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Jimbo's Basics of Beer

Intro: Here's some Jimbo's Basics of Beer vocabulary and couple of interesting scales (at least I'm interested in them and that's why I wanted to collect them into one page). This is by no means any definitive list of beer styles or tastes. I don't even know should I say "style" or "taste" or something else, but you know, I'm just trying to gather info for you and me. Its not so important to know all the specs or understand the differences in beers, than to enjoy beer and find beers that are suitable for your own taste.

Tastes and Styles

Ale = Beer that is top fermented (yeast does its magic in the top of the brew), traditionally a British way of brewing.

Pale Ale
= Made usually with Pale Malts, almost as usual style of beer as lager (or at least if all the pale colored ales are counted as one style). My favorite Pale Ale is Finnish Vakka-Suomen Prykmestar Pale Ale.

English Bitter = More hopped version of Pale Ale, with more bitter taste. Bitters are as usual in England as Ales. Maybe the best known (and propably The best) bitter in the world is London based Fuller's E.S.B. (Extra Special Bitter) and Fuller's actually has a sole right to use term E.S.B. in England.

Amber Ale / Red Ale = A style of Pale Ale with crystal malts making an amber color. My definite favorite in this category is BrewDog 5 A.M. Saint.

APA = American Pale Ale, which comes from use of significant quantities of American hops, typically Cascade. One good example of traditional APA might be Anchor Liberty Ale.

IPA = India Pale Ale, which is basically a stronger and more hopped Pale Ale. Name comes from history, when Pale Ales went bad when shipped to (then) British colony of India, so with a stronger alcohol level the beer could make a trip. IPAs are very popular nowadays and most of the craftbreweries (except the oldest and most traditional breweries in Central Europe with their unique products) make some kind of IPA. One of best IPAs I've personally tasted was one of Norway's finest, Nøgne Ø:s India Pale Ale.

DIPA / IIPA = DoubleIPA / Imperial IPA is a stronger and even more hoppier version of Pale Ale than India Pale Ale. One of the greatest Double IPA:s is BrewDog Hardcore IPA, which I think has a unique very bitter dry hoppiness. Some talk of a "hop-bombs" and that is kinda good way to describe Hardcore IPA and some American DIPAs too.

Blond Ale = Also known as Blonde, is a very pale coloured ale, often also with less body achieved by higher carbonation. In my favorite blond ale, Finnish Mamlgårds' Blond Ale there is also added wheat, and has been made with Belgian yeasts and four different hops. That is a real nice session beer, and suits for every occasion you want to drink more than a small zip of beer :)

Golden Ale = Might be the same as blond ale, but might be not. Actually my favorite Golden Ale (and one of the all time favorites of mine) is Belgian Duvel, which is also a typical Belgian blonde ale, so...

Porter = Roasted malts and sweetness, basically a black ale. Name porter comes from English river porters, whose favorite type of beer this was back in 1800s. Made in different ways, traditional British porter top fermented, but Baltic Porters mainly bottom fermented with lager yeasts. Exception in the field of Baltic Porters is Finnish Sinebrychoff's Koff Porter, which is top fermented. Nowadays there are added spices and flavors, like chocolate, used in porters, but best traditional porters are in favor - best example would be Fuller's splendid London Porter. We Finns have always treasured our Koff porter, as it was maybe the only great big brewery "special beer" back in the days of more regulations and less craftbeers in Finnish alcohol monopoly Alko.

Stout = Basically a porter (malts or barley are roasted, or both), which has developed into its own category in time, though there are stoutlike porters and maybe vice versa. "Stout" originally referred to a beer's strength so at first there were "stout porters". Eventually meaning of stout shifted toward body and colour. Maybe the best known stout in the world is Irish Guinness, which is a dry Irish stout. There are also subgenres in stout (as are in almost every beer style) like Oatmeal stout (oats added), Milk stout (lactose added), Chocolate stout (usually chocolate malts), Coffee stout and Oyster stout.

Imperial Stout
= Nowadays the strong and powerful Imperial Stouts have become the crown jewels of craftbeer movement (in my opinion, some others might say, that IPAs are the crown jewels - or maybe they both are). Imperial stouts were born when Russian Empire ordered stout from England and it was made stronger to survive shipping to Russia. That's why it might also be referred as Russian imperial stout. My favorite two imperial stouts have been Stone's Imperial Russian Stout and Plevna's Siperia 2010 Hanniku.

RestaurantBrewery Plevna, Tampere, Finland

Barley Wine = A strong ale, with an alcohol contents ranging from 8% up to 12% (or more) by volume. There is two main barley wine styles, the American and the British. Former are more hoppy and you could argue, if they really are just American style Double IPAs. Latter are not so hoppy and used to be dark coloured since 1950s. You could also argue about British barley wines, if they are just like English Old Ales. But, there are barley wines and I'm glad there are, because for example Finnish Stadin Panimo's American Barley Wine is excellent beer.

Witbier = Also known as white beer, bière blanche, or simply witte is a barley/wheat combination. Very light coloured but hazy at same time, because of yeast and wheat. Spices are used alongside hops: coriander, orange and bitter orange. Witbiers are mainly a Belgian treat, but also made in the Netherlands and sometimes even elsewhere - actually I had one Finnish wit recently and didn't understand the reason why it was made, because it was so poor.

Saison = Fruity esters dominate this Belgian style of "summer ale". Finnish Stadin Panimo just made a nice combination of American hops with Belgian saison yeast.

= Belgian "wild yeasts" do their magic here, mainly Brettanomyces bruxellensis. There are also two main variations in Lambic style, that are Gueuze (blended from younger and older lambic) and Kriek lambic (sour cherries). Not my style of beer so can't say any favorites.

Trappist = This is the real "monk beer", that is brewed by Trappist breweries. Eight monasteries — six in Belgium, one in the Netherlands and one in Austria — currently brew beer and sell it as Authentic Trappist Product. Among the best beers of the world there is one of my personal favorites of all time, Chimay Blue. Actually trappist is not a style of beer, just a way of saying, that beer is made by trappist monks. Instead of trappist there are in use the terms "Abbey Dubbel" and "Abbey Tripel". Beers vary from brewery to brewery, and for example Chimay makes dark ale, brown ale (dubbel), strong pale ale (tripel) and golden ale.

Chimay Abbey, Belgium

Weizen = I have to mention this German Wheat beer as a style, because there are so many of them and some use it even outside Germany. There are also Hefeweizen ("Hefe" means yeast, "Weizen" means wheat, and together they make a unique German style of sweet and fruity, not very hoppy style), Kristallweizen (filtered weizen) and my personal favorite Weizenbock, which is strong, dark wheat beer, typically with a high ester profile and more malt and alcohol than is typically associated with a wheat beer. So I don't hate wheat beers or German beers, but I don't prefer them. Actually the best weizenbock I've tasted was Finnish Vakka-Suomen Prykmestar Wehnä Bock, a splendid beer.

Lager = Beer that is bottom fermented, yeast goes down and the beer becomes clearer, often beers are also filtered to be even more clear looking. Lager (or Pale Lager, Helles in German) is the most widely-consumed and commercially available style of beer in the world. Bock (and DobbelBock), Dortmunder Export and Märzen are all styles of lager. Czechs call it pilsner, and it might be referred to as pilsener or just simply pils. I don't speak so much about lagers, because I have drank them all my life and am a bit bored. Best of them is Pilsner Urquell, true king of pilsners.

Dark Lager = Gets it color for example from slighlty or heavily roasted malts or use of certain hops. Dark lagers include Vienna, amber lager, dunkel (German for dark), tmavé (Czech for dark), schwarzbier (German for Black beer), and Baltic porter (uses lager yeasts opposite to the British style of porter). I used to like dark lagers when I was young and didn't know a lot from beers. Maybe my personal taste also evolved, but nowadays I almost least likely drink dark lagers, and especially the sweet ones. I remember that in my younger years I did like especially Staropramen dark and possibly U Fleku's legendary house beer is also a dark lager, but it's my personal classic from 20 years back, so can't say anything else but I should go to Prague again and check it out!


IBU = International Bitterness Units scale, measured from the bitter flavor originated from hops used in beer. The bittering effect is less noticeable in beers with a high quantity of malt, so a higher IBU is needed in heavier beers to balance the flavor. For example, an Imperial Stout may have an IBU of 50, but will taste less bitter than an English Bitter with an IBU of 30, because the latter beer uses much less malt than the former. The technical limit for IBU's is around 100; some have tried to surpass this number, but there is no real gauge after 100 IBUs when it comes to taste threshold. Light lagers without much bitterness will generally have 5 IBUs, while an India Pale Ale may have 100 IBUs or more.

Examples of IBU-values:
Light lager 5 IBU
Wheat 10-12 IBU
American Pale Ale 20-40 IBU
Pilsner 30-40 IBU
IPA 40 + IBU
BrewDog Hardcore IPA 150 :)

A bit too bitter

EBU = European Bitterness Units scale, that slightly varies from IBU so that beers' EBU value might be a little lower than IBU

Example of difference between EBU and IBU -values:
Stadin Panimo American Saison 41,5 EBU / 32 IBU

SRM = American way of measuring the color of the beer, scale from 1 to around 600 with darker colors associated with higher numbers

EBC = the European Brewing Congress color measurement

Examples of EBC values:
Pale lager, Witbier, Pilsener, Berliner Weisse 4 EBC
Maibock, Blonde Ale 6 EBC
Weissbier 8 EBC
American Pale Ale, India Pale Ale 12 EBC
Weissbier, Saison 16 EBC
English Bitter, ESB 20 EBC
Double IPA 26 EBC
Dark lager, Vienna lager, Marzen, Amber Ale 33 EBC
Brown Ale, Bock, Dunkel, Dunkelweizen 39 EBC
Irish Dry Stout, Doppelbock, Porter 47 EBC
Stout 57 EBC
Baltic Porter 69 EBC
Imperial Stout 79 EBC

Rating beer

Five basic things in beer rating / Rating scale of 1-5 from BeerAdvocate:

1) Appearance - Note the beer's color, carbonation, head and its retention. Is it clear or cloudy? Does it look lackluster and dull or alive and inviting?

2) Smell - Bring the beer to your nose. Note the beer's aromatic qualities. Malts: sweet, roasty, smoky, toasty, chocolaty, nutty, caramelly, biscuity? Hops: dank / resiny, herbal, perfumy, spicy, leafy, grassy, floral, piney, citrusy? Yeast will also create aromas. You might get fruity or flowery aromas (esters) from ales and very clean aromas from lagers, which will allow the malt and hop subtleties to pull through.

3) Taste - Take a deep sip of the beer. Note any flavors, or interpretations of flavors, that you might discover. The descriptions will be similar to what you smell. Is the beer built-well? Is there a balance between the ingredients? Was the beer brewed with a specific dominance of character in mind? How does it fit the style?

4) Mouthfeel - Take another sip and let it wander. Note how the beer feels on the palate and its body. Light, heavy, chewy, thin / watery, smooth or coarse? Was the beer flat, over-carbonated?

5) Overall - Your overall impression of the beer.

Ratings scale of RateBeer:
AROMA 1-10  
TASTE 1-10

Ratings scale of Jimbo's Beerblog:
* This is still beer (shit, that is called beer)
** Drinkable (basically nothing wrong, but not good either)
*** OK (meaning good)
**** Great (excellent)
***** Absolutely fabulous (only for classics)

Some beer vocabulary

Craftbeer = Beer made usually (but not necessarily) in quite small, independent, and traditional brewery, that are often also known as microbreweries (as opposite to big/huge multinational-corporations known as macrobreweries).

Body = Thickness and mouth-filling property of a beer described as "full or thin bodied".

Cask conditioning = Secondary fermentation and maturation in the cask at the point of sale. American phrase for "Real Ale".

Real Ale = Beer brewed from traditional ingredients, matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which it is dispensed, and served without the use of extraneous carbon dioxide.

Hops = Hops are the female flowers (also called seed cones or strobiles) of a hop species, Humulus lupulus. They are used primarily as a flavoring and stability agent in beer, to which they impart a bitter, tangy flavor. Flavors and aromas of hops are described appreciatively using terms which include "grassy", "floral", "citrus", "spicy", "piney", "lemony", "grapefruit", and "earthy".

Dry hopping = The process of adding hops to the primary fermenter, the maturation tank, or the casked beer to increase the aroma and hop character of the finished beer.

...and because hops are distinctively a plant, that is needed in beer making and not so familiar one to the masses as the main ingredients grain (barley, wheat, rye etc.), water and yeast, I wanted to gather an info package about them too:

Something about hops

Particular hop varieties are associated with beer regions and styles, for example pale lagers are usually brewed with European (often German, Polish or Czech) noble hop varieties such as Saaz, Hallertau and Strissel Spalt. Their low relative bitterness but strong aroma are often distinguishing characteristics of European-style lager beer, such as Pilsener, Dunkel, and Oktoberfest/Märzen. In beer, they are considered aroma hops (as opposed to bittering hops).

British ales use hop varieties such as Fuggles, Goldings and W.G.V.

North American beers often use Cascade hops, Columbus hops, Centennial hops, Willamette, Amarillo hops and about forty more varieties as in USA there are breeders of new hop varieties, including dwarf hop varieties.

Craftbeer Breweries use whatever hops are needed to make a good beer. It's quite common nowadays to use American hops to add hoppy flavors to some traditional beer styles.

Here's some of the hops presented:

Amarillo = The resultant aroma is of medium strength and very distinct. The aroma is described as flowery, spicy and citrus-like with a distinct orange bouquet. The hop is good for flavor and aroma. It can also be used for bittering effectively because of the low cohumulone content.

Cascade = Originally bred in 1956. It was obtained by crossing an English Fuggle with a male plant, which originated from the Russian variety Serebrianka with a Fuggle male plant. A very popular U.S. variety, with a moderate bitterness level and fragrant, flowery aroma. Cascade is often used in highly hopped West Coast ales that have a citrus-floral hop character. There is also a New Zealand version of Cascade.

Centennial = Bred in 1974 and released in 1990. The genetic composition is 3/4 Brewers Gold, 3/32 Fuggle, 1/16 East Kent Golding, 1/32 Bavarian and 1/16 unknown. Described by some as a "Super Cascade", but not nearly as "citrusy". Some even use it for aroma as well as bittering. Bitterness is quite clean and can have floral notes depending on the boil time.

Chinook =  A wonderful herbal, almost smoky character when used as an aromatic during the last few minutes of the boil when dry hopping. Excellent for hopping American-style Pale Ales, especially those brewed to higher gravities.

Columbus = A pungent aroma and clean bittering. Excellent for bitter ales and American IPA styles, and can be dramatic when dry hopped.

Fuggle = Superb in English-style ales, and lends a unique character not imparted by the more subtle American-grown Fuggles.

Golding = The premier English aroma hop. Superb in English-style ales, and lend a unique character to fine lagers as well. This hop has a unique spicy aroma and refined flavor.

Hallertau = The original German lager hop.

Nelson Sauvin = A triploid variety bred from New Zealand variety “Smoothcone” and a selected New Zealand male. Developed at New Zealand HortResearch and released in 2000.  The essential oil profile displays “fresh crushed gooseberries” a descriptor often used for the grape variety Sauvignon Blanc, giving rise to this variety’s name.
Nelson Sauvin

Saaz = Noble hop used extensively in Bohemia to flavor pale Czech lagers such as Pilsner Urquell. Soft aroma and bitterness.

Spalt = Traditional German noble hop from the Spalter region south of Nuremberg. With a delicate, spicy aroma.

Tettnang = Comes from Tettnang, a small town in southern Baden-Württemberg in Germany. The region produces significant quantities of hops, and ships them to breweries throughout the world. Noble German dual-use hop used in European pale lagers, sometimes with Hallertau. Soft bitterness.

Biggest hop producers (in metric tons, metric ton = 1000 kg):
1) Germany 34,249
2) United States 23,701
3) China 10,000
4) Czech Republic 7,800
5) Poland 2,59