Beer Guide - Other Beer Styles

An Introduction To Other Beer Styles

Beer Picture

Beers are made to a fairly standard formula these days. Whether you are a professional brewer or an amateur homebrewer you start off with the same four ingredients - hops, barley, yeast and water. The types and amounts used of each of these will determine the type of beer you create. The types of beer that can be created using these four ingredients is surprisingly varied - lagers, stouts, bitters and IPA. It would be interesting to see how variety a chef could achieve if they only had four ingredients to work with.

The early brewers didn't know about optimum boil temperatures or the science of fermentation. They didn't even know yeast existed and few of them used any hops. All they knew was that if you heated up a watery mash of grains and left it out in the open you got a pleasingly intoxicating beverage. To flavour the beer they threw in whatever they had to hand: fruit, vegetables, herbs, spices or plants such as heather. All this would have been a very hit and miss process, but some of the results were good enough that brewers today try to replicate them. These beers have been grouped together into an "other" category to represent beers made with ingredients or techniques that are not regularly used.

In Kenya and Tanzania you will find Banana Beer. This is made with ripe bananas that have been mashed to a pulp and then mixed with flour in place of barley and yeast. The resulting fermentation makes a 10% abv beer that is quite unlike European beers. The Wells brewery in England produce a tamer Banana Bread Beer that is basically a bitter flavoured with bananas. European brewers usually stick to red fruits such as cherries or raspberries however you will also find elderflower, apricot and peach beers - most of which are underwhelming. A number of brewers have also experimented with adding honey to beers. The results can be light and sweet such as Fullers Honeydew or darker and smoky like Invercargill Smoking Bishop or Wentworth BeeSmoked. There are a wide range of possibilities for adding extra ingredients to, most of which are done for novelty purposes, but there is no reason to believe that beers should only ever be made of 4 basic ingredients.


Beer Picture

The origin of fruit beers is not clear, but it may be a marriage of convenience. If a farmer had some fruit that had seen better days, then juicing it and mixing it with alcohol would leave you with something you could preserve. The fruit would help to add flavour before the use of hops were widespread and it's sugar content would create additional fermentation. Therefore the brewer and the farmer both win. These days the better fruit beers ate usually based on fresh cherries or raspberries. Some beers even use gourmet fruit such as Schaerbeek cherries - however the price of the fruit means these are hard to come by.

Belgium shows the best and the worst of fruit beers. Some of the best are from Liefmans, a 300 year old brewery who still wrap their beer bottles on tissue paper. Their Cuvee Brut is a blend of an oak aged dark, sour ales with cherries that is left to mature for over a year. The inherent sourness of the beer matches wonderfully with the cherry flavours. Their Gluhkriek is another winner. It's a cherry beer that is designed to be served warm like German Gluhwein and it goes superbly with mince pies.

At the other end of the spectrum are the Hoegaarden fruit beers. Some bright brand manager at InBev decided that since Belgian Witbiers have a hint of orange, why not substitute other flavours by adding syrup and watering the beer down. Hence we have Hoegaarden Citron which tastes like supermarket own brand Sprite and Hoegaarden Rosee which smells like a processed raspberry desert. Much better are the Huyghe Cherry Wheat Beer and the Invercargill Boysenberry Wheat Beer. In England the Melbourn Bros brewery make fruit beers the old fashioned way with no hops and using wild yeast akin to lambics. Their beers are so good Sam Smith's use them as the basis for their fruit beers.

Five To Try -
1. Liefmans Cuvee Brut
2. Melbourne Bros Apricot
3. Lancelot Bonnets Rouge
4. Invercargill Boysenberry
5. Red Oak Blackberry Wheat Beer


Beer Picture

Historically, virtually all beers were smoked beers. As part of the brewing process malted barley (grains of barley that are allowed to germinate) has to be heated to stop it growing any further. Whilst a few people used direct sunlight, most beers were made from barley that had been dried over an open fire. This gives a smoky flavour. It wasn't until the industrial revolution in the 18th century that kilns allowing indirect heating were widely used. This meant the beers didn't have to taste smoky anymore.

However in the German town of Bamberg production of beers flavoured by beechwood smoke has continued for the last 200 years to please the locals who had developed a taste for the smoky brews. The most widely available is Schenkerla's Aecht Rauchbier (original smokebeer) - a dark ruby coloured beer with a smoky, almost burnt flavour that is balanced by a hint of caramel sweetness. Many have described it's taste as "liquid bacon" and it goes well with German bratwurst sausages. The beer polarises opinion with people either loving or hating it. There are Marzen, Weiss and Bock versions of the Schenkerla beers - however it's fair to say that if you don't like one of them you won't like any of them.

The flavour of smoked beers has been compared to the peaty single malt Scotch whisky. Some brewers even produce "whisky malt" beers to drive home the comparison (see the Scotch Ales section). Outside of Bamberg smoked beers aren't that common. The French Garringues Feu Follet is one of the finest of this rare breed - a dark ale, akin to an abbey dubbel, with a smooth bitter coffee taste, fruit and dark chocolate on the aroma and a warming alcohol malt in the finish. Elsewhere you may find smoked porters and smoked honey beers.

Five To Try -
1. Schenkerla Aecht Rauchbier
2. Garringues Feu Follet Grand Cru 2009
3. 7 Stern Bamberger Rauchbier
4. Klein Duimpje Smokey Porter
5. Bretagne Armen Rousse

Traditional Ale

Beer Picture

Tradition is a wonderful thing. Many breweries and distilleries proudly claim they are hundreds of years old, even if they've replaced every bit of kit they own, have completely changed the drinks they produce over the last 50 years and wouldn't dream of producing the old muck they started out making. However in the Scottish town of Patrick the reverse has occurred. In the 1980s the Williams brothers were happily running their homebrew shop when a lady arrived with a 17th century Pictish beer recipe she was keen to make. This beer became Fraoch and over a 10 year period the Williams brothers found themselves developing into an increasingly successful brewery.

Their core beers are all made using traditional Scottish ingredients. Fraoch uses heather, Ebulum uses elderberries, Grozet uses gooseberries and Alba, the finest of the set, uses sprigs of spruce and pine to create a strong Belgian style ale with a full, malty flavour. The success of William Bros Heather Ale has encouraged other brewers to try replacing hops with historic ingredients. Forge Dreckly uses gorse, Lancelot Cervoise uses lavender and Cairngorm Blessed Thistle uses thistles - all have a pronounced herbal taste.

The first recorded use of hops in beer dates from 1503 - the year Leonardo Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa. The Kingstone brewery decided to see what this beer would taste like. They commissioned someone to translate the relevant journal from olde English but discovered it contained no instructions on how to make beer. Undaunted, they made up their own tudor recipe and the resulting 1503 beer is finer than many modern bitters. The Traquir House brewery managed to find a complete recipe for their beer to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the Jacobite revolution and it makes a fine Scottish ale. Maybe tradition is a wonderful thing after all.

Five To Try -
1. Tranquir Jacobite Ale
2. Kingstone 1503
3. Williams Bros Heather Ales - Alba: (Scots Pine Ale)
4. Lancelot Cervoise
5. Orgemont Biere des Moissons

Unusual Ingredients

Beer Picture

Enid Blyton's Famous Five books of the mid 20th century are famous for the kids having lashings of ginger beer. Had they been around a hundred years earlier the five would have ended up smashed out of their tree as Ginger Beer could originally be up to 10% abv. Some fermented versions still exist: Crabbies Alcoholic Ginger Beer is made to an 18th century recipe at 5% abv whilst Fentimans Ginger Beer is a more gentle 0.5% abv. Other brewers have experimented with adding ginger to regular beers. The Left Hand Juju Ginger and Dux Ginger Tom are pale ales with a fiery hit of ginger whilst the Cairngorm brewery mix heather and ginger for their Scottish ale. However Robinsons hit gold when they added Fentimans Ginger Beer to their Old Tom strong dark ale to make Ginger Tom. The bitter malty ale balances the fiery ginger beautifully.

Ginger isn't the only unusual ingredient that brewers have played around with. Both William Bros and Abers have brewed beer that uses seaweed. The Abers version having a salty seaweed flavour and a floral aroma whereas the William Bros has a more traditional malty flavour. French brewery Carnadou make a beer that has ground nuts in it, giving it a sweet nutty caramel flavour that is very moreish.

There are some breweries that appear to have tried to throw the strangest things they can at beer. Brewdog Dogma contains heather honey, guarana, poppy seeds and kola nut. This makes a sweet, caffeinated beer with a big alcoholic hit that is good, if a little strange. Down in New Zealand the Epic brewery make startling Christmas beer that is made by blending a porter with Tamarillo tree tomatoes that have been smoked over wood from the sacred Pohutakawa tree. The result is sweet and sour and bitter and malty and really rather odd. It's an adventure all by itself.

Five To Try -
1. Canardou Biere Aux Noix
2. Robinsons Ginger Tom
3. Abers Ouessanne Aux Algues
4. Brewdog Dogma
5. Crabbie's Ginger Beer

Low Alcohol

Beer Picture

Last, and in every way least, in this guide to the different styles of beer come the low alcohol beers. No amount of Billy Connolly adverts or positive thinking can shift the view that alcohol free beers are the last refuge of the desperate designated driver. Calling them the meat free sausage of the beer world would be an insult to vegetarian cuisine. This stigma comes from the alcohol free lagers such as Kaliber, Becks Blue and Palm Green which are brewed as regular strength beers with the alcohol being boiled off or filtered out afterwards. The resulting beers can have as little as 0.05% alcohol in them and usually have a strange metallic taste to them. Japanese brewery Kirin even produce an entirely alcohol free beer that is not fermented at all and instead uses corn syrup, dietary fibre and flavourings - which means that technically it isn't a beer at all.

Erdinger produce an alcohol free wheat beer that is head and shoulders above most of the competition. It's taste is a little sweet, but it tastes like a variant on a wheat beer rather than an excuse for one. It also has half the calories of apple juice and no fat - but it won't count as one of your five a day. Another interesting low alcohol beer is Brewdog's Nanny State, originally brewed at 1.1% abv as a protest against the flak the brewery received for their 18% abv Tokyo* imperial stout. The beer was probably the hoppiest beer ever made and it's taste was so bitter it reduced hardened beer nuts to tears. These days it is 0.5% abv and the hops have been dropped to a drinkable level.

In countries bordering the Baltic Sea you will find Kvass. This is a fermented drink made from rye bread that has a sweet malty taste and is usually about 1% abv. In Russia Kvass is so popular Coca Cola have produced their own version. These are also popular in Iceland where prohibition meant there was little other beer on offer. Historically there has also been The other low alcohol option is Shandy or Radler where beer is mixed with soda or lemonade. The result is usually pretty poor, but there is a joy in ordering a Shandy made with craft beer just to see the look of bemusement and horror on the bartenders face.

Five To Try -
1. Erdinger Alkoholfrei (Blue)
2. Egils Malt Extrakt
3. Viking Malt
4. Fentimans Shandy
5. Palm Green