Five Great Craft Beers for the Newcomer

Beer aficionados enjoy a multitude of beers from a group of 20 internationally recognized classic beer styles.

It could be a grueling, but no doubt admirable challenge for a craft beer newcomer to dive into this universe of classic beers without a roadmap.  For those seeking light guidance for their initial splash, a brief discussion of brewing basics follows, with focus on five prominent categories of beer offered for your consumption.

Categorically at the highest level there are 2 classes of beer, ale and lager.  Both ales and lagers can be dark or light, strong or weak.

The difference between the two is the type of yeast used in fermentation.  Ale is brewed with a warm fermenting yeast having a relatively short brewing time.  Ale typically is stronger with accentuated flavor as a result of warmer, faster brew.  On the opposite spectrum, lager is brewed with a cold fermenting yeast requiring a longer period of fermentation.  Cool, slow brewed lager has a cleaner, smoother and more crisp flavor.

Within these two categories are found all varieties of classic beer styles, including these five great beer classics:

  • Porter Ale – Porters were the first beers to be distributed nationwide once the Industrial Revolution was in full swing.  This beer style originates back to the early 1700s and it is believed that the name comes from train porters who sold this beer during the early British rail system.  Porters differ from all other beers in its unique brewing process, which requires that porter be aged for months to over a year.
    • Alcohol Strength:  4%-6.5%
    • Color:  Very dark brown, looks black from a distance
    • Flavor:  Roasted malt with coffee.  A bit of sweetness from darker-colored fruits.  Slight bitterness with hints of molasses.
    • Common Ingredients:  Pale malt extract, Chocolate and caramel malt, Fuggle hops, Black malt, Roasted malt
  • India Pale Ale aka IPA -This class of beer was borne out on the necessity of producing a beer that would remain stable for months deep in the hulls of British naval ships traversing the seas to India and the West Indies in the 18th and 19 centuries.  Fine British ales soured during extended voyages into warm climates.  Navy sailors, soldiers and early colonists demanded palatable ale. Higher levels of hops and alcohol were found to prevent microbial activity. More sugar, grain and hops were added to the recipe to preserve the beer, resulting in a more bitter, stronger tasting beer.  Before IPAs, Britain’s brewing methods caused all beers to have a dark hue.  Cue “kilning,” which means drying the grain in an oven first, which provided a lighter ale, hence the India “Pale Ale’.  Today, modern IPA ales have been reformulated to appeal to a greater audience while keeping it signature taste.
    • Alcohol Strength:  5%-7.5%
    • Color:  Light brown, possible orange hue
    • Flavor:  Hoppy, strong, and bitter.  Usually includes some degree of citrus flavors.
    • Common Ingredients:  Caramel malt, Centennial hops, Amarillo hops, Pale barley malt extract, Ale yeast, Carahell malt
  • Stout Ale – The style evolved from attempts to capitalize on the success of London porters, but originally reflected a fuller, creamier, more “stout” body and strength.  When a brewery offered a stout and a porter, the stout was always the stronger beer (it was originally called a “Stout Porter”).  Modern versions are brewed with a different concentration of sugar in the unfermented wort  and no longer reflect a significantly higher strength than porters.
    • Alcohol Strength:  4% – 5%
    • Color:  Jet black to deep brown with garnet highlights in color.  A thick, creamy, long-lasting, tan- to brown-colored head is characteristic.
    • Flavor:  Moderate roasted, grainy sharpness, optionally with light to moderate sourness, and medium to high hop bitterness. Dry, coffee-like finish from roasted grains. May have a bittersweet or unsweetened chocolate character in the palate. Balancing factors may medium-low to no fruitiness, and medium to no hop flavor.
    • Common Ingredients:  Roasted unmalted barley, pale malt, moderately bitter hops bitterness.  Flaked unmalted barley may also be used to add creaminess.
  • Bock Lager – Bock beer can be traced back to Germany near the time period of 1350-1400 AD. Brewed with heavy malts and a minimum of hops results in bock lagers having a malty, sweet and nourishing composition.  Some varieties of Bocks require months of cool storage to tone down the strength of the brew, making it more smooth over time.  Bock lager is brewed to be enjoyed in winter and into spring.
    • Alcohol Strength:  6%-7.5%
    • Color:  Can range from golden to a dark brown
    • Flavor:  Sweet malt flavors with hints of bread.  Pinches of cinnamon and herbal spices with a faint metallic finish.
    • Common Ingredients:  Munich wheat, Vienna malt, Caramel/crystal malt, Munich lager yeast

There is no limit on the varieties of craft beers currently being brewed.  Some craft breweries follow century old recipes to produce a brew as authentic as the brewmaster who originally developed the recipe. Others may improve upon a traditional recipe by altering ingredients or the brewing process.

If you’re a craft brewery developing new beer products or brewing processes you may be eligible for a research and development tax credit. Chortek LLP can advise you how to maximize this tax advantage and provide strategies to more accurately capture in-process inventory valuations and and improve cash flow.

Chortek LLP is a proud member of FaB Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Brewers Guild.  Please visit these organizations to find information, resources and opportunities related to the food, beverage and brewing industries of Wisconsin.