Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Beer Styles 1994


Martyn Cornell was speaking about style the other day in his blog. Beer style that is. Now Martyn is a beer historian, which I am not, but I have been around a bit, so I thought I'd look up what we were talking about on the good old Usenet in 1994, which is as far back as the records go. Bloody Hell. It was beer styles.

Now most of us kind of regard the Americans as being a bit daft when it comes to style, but it wasn't always so. My mate Jon Binkley wrote a primer on beer styles this week in 1994. He listed the beer styles that were considered the main ones then. He also dealt head on with why styles matter. Importantly he gave a historical perspective. This is what he said.:

" Beer style definitions are not written in stone, and sometimes the exceptions are more interesting than the rules. However, there are situations where they are very useful, or even essential. For me, the importance of style classification has been to make sense of what was a very confusing world of obviously different beers. Serious beer culture in the United States was destroyed on 16 January, 1920, when the prohibition of alcohol became the law of the land. Although the law was repealed on 5 December in 1933, appreciation and production of diverse styles of beer is only now being rekindled in this country, and this is on a limited scale. I, like most Americans, had never seen or heard of, let alone tasted, anything other than the standard American light lager until I was well into my twenties. When my interest was first awakened, I was confronted by an incomprehensible array of labels and flavors. Well defined style classifications provided a comfortable base from which to explore the many complexities of the beer world. They continue to be the most convenient tools for intelligently discussing and comparing different beers.

Jon went on to list the main styles which were:

III: Styles of LAGER

III.A. BLONDE LAGER

III.A.1. BOHEMIAN PILSNER
III.A.2. GERMAN PILS
III.A.3. HELLES
III.A.4. EXPORT
III.A.5. NORTH EUROPEAN LAGER
III.A.6. NORTH AMERICAN LIGHT LAGER
III.A.7. CREAM ALE

III.B. AMBER LAGER

III.B.1. VIENNA LAGER
III.B.2. MAERZEN (Oktoberfest)

III.C. DARK LAGER

III.C.1. DUNKEL
III.C.2. BLACK LAGER

III.D. STRONG LAGER

III.D.1. BOCK
III.D.2. DOPPLEBOCK

III.E. SMOKED LAGER

III.F. CALIFORNIA COMMON BEER ("Steam Beer")

IV: Styles of ALE

IV.A. PALE/AMBER ALE

IV.A.1. BITTER
IV.A.2. ENGLISH PALE ALE
IV.A.3. INDIA PALE ALE
IV.A.4. SCOTTISH ALES
IV.A.5. IRISH ALE
IV.A.6. BELGIAN PALE ALES
IV.A.7. ALT BIER
IV.A.8. KOELSCH
IV.A.9. AMERICAN PALE ALE

IV.B. BROWN ALE

IV.B.1. MILD
IV.B.2. ENGLISH BROWN ALE
IV.B.3. FLEMISH BROWN ALE
IV.B.4. AMERICAN BROWN ALE

IV.C. BLACK ALE

IV.C.1. PORTER
IV.C.2. SWEET STOUT
IV.C.3. DRY STOUT

IV.D. STRONG ALE

IV.D.1. OLD ALE
IV.D.2. STRONG BELGIAN ALES
IV.D.3. IMPERIAL STOUT
IV.D.4. BARLEY WINE

IV.E. SPECIAL BELGIAN ALES

IV.E.1. TRAPPIST and ABBEY BEERS
IV.E.2. LAMBIC

IV.H. WHEAT BEERS

IV.H.1. BERLINER WEISSE
IV.H.2. BAVARIAN WEIZEN
IV.H.3. BELGIAN WIT BIER
IV.H.4. AMERICAN WHEAT ALE

It is interesting to note that so many of the "styles" now commonly in use such as double this or that, or even American IPA aren't listed. And that's only two notable examples. It is also interesting to Jon at least, that the development of written styles was, for him as an American, firmly rooted in the destruction of American brewing brought about by prohibition and the subsequent rise of micro brewing in the late 80's and early 90's. Out of little acorns, mighty oaks grow.

Beer has come a long way in a short time. Thus endeth my dip into history. For now.

The photo show Ancient Egyptians making a Double Imperial IPA.

10 comments:

Ron Pattinson said...

Those lager styles are a total joke. The same crap that's still knocking around today. Trying to understand central European beer based on those "styles" is futile.

Tandleman said...

Maybe that's just how it seemed then, based on limited understanding.

Velky Al said...

Even the term "Bohemian Pilsner" is fairly pointless given the differences between a Budvar and a Pilsner Urquell for example.

Barm said...

I think the destruction of US beer culture is an important point.

Where I think the entire US-style mindset goes wrong is that it encourages the idea that you can understand different styles of beer just by reading about them. Hence the endless rote-learning and the exams. American homebrewers will frequently try to brew a style of beer that they've never drunk before. I find that completely incomprehensible.

Matt said...

A lot of these seem completely arbitrary/invented.

Apart from Martyn's recent thesis that 'mild' is just an adjective before 'ale' rather than a separate style, what is the difference between Bitter and English Pale Ale?

As for the American beers, are there really separate styles called "American Brown/Pale/Wheat Ale" that don't resemble a European version?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the memories, Peter!

Now I remember what took me so long to finish grad school!

Definitely an early-90s American perspective there, but keep in mind that the main inspiration for it (and for much of the American Craft Beer movement) came from your side of the pond in the venerable form of Michael Jackson.

-Jon

Jon Binkley said...

Ron and Velky Al:

Quite true, but it's better than calling them all "Pilsner" (along with crap American light lager!) which was commonplace-- still is, actually.

Jon Binkley said...

Barm:

Good points. For most of us, the only exposure to foreign beer was dusty imported bottles. Until my first enlightening visit to your shores, "English Ale" meant a year-old bottle of pasteurized Bass or Watney's!

Jon Binkley said...

Matt:

Trust me, it's only gotten worse!

Check this out:

http://www.bjcp.org/2008styles/catdex.php

Or this:

http://www.greatamericanbeerfestival.com/the-competition/beer-styles/

Tandleman said...

Good stuff Jon. It is interesting to look back now and then.