Monday, January 21, 2013

Apple #620: Beer Styles and Hoppiness

No, that's not a typo in the title of this entry. I really do mean "hoppiness," as in how much hops are used to make a particular kind of beer.

Daily Apple reader Carmela asked me last night, as several of us were sampling various craft beers, what are some examples of "hoppy" beer, and what are some more "malty" beers?  I told her that IPAs are usually hoppier, while wheat beers are kind of the opposite.  She asked where stouts fit in, and I realized I wasn't sure.  Then the group started throwing out all kind of words like pilsner and ale and bock, and it was obvious we were all kind at sea.  Clearly, we needed the Apple Lady.

So many styles of beer, so many colors and flavors, how is a body to know what's what?
(Photo from Tostevin)

Beer Basics

  • To understand what "hoppy" and "malty" means, I had to revisit the recipe for beer and how it's made. 
  • So the recipe for beer is, very basically, water + yeast + malt (sugar) + hops (flavor).  

The four basic ingredients in beer
(Poster from society6)

  • Yeast likes to eat sugar.  When yeast eats sugar, it produces alcohol and carbon dioxide (a.k.a. the bubbles in the beer).  
  • This process of yeast eating the sugar and producing alcohol is what people mean when they say "fermentation."
  • The question is, what kind of sugar are you going to give the yeast to eat?  If it's starchy or sugary, yeast likes it.  Give it grapes, and you'll get wine.  Give it grain, and you'll get either liquor or beer.  But let's concentrate on just the beer.
  • Let's say you decide to feed barley to your yeast. In order to make sure the yeast will get the most sugar out of your barley, you want to let the barley sprout and start to grow just a tiny bit. Then you stop the sprouting process right there and dry it to keep the barley from growing any further.  At this stage, the highest number of sugar-producing enzymes are present in the barley, but there's also still a lot of starch in the plant, too.  It's a yeast's fantasy feast.
  • That process of letting the barley germinate and spout and then drying it is called malting.  The sprouted and stopped barley is now called malted barley, or just plain malt.

One type of barley malt called Crystal Malt.
(Photo from Wikipedia)

  • Next, you feed the malt to the yeast.  The yeast loves the malt and starts bubbling away happily, making bubbles and alcohol.  You'll have to add a second batch of malt, this time broken down for the yeast into a boiled, soggy mush called mash.
  • So all we've done so far is fed sugar to the yeast.  If you drank your soggy yeasty mash now, it would taste somewhere on the spectrum of faintly-sweet, like if you poured water over your cereal, to kind of damp-grainy, like if you took your Minute Rice off the stove too early.  More on the starchy/grainy end of the flavor spectrum.

Beer mash in progress.  This will make a Virginia estate beer.  But you can see all the bubbles, which means fermentation is happening, and you can see how this would taste kind of grainy/starchy at this stage.
(Photo from Barlow Brewing)

  • But then the beer gets another component: the hops.  Hops is a plant that has all sorts of aromatic oils and enzymes in it.  Hops add flavor--mainly bitterness, which counterbalances the sweetness of the malt.
  • Sometimes other flavors are added, you have to do more stuff to your soggy mush, and you have to let it ferment a little longer, strain it, and do some other stuff with it, but basically, that's beer.  Water + yeast + malt (sugar) + hops (flavor).

Hoppy vs. Malty

  • The fun everybody has with making beer is experimenting with flavor.  Generally, this comes down to a choice between whether you like it more malty (grainy/nutty/distantly sweet) or more hoppy (bitter/funky).  Here are a few little facts about hops that may inform your choice.
  • Hops is part of the hemp family.  It's a close relative of the marijuana plant.  They look sort of similar, and they both have a similar skunky kind of aroma.

Cannabis sativa leaves and buds.
(Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Hops leaves (here, damaged by pests)
(Photo from BeerFM)

Hops buds hanging from the vine
(Photo from the ASPCA -- because the hops plant is toxic to dogs. It will give the dog seizures and maybe even kill the dog.)

  •  So sometimes the flavor that hops contributes can be slightly skunky, like cannabis. Or so I've heard.
  • The aromatic oils and enzymes in hops that give flavor to the beer degrade rather quickly.  So if you're choosing a beer that is more hoppy, you'll want it to be as fresh as possible. 
  • Since alcohol is made in the malt + yeast part of the process, the more malt a brewer uses, the higher the alcoholic content (more sugar --> more food for the yeast --> more alcohol). 
  • That said, hoppy beers can also be pretty strong.  This is because the brewer will often add more malt to balance the bitterness of the hops.  
  • If you want to know which styles of beer ten to be more or less hoppy, you can always consult the IBU Graph.  Ah, yes, of course, you say.  But what the heck is that?
  • IBU stands for International Bittering Units.  It's a measure of how bitter a particular beer will taste.
  • Or you can consult the graph below, which I think is a little easier to use than the IBU.

This chart is slightly different than IBU, and I think it's a little easier to use.  This one compares styles of beer in terms of the ratio of bitterness units (BU) to gravity units (GU). In more practical terms, the bitterest-tasting and driest beers are at the yop, while the less bitter, more sweet and light-bodied beers are at the bottom.
(Chart from Charlie Rohwer's Homebrewing page at UMN)

  • Neither the IBU graph nor this one will tell you how a Magic Hat will taste compared to a Budweiser.  But they will tell you how an American IPA compares to a Standard American Lager.  Which means you need to know your styles of beer.

Styles of Beer

  • (By the way, that's the word to use to refer to a type of beer: its style. If you're talking about the differences between a stout and a porter, you're comparing styles of beer.) 
  • There are two major categories of beer: ales or lagers.  Everything falls under either of those two categories.  I'll describe each category and list a few of the more popular styles.  There are so many styles and variations of those styles, I could never hope to cover them all.


These are all lagers.  But there's a whooooole lot more to lagers than just these mass-produced canned things.
(Photo from the Hop Press)

  • LAGERS -- most of us Americans are more familiar with these. These are bottom-fermenters, meaning fermentation happens at the bottom of the pot, they require cold to ferment, and take about 3 months to make. "Lager" means "to store" in German because you had to store these someplace cold while they fermented.  Generally less hoppy than ales.
    • American lite lagers -- But Lite, Miller Lite, etc.
    • American standard -- Budweiser
    • Pilsner (or Pilsener, from the Czech Pilzen) -- golden color, moderate hoppiness
    • Oktoberfest or Marzen -- summer beer, often amber-colored
    • Bock -- strong, dark, usually made with wheat
    • Doppelbock (double bock) -- traditionally brewed by monks to sustain them through the Lenten fast, light on the hops
    • Munich Dunkel -- malty, almost bready, sometimes also with a chocolatey feel
    • Schwartzbier -- literally, black beer. Dark in color but light in body, quite hoppy

These are a few brown ales, only a tiny sample of the huge variety of ales. Because ales are relatively quick to make, it's easier to home-brew or micro-brew an ale than a lager.
(Photo from The Beerists)

  • ALES -- these are top-fermenters, meaning the fermentation happens at the top of the pot. They take only a few days to make, and they ferment at roughly room temperature. They tend to be heavier-bodied, darker in color, and have a higher alcohol content than lagers. But the hoppiness can vary a lot.
    • Barley wine - very strong, maybe only a hint of hops. 
    • Wheat beer (or Weizen or Weiss) - usually pale orange or yellow and cloudy, mild and a little sweet in flavor, sometimes banana-y, often served with an orange slice
    • [varieties of] Ale - there are so many ales from all over the place, it's tough to generalize, but usually brown, light on the hops, high on the alcoholic content
    • Lambic - oldest type of beer still made, an ale that uses wild yeast, takes 3 years to make, aged in wooden barrels, very sour, but with a fruity aroma.
    • Saisons - Belgian summer beers, made to quench the farmer's thirst, amber or orange, low alcohol, dry, high hops, a little sour
    • English bitter - while the bitterness can be fairly high, the funky hop flavor is almost absent.
    • English strong ale and Scottish ale - malty, fruity, amber-colored, medium- to full-bodied.
    • IPA (India Pale Ale) - golden or coppery in color, very hoppy; lots of hops and lots of alcohol helped preserve the beer on the voyage from Britain to India.
    • Porter - made with black or chocolate malt and roasted barley, lots of hops but lots of malt too. They can be either sweet or bitter depending on who's making it.
    • Stout - Guinness is the best-known example here. Black or very dark, made with unroasted barley, lots of hops, lots of bitterness, did I mention lots of hops?
  • This list is only a place to start. For some more complete lists, along with fuller descriptions, notes on alcohol content or bitterness levels, and examples of each style, check out Bend Brewfest's Beer Glossary (good descriptions) and's Style Guide (click or scroll down for descriptions and examples)
Hope that helps you decide which new styles of beer you might like to try, Carmela.

Howstuffworks, What's in Beer and Yeast
Aaron J. Schohn, RPI, A New Look at Brewing, Malted Barley
Tyghe Trimble and Chris Pagnotta, How to Make Beer (Cheaply, Simply): Step-By-Step Guide, Popular Mechanics
Badger & Blade, "Non-hoppy beers?
5280, Beer Lesson: Hops versus Malts
Brewer's Friend, IBU Graph
Titletown Brewing, Why are hoppy beers so strong?
A Perfect Pint, Malty vs. Hoppy Flavors in Beer
Beer by BART, Hops Category entries
Homebrewing beta, should hoppy brews be aged?
Second City Soiree, Beer! Ale vs Lager vs Stout vs Pilsner vs . . .
Bend Brewfest's Beer Glossary's Style Guide

No comments:

Post a Comment

If you're a spammer, there's no point posting a comment. It will automatically get filtered out or deleted. Comments from real people, however, are always very welcome!