Navigating your way through the different styles of beer can be tough. Unlike wine, where things are easily categorised into red or white and then by the grape used, or spirits, where styles like vodka, bourbon, gin and whiskey are very well known, beer styles can be a bit more confusing. Depending on who you listen to or what guide you read, there can be hundreds of different styles of beer, including some very rare and unusual styles. History, ingredients, appearance, aroma, flavour, mouthfeel, and alcohol level of beers are all elements that can define the style of a particular beer. It sometimes feels like you need a degree in brewing to have a conversation about beer!
The fact that there are so many different styles, and so much variety between brands within some of these styles, is one of the great things about beer. You’ll probably like some styles more than others, and you’ll probably prefer some brands within a style over others. You’ll also probably enjoy different styles or brands more than others for different occasions, depending on how you’re feeling, what you’re doing, what you’re eating etc.
So on Made to Match, we’ve tried to make things nice and simple, and we’ve tried to categorise all the different styles into 8 different areas: lagers, pilseners, pale ales, dark beers, other ales, wheat beers, NZ draught, and specialty beers. Click here for a summary of each of these styles, and some of the beers you can try within each style.
The guides to beer styles and flavours on Made to Match aren’t meant to be exhaustive or 100% perfect. They’re intended as a guide to summarise the styles that are most popular and available in NZ. If you haven’t tried a lot of different beers before, we hope we can point you to some new styles or brands that we think you’ll enjoy. If you’re already a keen beer explorer who knows a lot about beer, then we hope we might help you find a few new beers you’ll enjoy.
If you’re keen to dig a bit deeper into beer styles outside of our broad categories, here are a couple of places you can try:
The Beer Judge Certificate Program (BJCP) is used by some of the major beer awards to define what is expected in a certain style, including some very specific guidelines around colour, alcohol level, hoppiness etc. The BJCP uses 23 different categories, although some of these categories are very niche. http://www.bjcp.org/2008styles/catdex.php
The American beer website Beer Advocate also has a very thorough guide to beer styles, including many unusual ones!
Beer writers Michael Jackson (no, not that one) and Fred Eckhardt have also published well-regarded guides to beer styles – try and hunt down a copy of their books.
Sometimes called ‘Kiwi brown beer’, NZ Draught is one of the most popular styles of beer in NZ, so we thought it was worth a category in its own right! The NZ Draught style is so-called because of its strong association as a tap, or draught, beer. NZ Draught beers are a dark amber or brown colour, and are typically easy-drinking, with a sweet, malty taste.
The word lager is of German origin, meaning ‘to store’. The technical definition of lager is a beer that is fermented and conditioned at low temperatures, and uses a bottom-fermenting lager yeast (as opposed to top-fermenting ale yeasts). In everyday terms, lagers are beers that are typically served cold, are usually light and pale in colour (from the use of pale malts), and have a crisp, clean and refreshing flavour. Since the mid to late 1800s, lagers have overtaken ales in popularity and availability, and today most of the beer drunk worldwide is lagers. There are many sub-styles of lagers, and we have split the hoppier Pilsener style out separately, and we have included dark lagers like Vienna lagers or schwarzbiers in our Dark Beer section. So our Lager section is dedicated to the refreshing, easy-drinking lagers of the world.
Pilseners (sometimes spelt as Pilsners) are a type of lager, named after the town of Pilsen in the Czech Republic. While light in colour and served cold, Pilseners typically have a stronger hop flavour and aroma than other lagers, which gives them their characteristic bite.
When the craft beer movement took off in the United States, Australia and New Zealand, these ‘new world’ breweries often strongly emphasised this hoppy character, meaning ‘new world’ pilseners are often hoppier than their European cousins. While many European lagers are sometimes referred to as Pilseners, for the sake of consistency, we’ve included beers like Beck’s and Stella Artois in the Lager section, and used our Pilsener category for the ‘new world’ style only.
Pale Ales are a broad category, encompassing a wide range of beers that share a common characteristic – they are ales that use a high proportion of pale malts, resulting in a lighter colour than other ales. There are a lot of sub-categories of Pale Ale, from classic English style pale ales or bitters, which tend to have a maltier character, to India Pale Ales (IPAs), originally brewed in England but now re-defined by West Coast American breweries as an extremely hoppy, piney, resinous style, to the emerging Australian and New Zealand style of Pale Ale, characterised by our fruity hop flavours. There is a huge range of flavour amongst this great beer style – some are light and easy-drinking, others with extremely intense and challenging hop flavours! Try a few different Pale Ales to find the ones that suit you best.
We’ve included the historic and well-known porter and stout styles here, along with other dark beers including dark lagers like schwarzbiers and Vienna lagers. Porters and stouts originated in England in the 1700s as long-lasting, portable beers for the working classes, and were a popular export to Ireland, where Guinness remains the most famous example. There are a range of sub-styles including milk stouts, oatmeal stouts, and oyster stouts (which beer historians believe were first brewed in NZ in the 1920s!).
The dark colour of these beers comes from the choice of malts in the brewing process – including crystal, roasted and chocolate malt. These malts contribute some of the key flavours of dark beers – nutty, coffee, toffee, chocolate. Dark ales often have a richer, fuller texture and mouthfeel than other beers, sometimes velvety or silky. Dark lagers balance the lighter texture and mouthfeel of lagers with darker colours and malty flavours.
As well as Pale Ales and Dark Ales, there are a huge number of other styles of Ale, including Brown Ales, Red Ales, Amber Ales and Golden Ales. We have grouped these together as Other Ales – not a very original name. These beers have a darker colour than Pale Ales, but a lighter colour than Dark Ales. And where Pale Ales are often very hop-driven, and Dark Ales often characterised by flavours from their malts, beers in the Other Ales category are often typified by sweet, fruity flavours, with a balance of hop, malt and yeast influences.
While wheat beers make up a relatively small proportion of the beers drunk in NZ, they are such an interesting and unusual style that we thought they were worth their own category! Their origins are from Belgium and Germany, and there are subtle variations in style between witbiers, weissbiers or weizen, hefeweizens, and other sub-styles. Wheat beers are technically ales as they use a top-fermenting yeast, but their unique sweet and sour flavours come from the use of malted and/or unmalted wheat in addition to malted barley, and unique yeast strains. Wheat beers typically have a smooth, silky mouthfeel, a cloudy appearance, and a different type of carbonation and head formation than other beers. Some wheat beers include spices and fruit as additional ingredients, including coriander and orange peel. As well as these spicy and citrusy flavours, classic estery wheat beer flavours of banana, bubblegum, rose petals, Turkish delight and vanilla are often driven by the use of specialty yeast.
Our Specialty category is a bit of a catch-all – basically it is anything that doesn’t fit into one of the other categories, which includes lots of the more niche and unusual styles in the wonderful world of beer – from the oldest, most historic varieties to the newest, boundary-pushing styles! Specialty includes Belgian Abbey beers, lambics, spiced or smoked beers, fruit beers, and experimental styles of beer. As you would expect from such a diverse category, there are a huge range of different flavours, and massive variety in colour, ABV, mouthfeel etc. As a general rule, be prepared for higher alcohol levels and stronger, more unusual flavours than in other categories.