Quick and Dirty Guide to American Beer Styles

Beer Sessions

Some people might argue that there are no such thing as “American” beer styles since our brewing has evolved from the traditional lagers and classic ales of Europe. But we’d argue that the key word there is “evolved.” American brewers have done so much tweaking, modifying, and reinventing over the years that American craft brews have definitely become a whole new category.

More than anything else, American craft brews are typified by hops, hops, and more hops. The best brewers balance this with well-considered doses of malts and other ingredients, but bitter hops definitely rule the day.

American Pale Ale - Golden to orange-copper in color, pale ales are typified by apricot, grapefruit, and pine resin flavors with a base of soft caramel malts. Beers to Try: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Anchor Liberty Ale, and Three Floyds Alpha King Pale Ale

American IPA - Where British India pale ales were over-hopped as a preservative on long sea voyages, these American IPAs are over-hopped for the fun of it. These are often tongue-bruising, eye-brow-raising, head-shaking versions of pale ales. They’re also delicious. Beers to Try: Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale, Stone IPA, and Victory’s HopDevil Ale

American Amber - This one is a hard style to define because it can really mean any more or less amber-colored beer with a fairly even balance of malts and hops. We think of this as a middle-of-the-road beer between pale ales and porters, and take it as an indication of what to expect from the brewery’s other offerings. Beers to Try: New Belgium Fat Tire Ale, Troeg’s HopBack Amber Ale, and Bear Republic’s Red Rocket Ale

American Brown Ale - These beers are full of toasty malts with a smack of hops to make sure we know we’re still in the States. Beers to Try: Brooklyn Brewery Brown Ale, Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ale, and Big Sky’s Moose Drool Ale

American Barley Wine - Big, bold barley wines have become increasingly popular over the past few years. They’re often doubled-up versions of IPA’s with a huge hop profile and lots of sticky malts to hold up the hops. They also tend to reach the upper limit when it comes to alcohol content, so watch out! Beers to Try: Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine, Left Hand Widdershins Barleywine, and Great Divide’s Old Ruffian Barley Wine

Extreme Ales - This is our own term for the beers that really push the envelope. While they’re often based on classic beer styles, American brewers are taking tons of risks in terms of new ingredients, fermentation styles, barrel-aging, alcohol level, and who knows what else. Sometimes they pay off big, other times they fall completely flat. Either way, they’re something completely new and different! Beers to Try: Dogfish Head Immort Ale, Allagash Odyssey, and Brooklyn Brewery Sorachi Ace

Which American craft brews have you tried and loved recently?

Related: Quick and Dirty Guide to Belgian Beer Styles

(Image: Flickr member .Bala licensed under Creative Commons)

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