Porter is virtually unknown, can be explained by the phenomenal success and reach of Guinness during the 20th century and the demise of porter in favour of pale ales in the early 19th century. Originally known as Extra Superior Porter, Guinness’s famous Irish Stout is made by roasting barley, a practise outlawed in Britain during the First World War to save energy, thus giving Guinness a clear advantage.
The roasting process, which uses a rotating drum similar to those used for roasting coffee, produces a bitter, dry taste and a firm head. There are a large number of Stout styles including Dry, Sweet, Milk, Oatmeal and Russian, they can range from black to dark red in appearance.
Dry Stouts, like Guinness, have a burnt, bitter taste, although the bottled versions are slightly sweeter, with the Foreign Extra Stout (7.5% abv) having a thick, treacle bitterness. Russian Imperial Stouts are very strong and rich, they were originally brewed by Thrale’s Anchor Brewery
for the Russian royal court. Catherine the Great was reputed to drink it in large quantities.
After the Second World War, Stout took on an almost medicinal status. Before the days of the Advertising Standards Commission, claims like 'Guinness is good for you’ and Mackeson’s television advertisement 'Looks good, tastes good and by golly it does you good’ were accepted as fact.
Milk Stout was the drink of choice amongst the ladies in Coronation Street’s Rover’s Return. It is brewed with either whey sugars or lactose, whilst Oatmeal Stout, unsurprisingly, has oatmeal added to increase smoothness. What is surprising is the domination of Guinness when there are so many alternatives available.
IPA & Pale Ale
"IPA - strong & hoppy "
In the early 19th century India Pale Ales were first brewed in London, and subsequently in Burton on Trent, for export to the Empire. Their strong alcoholic strength and high hop bitterness acted as preservatives on the long sea voyages. Although the bitterness from the hops subsided with time, they would still seem harsh to our palates.
Lighter, weaker and less bitter versions were developed for the home market and became known as Pale Ales. In the late 19th century Pale Ales replaced Porters as the popular beer. In its advertising Greene King apologises to Indians for the not exporting its IPA to them as it is too popular at home. Many IPA’s on now sale are just pale versions of bitter and not true India Pale Ales which should be at least 5% abv. Perhaps the best modern version is Meantime's IPA which is lip-twistingly hoppy and a heady 7.5%abv. Delicious!
"Patriotic wine substitute"
This beer was brewed as a wine substitute. England was frequently at war with France during the 18th and 19th centuries and barley wine was created as a patriotic substitute for the French grape stuff.
Once brewed, it is stored in casks for up to two years and has a strength similar to wine at around 11% abv. Probably due to their potency they are often sold in 'nip’ (? pint) bottles. Modern Barley Wines are sweet, strong and have a fruity thickness. Despite this style not enjoying popularity, the 2012 Champion Beer of Britain is Coniston no.9 Barley Wine, so perhaps more drinkers will give it a go. But drink with care.
Bitter evolved out of the Pale Ale style and was originally all cask conditioned 'live’ beer. All beer is not Bitter, although Bitter is by far the biggest seller of beers and ales. They are young or fresh beers, served within a week of production. Levels of bitterness are achieved by adding hops at different stages in the boiling process, the later the hops are added the less bitter, more aromatic, the beer. A handful of hops is sometimes added to the finished cask, this is known as 'dry hopping'. All of these techniques have a subtle yet noticeable affect on bitterness and aromas.
Bitters come with names such as Best, Special or Extra Special and they should reflect the increasing alcoholic strength of the beer, although this convention is not always observed. Ordinary Bitter is light, moderately bitter, with an alcohol content of 3.5 - 4%; Best Bitter slightly stronger at 4% plus, with Specials over 5%, varying from moderate to tarte bitterness.
Examples: Adnam’s Bitter, Courage Best, Young’s Best; Gales HSB; Fullers ESB; Young’s Special;
Lager is a brewing method rather than a style. The yeasts work at low temperatures and sink to the bottom of the fermentation vessel, consequently the brewing process is slower and the beer has to be stored for long periods. The German for storage, is 'lagerung'.
What we commonly regard as Lager is the style of Czech Pilsner beer, which is brewed using pale malts and soft water. It produces a clear, clean tasting, golden beer, light in appearance and taste. Lagers can be dark and cloudy, but the vast majority of those on sale in our pubs are Pilsner types.
Continental Lagers, such as Stella Artois, Carlesberg and Heineken, have in many cases replaced UK brewed varieties, although some have been brewed here under license. Lager outsells Beer in the UK by more than 3:1.
The choice of Lagers appearing in our pubs is astonishing, from Amstel to Yuengling, Budwar to Warsteiner. Arguably these 'premium’ imports have a much greater depth of taste than the likes of Fosters and Carling. One new English Lager to try is Cains Finest, which follows traditional brewing methods and is cold matured for three months.
You can trust the Belgians to come up with something quirky when it comes to beer and Lambic beers are about as quirky as they get. They are classified as neither beer or lager because they are brewed with wild yeasts, when the liquor is put into the cooling vessel it is open to the elements and wild yeasts in the air are allowed to 'contaminate' the brew, something other brewers try to avoid because of the high risk of the brew souring. Another break with convention is the hops used, although a lot of hops are added they aged for a few years which results in a lack of bitterness whilst they still retain their preservative qualities, important in a volatile brew like this.
Lambic beers are expensive because of the wastage and long maturation of up to three years. The taste is distinctive, giving a subtle but pleasant sourness. Lambic beers come in a few guises such as 'Gueuze', a blend of aged and young beer. They are sometimes blended with fruits such as raspberries.