Breweries Offer Up a Variety of Tastes

Beer drinkers enjoy more variety in their beer options today than at any point in history and Sacramento Breweries are providing plenty of options. The Beer Judge Certification Program recognizes over a hundred distinct styles, many of them mere umbrellas for a wide range of profiles, but increasingly American brewers are treating these style descriptions as quaint suggestions rather than lines they must color within. We recently enjoyed a 7.1% ABV “Imperial Gose” brewed with watermelon, black sesame seeds, black Hawaiian sea salt, Persian lime, and coriander. Go ahead and decide which classic style group that one should fit in. We’ll wait.

While innovation and experimentation have yielded some phenomenal and hard-to-categorize beers, both professional and home brewers should know the rules they’re breaking before they break them. Let’s take a few moments to familiarize ourselves with the most common classic ale styles that have defined modern American craft brewing over the years.

American Pale Ale
American pale ale (APA) is a style of pale ale developed in the United States around 1980. American pale ales are generally around 5% abv with significant quantities of American hops, typically Cascade.

American IPA
Today's American IPA is a different soul from the IPA style first reincarnated in the 1980s. More flavorful and aromatic than the withering English IPA, its color can range from very pale golden to reddish amber.

New England IPA
New England IPAs are beers that are purposely hazy or cloudy, which can give these brews a smooth, creamy mouthfeel – a departure from the light/dry mouthfeel you often get with West Coast IPAs – with little to no hop bitterness at the end utilizing hops that impart a tropical, juicy sweetness rather than the classic bitter, dank or citrus-y flavors West Coast IPA lovers have come to expect.

Most people who take the plunge into the “dark side” of beer exploration are surprised to find out that stouts are neither heavy nor terribly strong. Quite the opposite is true in fact: many great stouts are complex and low in alcohol, with beautiful roundness and a touch of roastiness. The dry versions are appetizing and quenching; the sweeter styles are silky and well rounded, perfect for an evening of food and drink.

Porter is a dark style of beer developed in London from well-hopped beers made from brown malt. The name was first recorded in the 18th century, and is thought to come from its popularity with street and river porters.

Brown Ale
Porter is a dark style of beer developed in London from well-hopped beers made from brown malt. The name was first recorded in the 18th century, and is thought to come from its popularity with street and river porters.

American Brown Ale
Roasted malt, caramel-like and chocolate-like characters should be of medium intensity in both flavor and aroma for the American brown ale. American-style brown ales have evident low to medium hop flavor and aroma and medium to high hop bitterness. The history of this style dates back to U.S. homebrewers who were inspired by English-style brown ales and porters. It sits in flavor between those British styles and is more bitter than both.

Amber or Red Ale
Named more for their color than any narrowly defined flavor profile, American Amber and Red ales reflect a range of interpretations by craft brewers. Ranging in color from light amber to dark amber or red and even copper to light brown, some American Amber or Red Ales have a malt-forward aroma and flavor, while others have a more balanced malt and hop profile. A few others are on the hoppy side. Evolved from American Pale Ale, this style has a darker color and generally a greater malt emphasis of caramel and other malt flavors, balanced by American hop varietals often imparting citrusy traits. Low-to-medium fruity esters make way for a smooth or crisp mouth-feel. Initially gaining popularity in the Pacific Northwest and Northern California, it was known more as “red ale,” the two words often used in the beer’s name by brewers in this region.

Arguably one of the most recognizable beer styles, the German-style hefeweizen offers a striking beer experience thanks to the use of distinctive wheat malt, unique yeast and uncharateristic appearance. This wheat beer breaks from the German beer mold, showcasing yeast-driven fruit and spice as well as bearing an eye-catching mystique. Don’t let the cloudy hefeweizen deter you, this beer is one of the world’s most enjoyable styles for beer geeks and neophytes, alike. The refreshing qualities of this highly-carbonated style have kept it alive for centuries. Try one for yourself and experience why that is, firsthand.

Belgian Pale
The beer world is justifiably understanding of the odd reality that a Belgian Pale Ale (BPA) isn’t really a pale ale. We tolerate a lot of unusual, atypical, even nonsensical things from that great brewing hotbed of Belgium, and so it seems almost natural that when we find a beer with lots of malt and not much hops but that shares an appellation with American pale ale or India pale ale that we shrug and mutter whatever the Flemish version of “C’est la vie” is. Belgian Pale Ale is very much an outlier among its Franco- Belgian or Belgian strong-ale cousins, but it doesn’t properly belong alongside APA or IPA, either. It is not unreasonable to argue that BPA shares as much (or more) with English bitter, Czech Pilsner, or Vienna lager as it does with saison, witbier, and golden/dark strong ale.

Saison & Farmhouse Ale
Like Oktoberfest, Saison is another beer style that evolved out of necessity. Originally brewed in Wallonia, Belgium, well before refrigeration was available, it was brewed stronger at the end of the cold season to be robust enough to last through the summer but still thirst-quenching enough to drink in hot weather. Like Lambics, Saisons can get input from wild Brettanomyces yeast (or added lactobacillus), though the flavor profile here is less overtly sour and more lightly fruity, citrusy, and spicy with some light malt and earthy hop bitterness edging out a dry finish. Spices and herbs may also be added, since variety is the spice of life in Belgian brewing, and Saisons are very much a product of that philosophy.

Kolsch & Blonde Ale Over the past several years we've seen a micro beer movement toward summer seasonal beers, as well as year round beers leaning towards lighter styles. Obviously this is what the masses want, however, there are alternatives to that usual "summer-like" American or imported lager or ale without getting too complex or bitter for that heat stricken head of yours. Golden and Blonde Ales come to mind, as does the old German-Style K├Âlsch Ale that has seen a mini revival throughout the US, and is quite similar to Golden and Blonde Ales. These are simple beers, meaning they are balanced and again not too complex. They are often very drinkable with a deep refreshing quality that comes in handy during the summer.

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