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Brewology 101: Beer Style Guide

What the heck are IBUs?

IPA or Wee Heavy? What’s your Style of choice?

Beer can be really awesome. It is fun to brew my own beer. And it is fun to try new beers. Remember though, that alcohol should be enjoyed in moderation, so drink responsibly.

Today I want to give you a course in standard beer styles. This is by no means exhaustive, but is meant to acquaint you with some styles you may not be familiar with.

I struggled with how to sort them. You could sort by color, bitterness, alcohol percent, etc. I’ll just separate ales and lagers and roll with that.

You've gotta see this poster!

You’ve gotta see this poster!

There are a lot of awesome beer style posters out there (like this and this and this and this). For one of the most amazing beer posters you’ll ever see, click this link or the image on the right. You could spend all day looking at that and never have to finish this article. That poster calls out 13 standard types of ales and 5 standard types of lagers. If you need a refresher on the differences between ales and lagers, check out my previous Brewology article.

For a nice listing of the American Homebrewers Association or the Beer Judging Certification Program styles, check out this link. Let’s start with the bottom fermenters! We’ll break it down into main and subcategories based on the listings from BeerAdvocate.com.

Lager Styles

All descriptions are from BeerAdvocate.com. I’m doing my best Labeoufing in plagiarizing compiling all this info for you.

American Lagers: 

  • American Adjunct Lager: Light bodied, pale, fizzy lagers made popular by the large macro-breweries (large breweries) of America after prohibition. Low bitterness, thin malts, and moderate alcohol. Focus is less on flavor and more on mass-production and consumption, cutting flavor and sometimes costs with adjunct cereal grains, like rice and corn. AVOID THESE!
  • California Common / Steam Beer: The California Common, or Steam Beer, is a unique 100% American style lager. It’s usually brewed with a special strain of lager yeast that works better at warmer temperatures. This method dates back to the late 1800’s in California when refrigeration was a great luxury. The brewers back then had to improvise to cool the beer down, so shallow fermenters were used. So in a way the lager yeast was trained to ferment quicker at warmer temperatures. Today’s examples are light amber to tawny in color, medium bodied with a malty character. Mildly fruity with an assertive hop bitterness. Anchor Brewing Co. trademarked the term “Steam Beer” and as such all other beers must be legally referred to as “California Common.”
  • Light Lager: The Light Lager is generally a lighter version of a breweries premium lager, some are lower in alcohol but all are lower in calories and carbohydrates compared to other beers. Typically a high amount of cereal adjuncts like rice or corn are used to help lighten the beer as much as possible. Very low in malt flavor with a light and dry body. The hop character is low and should only balance with no signs of flavor or aroma. European versions are about half the alcohol (2.5-3.5% abv) as their regular beer yet show more flavor (some use 100% malt) then the American counterparts. For the most part this style has the least amount of flavor than any other style of beer. ALSO AVOID THESE!

Czech Lagers:

  • Czech Pilsener: The birth of Pilsner beer can be traced back to its namesake, the ancient city of Plzen (or Pilsen) which is situated in the western half of the Czech Republic in what was once Czechoslovakia and previously part of the of Bohemian Kingdom. Pilsner beer was first brewed back in the 1840’s when the citizens, brewers and maltsters of Plzen formed a brewer’s guild and called it the People’s Brewery of Pilsen.The Czech Pilsner, or sometimes known as the Bohemian Pilsner, is light straw to golden color and crystal clear. Hops are very prevalent usually with a spicy bitterness and or a spicy floral flavor and aroma, notably one of the defining characteristics of the Saaz hop. Smooth and crisp with a clean malty palate, many are grassy. Some of the originals will show some archaic yeast characteristics similar to very mild buttery or fusel (rose like alcohol) flavors and aromas.

European Lagers:

  • Pale Lager: Similar to the Munich Helles story, many European countries reacted to the popularity of early pale lagers by brewing their own. Hop flavor is significant and of noble varieties, bitterness is moderate, and both are backed by a solid malt body and sweetish notes from an all-malt base.
  • Strong Lager: Many breweries around the world brew a stronger version of their regular lager. For the US there is the Ice Beer & Malt Liquor, both have a high amount of rice or corn to lighten the flavor. Many European & Asian breweries have a strong lager similar to the Malt Liquor though there is more malt use or it is all malt. Many breweries rush the fermentation or the brew will be too light and signs of higher alcohols will be noticed in the aroma and flavor.

German Lagers:

  • Bock: The origins of Bock beer are quite uncharted. Back in medieval days German monasteries would brew a strong beer for sustenance during their Lenten fasts. Some believe the name Bock came from the shortening of Einbeck thus “beck” to “bock.” Others believe it is more of a pagan or old world influence that the beer was only to be brewed during the sign of the Capricorn goat, hence the goat being associated with Bock beers. Basically, this beer was a symbol of better times to come and moving away from winter. As for the beer itself in modern day, it is a bottom fermenting lager that generally takes extra months of lagering (cold storage) to smooth out such a strong brew. Bock beer in general is stronger than your typical lager, more of a robust malt character with a dark amber to brown hue. Hop bitterness can be assertive enough to balance though must not get in the way of the malt flavor, most are only lightly hopped.
  • Doppelbock: Bocks–you know, those beers with goats on the label–are relatively strong German lagers. Doppelbocks–as the name might suggest–are typically even stronger and contain enough malty goodness that they’ve been considered a meal in a glass for centuries. Generally they have a very full-bodied flavor and are darker than their little Bock brothers and sisters and a higher level of alcohol too. They range in color from dark amber to nearly black, and dark versions often have slight chocolate or roasted characters.
  • Eisbock: Eisbocks are created by freezing off a portion of the water, and removing it from the beer. This form of concentration, of sorts, increases the beer’s body, flavor, and alcohol content. They can range from near black to as light as tawny red. Hop bitterness and flavor are mostly cast aside with a big alcohol presence replacing it, which can range from sweet to spicy, and fruity to often times fusel. Look for a heavy or almost syrupy body with tons of malty flavor.
  • Maibock / Helles Bock: The Maibock style of beer tends to be lighter in color than other Bock beers and often has a significant hop character with a noticeable alcohol around the same as a traditional Bock. Maibocks are customarily served in the spring and are oftentimes interrelated with spring festivals and celebrations more often in the month of May.
  • Märzen / Oktoberfest: Before refrigeration, it was nearly impossible to brew beer in the summer due to the hot weather and bacterial infections. Brewing ended with the coming of spring, and began again in the fall. Most were brewed in March (Märzen). These brews were kept in cold storage over the spring and summer months, or brewed at a higher gravity, so they’d keep. Märzenbier is full-bodied, rich, toasty, typically dark copper in color with a medium to high alcohol content. The common Munich Oktoberfest beer served at Wies’n (the location at which Munich celebrates its Oktoberfest) contains roughly 5.0-6.0% alcohol by volume, is dark/copper in color, has a mild hop profile and is typically labeled as a Bavarian Märzenbier in style.
  • Rauchbier: The Rauchbier style is an old German beer style, its origins go back to the 1500’s and to the district of Franconia and the town of Bamberg. It’s typically of dark colour and has similarities of the Oktoberfestbier. Green malts are literally dried over an open fire of beech wood, imparting a unique smokiness (“rauch” is German for smoke), the usage of which produces beers of an acquired taste. Imagine a smokiness so robust, so assertive, that it tastes of spiced, smoked meat.
  • Schwarzbier: Schwarzbier (“shvahrts-beer”), is simply German for black beer. It doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily heavy or light in body, although they tend to lean towards light. Unlike other dark beers, like porters or stouts, they are not overly bitter with burnt and roasted malt characteristics that the others tend to depend on. Instead, hops are used for a good portion of the bitterness. Very refreshing and soul lifting beers, they also make a great alternative for the Winter. Especially when you are looking for a lighter beer, but one with depth of colour and taste.
  • Vienna Lager: Named after the city in which it orginated, a traditional Vienna lager is brewed using a three step decoction boiling process. Munich, Pilsner, Vienna toasted and dextrin malts are used, as well wheat in some cases. Subtle hops, crisp, with residual sweetness. Although German in origin and rare these days, some classic examples come from Mexico, such as: Dos Equis and Negra Modelo. A result of late 19th century immigrant brewers from Austria.

Japanese Lagers:

  • Happoshu: Japanese beer companies produce what’s called “Happoshu,” which is sparkling low malt beverage. Since the tax for Happoshu is much less than the tax for beer, happoshu is cheaper than beer. For that reason, Happoshu has become very popular in Japan. Happoshu classification occurs when an ingredient other than malt, hops, rice, corn, kaoliang, potato, starch, or sugar is used, or if the malt ratio is less than 67%.
  • Rice Lager: Similar to Macro / Adjunct Lagers, wherein the beer’s grist bill is cut by using large portions of rice, but not enough to be classified as Happoshu. Pale yellow in color, soft hop nose, and expect a rounded, firm malty character, moderate bitterness, and a trademark dry finish.

And now let’s cover the top fermenters!

Ale Styles

All descriptions are from BeerAdvocate.com. More Labeoufing!

American Ales:

  • Amber Ale / Red Ale: Primarily a catch all for any beer less than a Dark Ale in color, ranging from amber (duh) to deep red hues. This style of beer tends to focus on the malts, but hop character can range from low to high. Expect a balanced beer, with toasted malt characters and a light fruitiness in most examples. The range can run from a basic ale, to American brewers who brew faux-Oktoberfest style beers that are actually ales instead of lagers.
  • Blonde Ale: More or less a creation from the craft-brewery movement, and also reminiscent of the German style Kölsch. Pale straw to deep gold for color. Usually an all malt brew, well attenuated with a lightly malty palate. Most have a subdued fruitiness. Hop character is of the noble variety, or similar, leaving a light to medium bitterness. A balanced beer, light bodied and sometimes lager like.
  • Brown Ale: Spawned from the English Brown Ale, the American version can simply use American ingredients. Many other versions may have additions of coffee or nuts. This style also encompasses “Dark Ales”. The bitterness and hop flavor has a wide range and the alcohol is not limited to the average either.
  • India Pale Ale (American Version): The American IPA is a different soul from the reincarnated IPA style. More flavorful than the withering English IPA, color can range from very pale golden to reddish amber. Hops are typically American with a big herbal and / or citric character, bitterness is high as well. Moderate to medium bodied with a balancing malt backbone.
  • Porter: Inspired from the now wavering English Porter, the American Porter is the ingenuous creation from that. Thankfully with lots of innovation and originality American brewers have taken this style to a new level. Whether it is highly hopping the brew, using smoked malts, or adding coffee or chocolate to complement the burnt flavor associated with this style. Some are even barrel aged in Bourbon or whiskey barrels. The hop bitterness range is quite wide but most are balanced. Many are just easy drinking session porters as well.
  • Stout: Inspired from English & Irish Stouts, the American Stout is the ingenuous creation from that. Thankfully with lots of innovation and originality American brewers have taken this style to a new level. Whether it is highly hopping the brew or adding coffee or chocolate to complement the roasted flavors associated with this style. Some are even barrel aged in Bourbon or whiskey barrels. The hop bitterness range is quite wide but most are balanced. Many are just easy drinking session stouts as well.
  • Cream Ale: Cream Ales, spawned from the American light lager style, are brewed as an ale though are sometimes finished with a lager yeast or lager beer mixed in. Adjuncts such as corn or rice are used to lighten the body. It is no uncommon for smaller craft brewers to brew all malt Cream Ales. Pale straw to pale gold color. Low hop bittering and some hop aroma though some micros have given the style more of a hop character. Well carbonated and well attenuated.

Belgian / French Ales:

  • Bière de Garde: The Biere de Garde is golden to deep copper or light brown in color. They are moderate to medium in body. This style of beer is characterized by a toasted malt aroma, slight malt sweetness in flavor, and medium hop bitterness. Noble-type hop aromas and flavors should be low to medium. Fruity esters can be light to medium in intensity. Flavor of alcohol is evident. Earthy, cellar-like, musty aromas and flavors are okay. Diacetyl should not be perceived but chill haze is okay. Often bottle conditioned with some yeast character.
  • Dubbel: The Belgian Dubbel is a rich malty beer with some spicy / phenolic and mild alcoholic characteristics. Not as much fruitiness as the Belgian Strong Dark Ale but some dark fruit aromas and flavors may be present. Mild hop bitterness with no lingering hop flavors. It may show traits of a steely caramel flavor from the use of crystal malt or dark candy sugar. Look for a medium to full body with an expressive carbonation. Traditionally a Trappist Ale, many brew similar “Abbey Dubbels” to try and emulate the originals (Trappist Westvleteren 8, Westmalle Trappist Dubbel & Chimay Première).
  • Tripel: The name “Tripel” actually stems from part of the brewing process, in which brewers use up to three times the amount of malt than a standard Trappist “Simple.” Traditionally, Tripels are bright yellow to gold in color, which is a shade or two darker than the average Pilsener. Head should be big, dense and creamy. Aroma and flavor runs along complex, spicy phenolic, powdery yeast, fruity/estery with a sweet finish. Sweetness comes from both the pale malts and the higher alcohol. Bitterness is up there for a beer with such a light body for its strength, but at times is barely perceived amongst the even balance of malts and hops. The lighter body comes from the use of Belgian candy sugar (up to 25% sucrose), which not only lightens the body, but also adds complex alcoholic aromas and flavors. Small amounts of spices are sometimes added as well. Tripels are actually notoriously alcoholic, yet the best crafted ones hide this character quite evil-like and deceivingly, making them sipping beers.
  • Quadrupel: Inspired by the Trappist brewers of Belgium, a Quadrupel is a Belgian style ale of great strength with bolder flavor compared to its Dubbel and Tripel sister styles. Typically a dark creation that ranges within the deep red, brown and garnet hues. Full bodied with a rich malty palate. Phenols are usually at a moderate level. Sweet with a low bitterness yet a well perceived alcohol.
  • Saison / Farmhouse: Saisons are sturdy farmhouse ale that was traditionally brewed in the winter, to be consumed throughout the summer months. Not so long ago it was close to being an endangered style, but over recent years there’s been a massive revival; especially in the US. This is a very complex style; many are very fruity in the aroma and flavor. Look for earthy yeast tones, mild to moderate tartness. Lots of spice and with a medium bitterness. They tend to be semi-dry with many only having touch of sweetness.
  • Witbier: A Belgian Style ale that’s very pale and cloudy in appearance due to it being unfiltered and the high level of wheat, and sometimes oats, that’s used in the mash. Always spiced, generally with coriander, orange peel and other oddball spices or herbs in the back ground. The crispness and slight twang comes from the wheat and the lively level of carbonation. This is one style that many brewers in the US have taken a liking to and have done a very good job of staying to style. Sometimes served with a lemon, but if you truly want to enjoy the untainted subtleties of this style you’ll ask for yours without one. Often referred to as “white beers” (witbieren) due to the cloudiness / yeast in suspension.
  • Lambic: In the case of Fruit Lambics, whole fruits are traditionally added after spontaneous fermentation has started. Kriek (cherries), Frambroise (raspberries), Pêche (peach) and Cassis (black currant) are common fruits, all producing subtle to intense fruit characters respectively. Once the fruit is added, the beer is subjected to additional maturation before bottling. Malt and hop characters are generally low to allow the fruit to consume the palate. Alcohol content tends to be low.

English Ales:

  • Baltic Porter: Porters of the late 1700’s were quite strong compared to today’s standards, easily surpassing 7% alcohol by volume. Some brewers made a stronger, more robust version, to be shipped across the North Sea, dubbed a Baltic Porter. In general, the style’s dark brown color covered up cloudiness and the smoky/roasted brown malts and bitter tastes masked brewing imperfections. The addition of stale ale also lent a pleasant acidic flavor to the style, which made it quite popular. These issues were quite important given that most breweries were getting away from pub brewing and opening up breweries that could ship beer across the world.
  • English Bitter: The Bitter style came from brewers who wanted to differentiate these ales from other mild brews, enter pale malts and more hops. Most are gold to copper in colour and are light bodied. Low carbonation. Alcohol should be low and not perceived. Hop bitterness is moderate to assertive. Most have a fruitiness in the aroma and flavor, diacetyl can also be present. These are traditionally served cask conditioned, but many breweries have bottled versions
  • India Pale Ale (English Version): First brewed in England and exported for the British troops in India during the late 1700s. To withstand the voyage, IPA’s were basically tweaked Pale Ales that were, in comparison, much more malty, boasted a higher alcohol content and were well-hopped, as hops are a natural preservative. Historians believe that an IPA was then watered down for the troops, while officers and the elite would savor the beer at full strength. The English IPA has a lower alcohol due to taxation over the decades. The leaner the brew the less amount of malt there is and less need for a strong hop presence which would easily put the brew out of balance. Some brewers have tried to recreate the original IPA with strengths close to 8-9% abv.
  • Pale Ale: The English Pale Ale can be traced back to the city of Burton-upon-Trent, a city with an abundance of rich hard water. This hard water helps with the clarity as well as enhancing the hop bitterness. This ale can be from golden to reddish amber in color with generally a good head retention. A mix of fruity, hoppy, earthy, buttery and malty aromas and flavors can be found. Typically all ingredients are English.
  • Porter: Porter is said to have been popular with transportation workers of Central London, hence the name. Most traditional British brewing documentation from the 1700’s state that Porter was a blend of three different styles: an old ale (stale or soured), a new ale (brown or pale ale) and a weak one (mild ale), with various combinations of blending and staleness. The end result was also commonly known as “Entire Butt” or “Three Threads” and had a pleasing taste of neither new nor old. It was the first truly engineered beer, catering to the public’s taste, playing a critical role in quenching the thirst of the UK’s Industrial Revolution and lending an arm in building the mega-breweries of today. Porter saw a comeback during the homebrewing and micro-brewery revolution of the late 1970’s and early 80’s, in the US. Modern-day Porters are typically brewed using a pale malt base with the addition of black malt, crystal, chocolate or smoked brown malt. The addition of roasted malt is uncommon, but used occasionally. Some brewers will also age their beers after inoculation with live bacteria to create an authentic taste. Hop bitterness is moderate on the whole and color ranges from brown to black. Overall they remain very complex and interesting beers.
  • Stout: As mysterious as they look, stouts are typically dark brown to pitch black in color. A common profile amongst Stouts, but not in all cases, is the use of roasted barley (unmalted barley that is kilned to the point of being charred) which lends a dry character to the beer as well as a huge roasted flavor that can range from burnt to coffee to chocolate. A different balance of hops is up to the brewers preference, but the roasted character must be there.
  • Milk / Sweet Stout: Milk / Sweet Stouts are basically stouts that have a larger amount of residual dextrins and unfermented sugars that give the brew more body and a sweetness that counters the roasted character. Milk Stouts are very similar to Sweet Stouts, but brewers add unfermentable sugars, usually lactose, to the brew kettle to add body and some sweetness.
  • Oatmeal Stout: These are generally medium to full bodied stouts that have an unreal smoothness to them from the addition of oats to the mash. The oats not only add a lot of smoothness to the mouth feel but give a touch of sweetness that is unlike any other type of stout. Both levels of roasted flavor and hop character will vary.
  • Old Ale: Old Ales, also referred to in the past as “Stock” Ales, are low attenuated beers with high levels of dextrins, creating a full malt body with plenty of character. Old Ales of a hundred plus years ago were often transfered into vats to mature, hence the name. Rich dark amber in color to a very dark brown; near black. Tamed aromatics. Although bittering levels can greatly vary, expect common fruity, vinous, intense malts and sharp alcohol characteristics. The often racy but mellow attitude of the beer may also include acidic notes, raisins and black currants. Vintage varieties may have a low level of oxidation. Stronger versions may have similarities to a port wine. Brewers may also inoculate a portion of the batch with Brettanomyces lambicus and age for an extended period of time to achieve an old-school acidic character.
  • Russian Imperial Stout: Inspired by brewers back in the 1800’s to win over the Russian Czar, this is the king of stouts, boasting high alcohol by volumes and plenty of malt character. Low to moderate levels of carbonation with huge roasted, chocolate and burnt malt flavours. Often dry. Suggestions of dark fruit and flavors of higher alcohols are quite evident. Hop character can vary from none, to balanced to aggressive.
  • Winter Warmer: These malty sweet offerings tend to be a favorite winter seasonal. Big malt presence, both in flavor and body. The color ranges from brownish reds to nearly pitch black. Hop bitterness is generally low, leveled and balanced, but hop character can be pronounced. Alcohol warmth is not uncommon. Many English versions contain no spices, though some brewers of spiced winter seasonal ales will slap “Winter Warmer” on the label. Those that are spiced, tend to follow the “wassail” tradition of blending robust ales with mixed spices, before hops became the chief “spice” in beer. American varieties many have a larger presences of hops both in bitterness and flavor.

Finnish Ales:

  • Sahti: Said to be one of the only primitive beers to survive in Western Europe, Sahti is a farmhouse ale with roots in Finland. First brewed by peasants in the 1500s, mashing (steeping of grains) went down in wooden barrels, and then that mash would be scooped into a hand-carved wooden trough (a kuurna) with a bed of juniper twigs that acted as a filter. The bung at the bottom of the kuurna would be pulled to allow the sweet wort (liquid infusion from the mash) to pass through the twig filter, followed by wort recirculation and a hot water sparge (rinsing of the grains), all of which created a juniper infusion of sorts.Sahti is also referred to as being turbid, because the wort isn’’t boiled after lautering (separation of spent grain and liquid), leaving loads of proteins behind, thus providing tremendous body. A low-flocculating Finnish baker’s yeast creates a cloudy unfiltered beer, with an abundance of sediment. Traditional Sahti is not typically hopped, so the task of balancing is left up to the juniper twigs, which impart an unusual resiny character and also act as a preservative. Some have compared Sahtis to German Hefeweizens, though we find them to be more akin to the Lambics of Belgium due to the exposure to wild yeast and bacteria, and its signature tartness.

German Ales:

  • Berliner Weissbier: Berliner Weisse is a top-fermented, bottle conditioned wheat beer made with both traditional warm-fermenting yeasts and lactobacillus culture. They have a rapidly vanishing head and a clear, pale golden straw-coloured appearance. The taste is refreshing, tart, sour and acidic, with a lemony-citric fruit sharpness and almost no hop bitterness. Served in wide bulbous stemmed glasses, tourists in Berlin will often order on as a “Berliner Weisse mit Schuss: Himbeere” or “Berliner Weisse mit Schuss: Waldmeister”. These are syrups that are added to make the sourness more palatable. Himbeere is raspberry (red) and Waldmeister is woodruff (green).
  • Hefeweizen: A south German style of wheat beer (weissbier) made with a typical ratio of 50:50, or even higher, wheat. A yeast that produces a unique phenolic flavors of banana and cloves with an often dry and tart edge, some spiciness, bubblegum or notes of apples. Little hop bitterness, and a moderate level of alcohol. The “Hefe” prefix means “with yeast”, hence the beers unfiltered and cloudy appearance. Poured into a traditional Weizen glass, the Hefeweizen can be one sexy looking beer. Often served with a lemon wedge (popularized by Americans), to either cut the wheat or yeast edge, which many either find to be a flavorful snap … or an insult and something that damages the beer’s taste and head retention.
  • Dunkelweizen: Similar to a Hefeweizen, these southern Germany wheat beers are brewed as darker versions (Dunkel means “dark”) with deliciously complex malts and a low balancing bitterness. Most are brown and murky (from the yeast). The usual clove and fruity (banana) characters will be present, some may even taste like banana bread.
  • Kölsch: First only brewed in Köln, Germany, now many American brewpubs and a hand full of breweries have created their own version of this obscure style. Light to medium in body with a very pale color, hop bitterness is medium to slightly assertive. A somewhat vinous (grape-y from malts) and dry flavor make up the rest.
  • Weizenbock: A more powerful Dunkel Weizen (of “bock strength”), with a pronounced estery alcohol character, perhaps some spiciness from this, and bolder and more complex malt characters of dark fruits.

Russian Ales:

  • Kvass: Kvass is Russian for “leaven” and is a 16th century beer-like beverage made with grains – wheat, rye, barley, etc – or dark rye bread, and often has additions of sugars, birch sap, berries, fruits; the process is akin to ancient beer brewing. It’s basically a fermentation of what’s around with a simple bakers yeast. It’s low in alcohol and often flavored with herbs or fruits to knock the bitter edge out.

Irish Ales:

  • Irish Dry Stout: One of the most common stouts, Dry Irish Stout tend to have light-ish bodies to keep them on the highly drinkable side. They’re usually a lower carbonation brew and served on a nitro system for that creamy, masking effect. Bitterness comes from both roasted barley and a generous dose of hops, though the roasted character will be more noticeable. Examples of the style are, of course, the big three, Murphy’s, Beamish, and Guinness, however there are many American brewed Dry Stouts that are comparable, if not better.
  • Irish Red Ale: A bit sweet, with a lightly hopped tea-like flavor, and an even dextrinous body, Irish Red Ales are easy to please. Look for well-rounded and balanced flavors, and a pleasant toasted malt character in many examples. A drying finish is common.

Scottish Ales:

  • Scotch Ale / Wee Heavy: Scotch Ales are strong ales, also known as “Wee Heavy.” In the 19th century Scotland, they’d also be known as 160/-, a nomenclature based on the now obsolete shilling currency. Scotch Ales traditionally go through a long boil in the kettle for a caramelization of the wort. This produces a deep copper to brown in colored brew. Compared to Scottish Ales, they’ll be sweeter and fuller-bodied, and of course higher in alcohol, with a much more pronounced malty caramel and roasted malt flavor. A low tea-like bitterness can be found in many examples. Best served in a “thistle” glass.
  • Scottish Ale: The Scottish style of ales break down into Light, Heavy and Export. In the 19th century Scotland, a nomenclature, based on the now obsolete shilling currency, was devised in order to distinguish each. 60/- (light), 70/- (heavy), 80/- (export), 90/- to 160/- for Scotch Ales. Scottish Ales traditionally go through a long boil in the kettle for a caramelization of the wort. This produces a deep copper to brown in colored brew and a higher level of unfermentable sugars which create a rich mouthfeel and malty flavors and aromas. Overall hop character is low, light floral or herbal, allowing its signature malt profile to be the highlight. Smoky characters are also common.

***

There you go. Hopefully this page will serve as a reference for your beer drinking enjoyment. What’s your favorite style?

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Goals for 2014

2013 Was a great year for me. So I’ve decided to have some big goals for 2014. Normally on a Friday I review a game or post a Design Me challenge. But since it is still the first week of the year I’m taking this opportunity to share my goals for the rest of 2014. Let’s start with the Barley goals…

The Barley Goals:

In 2013 I brewed my first four batches of beer. They were an Amber Ale, Honey Ale, Oatmeal Stout, and Scotch Ale. I can do better than that, so my first Barley goal of 2014 is:

#1: Brew 6 Batches of Beer

I received the Northern Brewer Caribou Slobber kit as a Christmas present, so that will be the first brew of 2014. I will plan to brew it on the first day when the temperature is over 35 degrees since I brew outside with a turkey fryer.

Other styles of beer that I’d like to brew are:

  • Hefeweizen
  • Oktoberfest
  • Pumpkin Ale
  • India Pale Ale (for my hop-forward friends)
  • Winter Warmer

In 2013 I named by beers after renaissance men. In 2014 I will be naming them (and hopefully labeling them) with board game related things. I am going to work on a Boards & Barley label that I can put onto the bottles and make them look more official. I’ll likely have way too much fun with that.

#2: Get away from brewing with kits

Beautiful raw ingredients!

I have an awesome beer brewing store close to where I work. They have buckets of different types of barley and malt. I wish I had asked for a beer recipe book for Christmas. So my goal is to tailor at least three of the beers listed above to my own particular recipes. For example, I would likely soften the hoppiness of whichever IPA I want to brew so that it is more drinkable by people like myself who don’t care for overly hopped beers. So by getting away from using beer kits I can free myself to make the beer however I want it to be.

#3: Branch Out

This refers to my beer consumption. It’s easy to drink only the few styles or brands that I know I enjoy. So in 2014 I want to branch out and be willing to try many different styles of beer. I’ll be keeping a list of the beer styles that I enjoy throughout the year and hopefully have a sweet beer report at the end of 2014.

The Board Goals:

While the Barley goals are all something that I know I can accomplish on my own, board game goals are more dependent on other people. You need playtesters, publishers, artists, etc. With that in mind I am setting board game design goals that I believe I can accomplish without those other people. For example, I could set a goal of getting a game signed, but that would require a publisher to help me accomplish the goal. However, if the goal was to design a “signable” game, then that is something that I can accomplish on my own. Rule for life: set yourself up to succeed. So these are goals that I can accomplish without requiring publishers or artists.

#1: Print on Demand – The Game Crafter

POD FTW!

One big goal of mine is to put two games up for sale on The Game Crafter. Why would I want to do this instead of approaching a publisher? Because game design is all about fun. I think it would be a lot of fun to create a couple of games that people could buy directly without having to wait for a kickstarter campaign or for distribution or whatever.

So I want to take two designs, create my own original artwork, and post them to TGC. The first one I post will likely be Quantum Orcas. With the recent improvements to the design I believe the game is getting close.

To make the goal “achieveable” I plan to post one game to TGC in the first six months of 2014 and the other game in the later half of 2014. This is something I’m pretty excited about. I’ve used TGC to make prototype stuff, but never to sell my own games. It should be fun!

#2: A Heavy Game

While Scoville will be a “big box” game, the design of the game is quite simple in nature. In 2014 I want to design a really heavy game in the realm of the Uwe Rosenberg games. I want there to be a high level of player interaction and an intense decision space. I want each decision to feel uber important. And I want to spend a long time balancing cards/events/scoring options. Seth Jaffee recently posted an article about balance that will help me approach a heavy game like the one I want to design.

This is a tough goal since so much goes into big game designs. Fortunately I have two friends on board to co-design with me and I have a theme in place already. I’m excited to see how things develop throughout the year.

#3: Pitch a Game

I’ve never really pitched a game. Scoville sort of pitched itself thanks to the kind words of the awesome people at Protospiel-Milwaukee last March. My third boards goal for 2014 is to have a game that is pitchable, and to actually schedule a meeting with a publisher and sit down to pitch the game. This is one of the most interesting parts of being a game designer. Can you also be a salesperson? I hope to find out in 2014.

#4: “Finish” Some Lingering Game Designs

You're going down, Trading Post!

You’re going down, Trading Post!

Coming up with a game idea and making a prototype are the easy part of game design. It’s the playtesting, modifying, balancing, and other stuff that make game design challenging. I have numerous game design concepts that I would like to “finish” in 2014.

“Finish” is an interesting word since, like most art, how do you ever know if you are actually finished with something. I like the rule of thumb where you could consider a game design “finished” if someone says they would buy it. So that will be my measuring stick for 2014.

I particularly want to finish three designs: Trading Post, Brooklyn Bridge, and Conclave. I think all three are unique enough to warrant my time and effort to “finish” them. We shall see!

***

So to recap, I want to brew 6 beers and design (or finish) 6 games. That works out to 1 brew and 1 board game every two months. I think I can do that, but I’d better get to work!

Did I leave anything off the list? Are there things you would like me to do in 2014?

Also, what types of articles would you like to see on this blog? I didn’t set any specific blog goals, but I plan to continue providing mediocre content on a regular basis. If there are topics you would like to see, please let me know!

Newton’s Oatmeal Stout

NewtonOn Boards & Barley I tend to focus on the Boards side of things. But today is a Barley day! Why? Because I just bottled my oatmeal stout and I feel like writing about it.

Most of you probably don’t know this, but there are many scientific discoveries that were made by brewers. In fact, it was a brewery in London during the sewage problems of the 1800s that provided insight into the bacteria problems in the water. The people at the brewery were not getting sick because they only drank beer, which had undergone a boiling process. Those around the brewery were getting sick from the unsanitary water that was plagued by rotten sewage. But enough about that.

Oatmeal Stout

What is a stout beer? Stouts are dark, sometimes bitter beers that are brewed with roasted barley and malt. The barley is often roasted to the point of charring. This provides a “burnt” type of flavor that can often taste like coffee or chocolate. These beers can be all over the map in terms of hoppy-ness. But the main character of a stout beer in the roasted flavor.

An oatmeal stout is a variant of a stout beer that is brewed with steeped oatmeal added to the steeping grains. The addition of the oatmeal gives this variant a sweeter, smoother finish. Also, these have a more mellow character than a standard stout. The roasted character, however, remains in the beer. Some popular oatmeal stouts include Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout and Young’s Oatmeal Stout.

My Beer: Newton’s Oatmeal Stout

Way back on September 11th, in honor of our awesome country, I brewed beer. It was my first time brewing a beer while using the steeping grains. Basically the steeping grains add about 30 minutes to the brewing process. You put a bunch of crushed grains like barley and malt into a sack and soak it in hot water for about 20-30 minutes. Then this becomes the base liquid for the boiling wort.

The sack of steeping grains sits nicely while providing beautiful character to my beer!

The sack of steeping grains sits nicely while providing beautiful character to my beer!

After you’ve steeped the grains, which is rather like steeping a tea pack in hot water, though on a much grander scale, then you can begin to brew the beer. The kits I have used have said to bring a gallon of water up to 170 degrees and use it to rinse the grains. So I simply pour the gallon over the grain sack and catch the water in the boiling kettle.

The wort boils for about 45 minutes, during which time the hops are added. After 45 minutes you’re basically done. You bring the beer down to about 115 degrees and add in enough water to bring it to about 5 gallons. Next you pitch the yeast, which is a fancy way to say you add yeast to the liquid. Then seal it up with an airlock and you’re good to go!

The original or starting gravity of my stout was 1.047. This isn’t a very high gravity, but stout beers aren’t known for being high gravity beers.

After a week in the fermenter I transferred the beer to a glass carboy. I let it ferment and age in the carboy for about three weeks and this past Sunday I bottled it.

Bottling is the worst part of the process. I don’t buy bottles, so I have to de-label them, which is a big pain. Then you’ve got to make sure your 45-50 bottles are clean, so I run them through the dishwasher without detergent. After that I sanitize them using One-Step. In the meantime I transfer the beer back to the plastic fermenter, dissolve bottling sugar, add the dissolved mixture to the beer, and then I proceed to bottle 10 at a time and cap them.

For this batch I ended up with 46 bottles, one of which will remain on my shelf for all time. Doing a little math, if an average 6-pack costs $8.50, which seems on par with my FLBS (Favorite Local Beer Store), then 45 bottles (7.5 6-packs) would cost about $64. The beer brewing kit itself cost about $42. So I am saving $22! That’s a considerable amount. The downside is that I have 7.5 6-packs of the same beer. Is that $22 worth having so much of the same beer? (It is worth it if you can bring it to game nights and drink other people’s beer!)

My Newton’s Oatmeal Stout had a final gravity of 1.015. This means that the beer has an ABV (Alcohol by volume) of 4.2%. Therefore I should be able to slam a bunch of these bad boys and feel little effect.

Why Newton?

I like to name all of my beers after Renaissance men. In my opinion Renaissance men are not necessarily from the Renaissance. Rather, these are people who happen to be experts or masters in many trades. Sir Isaac Newton was definitely a Renaissance man.

I could have chosen a pudgy character who more closely fit the bill of being “stout.” However, Newton seemed to fit the bill of being “stout” due to his contributions to science and his place in history. I suppose I could have saved Newton in case I ever brewed an apple ale, but I don’t think I’ll ever brew an apple ale. So Newton joins my Renaissance fleet that already includes Leon Battista Alberti (Amber Ale) and Benjamin Franklin (Honey Ale).

In a couple of weeks a new Renaissance man will join the team behind the guise of a Scotch Ale. Unfortunately William Wallace is not technically a Renaissance man, so I’ll have to choose a different Scot as the namesake for the beer.

***

If anyone has questions about brewing or beer styles or anything having to do with zymurgy, please let me know!

Design Me: Worker Placement

I’m starting a new feature on Boards & Barley called “Design Me.” These features will allow me to let my brain spew words onto this site in an effort to come up with a random game design. The idea here is to “exercise” my game design brain and “flex” my game design muscles. Consider it like practice. Athletes go and work out, lift weights, and other things like that. So as a game designer I think we should do the same thing. Bear in mind that this is an exercise and exercises are not nearly as elegant as actually seeing an athlete perform.

Normally Friday’s are review days here on Boards & Barley, but reviews aren’t very fun to write. So I’m switching to this design feature. Now there will be two review Fridays per month and two Design Me Fridays per month. I tweeted a request for a unique theme on which to apply a worker placement theme. The first person to reply wittingly mentioned castles, farming or railroads. Then they mentioned Smurfs. Then someone else mentioned smurfs. Who knew there was so much love out there for the little blue guys. However, the idea I found most interesting came from Tasty Minstrel and I’ll be going with this:

The Rolling Wort Boil

Not a very rolling boil. Hopefully the design rolls better!

Not a very rolling boil. Hopefully the design rolls better!

First of all, I really enjoy the idea of dice drafting and using dice as workers. It works really well in both Alien Frontiers and The Castles of Burgundy, the latter being one of my favorite games. Granted, they don’t necessarily use dice drafting, but the general concept is there.

So let’s start designing this game…

Brewing beer involves a few different things. You need to gather the right ingredients, gather the right equipment, have a facility, and possess skill in brewing. So let’s break each of those down into different parts of the game.

Here’s the grand concept, a thesis statement of sorts, for the game:

In The Rolling Wort Boil players must utilize the best dice for gathering ingredients and equipment, upgrading your facility, and perfecting the art of craft brewing.

Dice will be used for each of those things. There will be two types of dice. One type will be used to gather the right stuff. The other type will represent people and their skills. Let’s explore the former type first.

The Gathering Dice

Trying to exercise my art skills as well. The top is supposed to be yeast.

Trying to exercise my art skills as well. The top is supposed to be yeast.

I would design the game to be played where each round had a gathering phase and a brewing phase. In the gathering phase each player would roll a number of gathering dice. These dice would have different symbols on them. Those symbols could be grain, water, hops, or yeast.

Each player would roll their gathering dice. Then they would choose one die and pass the rest. They would then choose from the dice that were passed to them. This drafting would continue until all dice were chosen.

These gathering dice then form your team that you can use to go claim ingredients and equipment. What you’re trying to do while drafting is create combinations of dice that you can use. Players could, for example, collect three hops, which would allow them to harvest hops. If someone only gathered two hops, they’d still be allowed to place those on the worker placement spots on the board, but they would go second and get worse hops.

So the way it would work is similar to Alien Frontiers. You need certain combinations of dice to be able to harvest certain things. For hops it could be that you need at least three hops. For Yeast you might need three different symbols, one of which is yeast. Once everyone has drafted, then people could start claiming the worker placement spots with their combinations of dice. As dice are allocated to the board, the players would immediately harvest whatever their dice allow.

So through the dice drafting you are trying to create the best set of dice that will allow you to maximize your combinations, and thus harvest the best/most ingredients. I imagine the gathering of equipment would work the same way.

The Employee Dice

Here’s where things can get a little more interesting. Now we’ve got resources and equipment. We’re homebrewing in our garage. But we have a basic homebrewer with little skill. The employee dice will serve a few different functions. These include increasing skill, increasing quanity, and increasing efficiency. The trick here is that a pool of employee dice are provided by the game based on the locations where people placed their gathering dice.

So the depth of the strategy is not simply in gathering and using resources, but gathering resources so that you can get the employee die into the game that you strongly desire. Turn order would also matter in this case.

Let’s imagine you used three hops dice in the field that provided a “skill” employee die face. If that’s what you really wanted you would have to make sure you go first during the brewing portion of the game so that you can choose the skill die. Perhaps you knew you would not go first when choosing the employee dice. Then maybe you would have put your three hops dice into the fields on the spot that provided a “quantity” employee die. So there’s control over what your gathering, and the resulting employees.

These dice would then be drafted and utilized after the harvest.

How to Play

Each round of The Rolling Wort Boil (tentative name), would include the following phases:

  1. Dice drafting of gathering dice.
  2. Placement of gathering dice combos onto the board.
  3. Harvesting/gathering of ingredients/equipment based on placement.
  4. Pooling of employee dice from those placements.
  5. Drafting of employee dice in turn order.
  6. Usage of employee dice to brew and upgrade your facility.

How to Win

To win The Rolling Wort Boil, players must brew high quality or high quantities of beer. This requires them to maximize their ability to gather as many ingredients as possible, while also increasing their employee’s skills and upgrading their equipment. Each batch of beer they produce would be worth points based on the ingredients used, the skill of the brewer, and the level of the facility. I imagine the game would take 30-45 minutes, have a light-ish feel, and be best played with a Hefeweizen of IPA.

So there’s our first “Design Me” Friday. Any thoughts about the game design? What would you do differently? And most importantly, does the game sound like it’s any fun. Thanks again to Tasty Minstrel for the idea. I’m looking forward to the next Design Me in two weeks.

Brewing Process: Bottle Prep

When it comes to home brewing there are two approaches to the bottling stage. The first is kegging, which is awesome, but very expensive. The second is bottling. Bottling can be nearly free and today I’m discussing my three step process to prepare bottles for holding your precious creation.

Step 1: Bottle Procurement

Everyone has friends. And if you share the other hobby that this blog covers (board games) then you likely get together and hang out quite often. Well, if you’re a home brewer this is a great opportunity for you. During our board game nights my friends typically each bring a 6-pack of beer.

Is it weird when at the end of the night I ask to keep their empty bottles? Not at all. One friend thanked me for taking his trash. But beware… here are some tips for successful bottle procurement.

  1. Don’t be sneaky. Just ask if you can have the bottles.
  2. Don’t take any twist off bottles since they aren’t good for home brewing. (Life tip: avoid twist off bottles if you enjoy quality beer!)
  3. On the drive home, put the bottles in your trunk. I can’t emphasize this one enough!

Now that you’ve procured your bottles (about 50 for a 5 gallon batch) you’re ready for step 2.

Step 2: Label Removal

This is the worst part of home brewing. If I weren’t also trying to save money by home brewing I would just purchase new bottles. But I’m guessing I’m not the only one out there who removes the labels from bottles so here’s how I do it.

It's a Utility Sink Party!

It’s a Utility Sink Party!

I first fill my utility sink full of hot water. Then I place the bottles in there for a good half hour. The idea here is to soak the labels and get them ready to be peeled off.

After a half hour I take one bottle at a time and peel off the label. There will likely be some residue left on the bottle. To remove the residue I take a dish scrubber or dish wand and apply a little elbow grease.

This is sort of a buy beware point, though. Some bottles have great labels that basically fall right off. Others have very gummy labels that leave behind some terrible glue that is nearly impossible to get off. In Wisconsin I’m blessed to have the New Glarus Brewing Company in my back yard. They have the best labels ever! Soak them and they fall right off.

And the best part about labels that fall right off is that you can make some really cool art with them. Here is a collage I made with the New Glarus labels:

New Glarus Label Art

New Glarus Label Art

To get all the labels off and residue removed will take a little while. Be prepared to stand over the utility sink for a while. But once you’ve got the bottles all spic and span I like to move on to step three.

Step 3: The Dishwasher

Dishwasher parties are hotter than Utility Sink parties!

Dishwasher parties are hotter than Utility Sink parties!

Now that your bottles are free of all denigrating marks of previous ownership they are ready to visit the dishwasher. This step helps to remove any leftover residue from the inside of the bottles and helps to sanitize them as well. And for some reason I really like how they look all lined up in the dishwasher.

The key here is to run it as a normal wash cycle, but do not use any detergent. These bottles aren’t likely to be caked with peanut butter or broccoli or any other typical dinner fare. They were filled with beer. So they really only need to be rinsed.

So run the cycle a few hours before you are going to bottle the beer. That will give you enough time to let the bottles cool off from the hot dishwasher cycle.

Bottle Prep: Simple but Tedious

And that’s it! You now have bottles that are ready to go for bottling. I would, however, make one more recommendation. And that is to do one final rinse in your sanitizer before bottling, especially if these are sitting around for too long. Better safe than sorry. If you have a preferred method for bottle prep, please let me know. I’m always looking to get more efficient!

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