Beer Styles Overview

With a huge array of production methods and ingredients, beer is likely the most diverse beverage on earth, with thousands of unique variations brewed worldwide. While categorizing beer can be overwhelming, we try to simplify things by organizing beer varieties into broad styles and specific sub-styles. Our consumer oriented method of taxonomy stems from a combination of our own experience representing the world's great brewers, and the guidelines established by two of the industry's most respected sources: the Brewers Association (www.beertown.org) and the Beer Judge Certification Program (www.bjcp.org).

Methodology

GreatBrewers.com meticulously planned its taxonomy of beer varieties to simplify things for consumers. The style guidelines recognize 25 unique beer styles, and 137 sub-styles that can accurately categorize the 10,000+ individual beers that are commercially available in the United States. Before you can truly appreciate the incredible variety of beer selections that are offered at bars, restaurants and stores, you should familiarize yourself with the family tree of styles from which they originate.

The GreatBrewers.com Beer Style Guidelines are divided up into styles and sub-styles. Style definitions were written by Eric McKay, while sub-style descriptions were used with permission of the Brewers Association. To fully discover the world of beer styles, click the link below.

2009 GreatBrewers.com Beer Style Guidelines

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Please note that our style guidelines are designed to describe all commercially available beers as specifically as possible while keeping the number of styles manageable. If we wanted to take this chart a step further in an effort to define every distinct variety of beer, we would generate more than 1,000 unique varieties. Here are a few examples:

Fruit Beer: The American-Style Fruit Beer and Belgian-Style Fruit Lambic sub-styles do not specify a specific fruit, however there are beers produced with at least twenty unique types of fruit (i.e. raspberry, blueberry, strawberry, peach, apple, black currant, pomegranate, cherry, orange, lemon, lime, etc.). The same concept holds true for vegetable beers.

Herb and Spice Beer: This sub-style is wide open in the specific types of herbs and spices used, particularly by Belgian-style brewers. Examples include but are not limited to coriander, clove, Curacao orange peel, grain of paradise, allspice, ginger, saffron, cinnamon, rosemary, juniper, vanilla bean, nutmeg, salt, and mustard seed.

Wood-Aged Beer: Since the early middle ages, Europeans have fermented, conditioned, and matured beer in wooden vessels. Today, many brewers are taking this practice to the next level. While some brewers utilize raw or toasted oak as a refining agent, many mature their beer in wooden casks that have been previously used for bourbon, scotch, sherry, port, calvados, and a variety of red and white wines. The use of various types of barrels impart a distinctly unique quality to a particular beer, and could justify their own separate style definition.

Vintage Beer: Despite the popular misconception that fresh beer is always better, there are some beers that significantly improve with age for several years. In order to evolve over time, a beer must be non-pasteurized and bottle conditioned. Generally, the beers that improve with age must also have a substantial alcohol content (at least 7% ABV) and have a relatively mild hop presence (botanical material does not hold up well over time). Some purveyors of vintage beers believe that a barley wine, imperial stout, or Baltic porter from three years ago is substantially different than a newly brewed example of the same beer, and therefore deserves its own style definition.