Craft Beer: Demystified
The craft beer industry is growing at an exponential rate, especially at the local level. As the industry grows here in the Okanagan, we hear “I want to try out some craft beer, but I know nothing about it.” more and more often.
This little write-up compiles the telltale characteristics of the most popular styles of beer. You can quickly expand your craft beer knowledge without needing to read the entire internet, and you’ll feel more confident that you’re purchasing a craft beer you’re truly going to enjoy.
Cheers, and hoppy drinking!Miranda Maxson – Craft Beer Advocate | Product Consultant
Until Pale Ales came around most beers were dark and heavy with high ABV (alcohol by volume). When industrialization brought about coal products, brewers were able to control the roasting process of malts with more precision, and thus the Pale Ale was born.
Aptly named for the color of the roasted malts, Pale Ales introduced a canvas for brewers to explore the vast qualities hops impart to a brew. The ratio of malty sweetness to hoppy bitterness varies most greatly in the Pale Ale family, so it can be daunting to estimate what you’ll get. Rule of thumb: British style Pale Ales (including EBS and English Dark Mild) will be hopped for balance, meaning the malt will shine through more prominently and be less bitter. American style Pale Ales are more aggressively hopped and will err on the side of bitter.
Most Notable In-Store Pale Ales: Summer 2017
- Citra Station Pale Ale: Detonate Brewing Company, Summerland, BC
- Dusk Pale Ale: The Parkside Brewery, Port Moody, BC
- Earl Pale Ale: BNA Brewing, Kelowna, BC
I.P.A. (India Pale Ale)
I.P.A.s are Pale Ale based beers brewed with a large amount of hops. The style is designated as “India” Pale Ale because it was the solution to the challenge of shipping British Pale Ale to British-occupied India – the heat and motion of shipment caused the original recipe Pale Ales to spoil. The answer was in the hops. You will find the range of I.P.A.s to be incredible. Each hop strain has notable flavor differences. Brewers may showcase a single hop varietal in their brews or combine several to create complex and unique flavor profiles. All-in-all, expect big flavor and medium to bold hoppiness. If you’re just starting out drinking I.P.A.’s aim for American I.P.A.’s featuring Cascade, Mosaic, or Citra hops for bright, light, citrusy flavor. You’ll also find East Coast IPA’s are less hop-forward than West Coast IPA’s. Don’t stress if you don’t like them so much at first, your palate will become accustomed to the bitterness of hops with time and tasting – like we need any excuse to drink more beer!
Most Notable In-Store I.P.A.’s: Summer 2017
- India Pale Ale: Black Kettle Brewing, North Vancouver, BC
- Play Dead I.P.A.: Yellow Dog Brewing Co., Port Moody, BC
- The Four Surfers of the Apocalypso: Le Trou du Diable, Shawinigan, QC
Saison or Farmhouse style beers are actually Pale Ales but they are fermented at cooler temperatures which results in complex beers featuring spice, sweetness, and fruity esters (the molecules responsible for fruit scents). These beers can get quite funky – they can be tart yet sweet, dank yet bright and refreshing, earthy yet citrusy. A personal favorite, this style is a great place to start for craft beers as they are packed with flavor and reliably less hopped than most other styles.
Most Notable In-Store Saisons: Summer 2017
- La Maison Wild Saison: Four Winds Brewing Company, Delta, BC
- Intrepid Matcha Saison: Moody Ales, Port Moody, BC
- Randonneur Saison: Dageraad Brewing, Burnaby, BC
If lagers turn you off but you’re not ready to jump headlong into hops, start with a Kolsh ale. Most unaware beer drinkers would mistake a Kolsch for a lager, but the distinction is the lower malt and yeast flavors (lower sweetness and no bready-ness) in the Kolsch. Hops play a mild role in Kolsch flavoring, not taking a center stage like most brews, so don’t expect bitterness. The style is crisp, dry (not sweet), and easy to drink.
Most Notable In-Store Kolsch ales: Summer 2017
- Bandit Kolsch-style Ale: Bomber Brewing, Vancouver, BC
- Kolsch: Doan’s Craft Brewing Company, Vancouver, BC
- Juniper Kolsch: Whistler Brewing Co., Whistler, BC
Coming from a complicated history that is intertwined with that of Stout, Porters are rich, well-hopped beers that can range in colour from golden to deep, dark brown. You can expect these beers to feature toasty, roasty, malty (earthy sweet) flavours like dark cocoa and coffee. Porters tend to be balanced, meaning your palate won’t be overpowered by hop bitterness.
Most Notable In-Store Porters: Summer 2017
- Ashore Rye Porter – Britannia Brewing Company, Richmond, BC
- Holly Willie’s Robust Porter – Twa Dogs (Victoria Caledonian Brewery & Distillery), Saanich, BC
- Coco Chipotle Porter – Brasserie Dunham, Dunham, QC
As just mentioned, Porters and Stouts are intimately tied in both history and style. The biggest difference between a Porter and a Stout is how the barley is prepared: Porter uses malted barley where Stouts use unmalted roasted barley giving Stouts their distinct coffee-like flavors. Expect heavy, full-bodied beer with little hop, though don’t be surprised if some are a little bitter, that comes from the roasting of the malts.
Most Notable In-Store Stouts: Summer 2017
- Sunday Funday Breakfast Stout – Detonate Brewing Company, Summerland, BC
- Under the Weather Stout – Kettle River Brewing, Kelowna, BC
- Russian Imperial Stout – Parallel 49 Brewing Company, Vancouver, BC
Sour (including Gose & Lambic)
Pucker up! These beers are intentionally tart and tangy. This style is completely attributed to the work of yeasts and bacteria like Lactobacillus, Pedicoccus, and Brettanomyces which impart funk and acidity to the beer. Don’t be scared – these beers are refreshing and crisp exhibiting flavors of citrus and some tropical fruits. You may see sours that are ‘dry-hopped’ which means dry, loose hops were steeped in the brew to gently impart aroma, not bitterness. Both Gose and Lambic styles are less popular currently, but if you get the chance to try them, do. Gose has a characteristic brine/salt characteristic that is stupendous with the sour quality and Lambics are fucky, dank, and strongly sour like tart cider.
Most Notable In-Store Sours: Summer 2017
- Jelly King Dry-hopped Sour Ale – Bellwoods Brewery, Toronto, On
- Quaywi Sour – Bridge Brewing Company, North Vancouver, BC
- Strawberry Rhubarb Sour – Ravens Brewing Company, Abbotsford, BC
Lagers tend to be the sweeter of all the beer types due to the strain of yeast used: it leaves a greater amount of residual sugar in the beer. The type of yeast used also means low alcohol percentage (and we all know that means we can enjoy a second without guilt!). Lagers have a mellow, bready taste and are light-to-medium bodied. The bready quality will be attractive to those who enjoy a good baked pastry or piece of French loaf. I caution you not to write off lagers just because most domestic beers are lager style – the beauty of craft beer is the complexity of flavours that come from small batch production and use of high quality ingredients.
Most Notable In-Store Lagers: Summer 2017
- Craft Lager – Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub, Victoria, BC
- 76 Wolverine Craft Lager – BNA Brewing, Kelowna, BC
- Psycle Path Lager – Off the Rail Brewing, Vancouver, BC
Pilsner is actually a style of Lager that originated in the Bohemian city Pilzn. It employs specific malts, hops, and soft water to create its distinct taste. The beer itself is clear and golden with distinct hoppy notes and a crisp, dry finish. I tend to feel Pilsner is a step up from Lager and definitely a safe place to start for those getting in to craft beers.
Most Notable In-Store Pilsners: Summer 2017
- Arcus Pilsner – Driftwood Brewery, Victoria, BC
- Kelowna Pilsner – Tree Brewing, Kelowna, BC
- Red Pilsner – Steel & Oak Brewing Co., New Westminster, BC
Many of the products on this list are seasonal or limited release.
Please call anytime to inquire about current availability. +1 250-860-0364