Don’t worry, Craft Brew U is school as you wish it would have been. Here, we all major in beer! There are no tests, but we will have homework, which will consist of drinking beer (to better understand what we have learned).

Craft beer is booming! New breweries open daily and innovative variations of our favorite beer styles are flooding the shelves and taps. The abundance is exciting and the more we learn about beer the more we can appreciate the effort of these brewers and enjoy the insanely good beer they create. Shall we begin?

We will start with the basic curriculum: styles, ingredients and the parameters of beer. Future (and one previous) posts will cover these topics in greater detail.

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Styles

How many beer styles are there in the world?
Including all the major beer styles and all of their sub-styles, there are believed to be over 100 different beer styles in the world. A prime example of a major beer style would be stout; its sub-styles include Irish dry stout, London sweet stout (also known as milk stout), oatmeal stout, tropical stout, foreign extra stout, and Russian imperial stout.

From which three countries do the majority of the world’s beer styles originate? 
The great majority of all recognized beer styles originated in Belgium, Britain, and Germany. Because grains and hops (two of the most important ingredients in beer) are indigenous to northern Europe, it stands to reason that most beer styles would originate there. Most technological brewing advancements in history also took place in Europe, further establishing the region’s dominance in the beer world.

Because America is much younger than these European countries, only a scant few beer styles, such as cream ale, California common (steam beer), imperial IPA, and black IPA, originated in the United States.

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What is the difference between ales and lagers?
The basic difference between these two major beer classifications is how they are fermented. Ales are fermented with top-fermenting yeast at warm temperatures (60˚–70˚F), and lagers are fermented with bottom-fermenting yeast at cold temperatures (35˚–50˚F). Because of their warm fermentations, ales can generally ferment and age in a relatively short period of time (3-5 weeks). Lagers, because they are cold fermented, take much longer to ferment and age up to 6 to 8 weeks.

Are dark beers stronger than pale beers?
No, that’s an oft-repeated myth. The flavor intensity of a dark beer might lead one to think that beer is strong, but there is no correlation between darkness and alcohol content. The color of a dark beer simply comes from the roasted grains used to make it. 

Are ales stronger than lagers?
No, that’s also a common misunderstanding. While there are many ales with higher alcohol contents, there are also quite a few ales with very low alcohol contents. Conversely, there are also a few lager beer styles with very high alcohol contents. Some examples of strong ales are barley wine, old ale, Scotch ale, and Imperial stout. Some examples of strong lagers include doppelbock, eisbock, and Baltic porter.  

Are ales darker than lagers?
No, that’s a widespread misconception. While there are a lot of ales that are dark, there are plenty of lager beer styles that are equally dark. Some examples of dark ales include stout, porter, and Belgian quadrup. Some examples of dark lagers include doppelbock, schwarzbier, and Munich dunkel

Ingredients

What four primary ingredients are used to make beer?
Though used in varying proportions depending on the style of beer being made, beer is made from grainhopsyeast, and water.

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The grains (barley, wheat, rice, corn, oats, rye, etc.) are much the same as those that are used to make many breakfast cereals. The barley and wheat must undergo a malting process before they can be used to make beer (the others do not). The malting process simulates grain germination, which metabolizes the natural grain sugars (called maltose), which is what the yeast feeds on during fermentation.

The hops provide beer with piquant aroma, a variety of flavors, and a delicate-to-intense bitterness that balances the sweetness of the malt.

During fermentation, yeast consumes the sugars derived from the malted grain and excretes ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide in return.

Considering that beer consists of up to 95% water, the quality of the water is of great importance. Depending on its source, water can have varying levels of mineral content, and this minerality can have a significant effect on the taste of the beer.

Parameters

What are the three parameters by which all beer styles are measured?
All beer styles are measured and categorized by their colorbitterness level, and alcohol content.

Beer color can range from pale straw to opaque black, depending on the style. This color can be measured on the Standard Reference Method (SRM) scale, anywhere between 1 and 40.

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Bitterness in beer is measured in International Bittering Units (IBUs), a scale that can run from 1 to 100+, but the human palate cannot discern much differentiation in bittering past 70 or 80 IBUs.

Alcohol content, which is expressed as Alcohol by Volume (ABV), can be as low as 0.5% and as high as around 20% in a naturally fermented beer. Any beer that contains an ABV above this level did not achieve it by natural means, as normal beer yeast is incapable of fermenting that high.

Lesson one: done! Future posts will explore beer styles, ingredients and the parameters for measurement, and everything else about beer, in greater detail.

The more we understand the tremendous variety of beer styles and flavors offered by craft brewers the better we can enjoy the outrageously good beer they create.

Craft Brew U meets weekly—right here at this blog site. Join us and elevate your beer knowledge. If you prefer the hands-on approach, Red Arrow Tap Room hosts private beer school classes that introduce participants to the basics of craft beer and various beer styles. Classes can be scheduled for groups of 10 or more and last about an hour. For information to book your event, please email info@redarrrowtaproom.com.