Beer Classifications and Definitions
Top fermentation denotes beers that are fermented in warmer temperatures, and generally speaking, aged for shorter periods of time than their bottom fermenting brethren. These brews are commonly identified as being of the ale class, even though stouts and wheats and other styles are also top-fermented. The reason they are known as top-fermenting beers, is that they employ yeast strains that work up to the top of the fermenting vessel.
As a general rule, and of particular importance to the beer taster, these beers will tend toward characters that are fruity and quite possibly, sweet. Top fermentation is the oldest technique in beer brewing and has dominated the art for 4,000-5,000 years.
Amber Ale: Color ranges from medium gold to deep rust. Aroma should be defined by more by the malt than the hops. The body should be influenced by the malt and should not weigh heavily on the palate or stomach.
Belgian-Style Ale/Abbey Ale: Color should be earthy brown. The aroma should be complex with spices. Varieties will compare to the Trippel.
Trippel: color should be medium gold. The aroma should be medium-dry and sometimes fruity. Varieties will compare to the Abbey Ale.
Bitter: The staple of most British Pubs. The Bitter will have an amber to rust color, with an aroma that tends towards leafiness if dry hopped, and a slight maltiness. The body should be softer than a pale ale and have 3.5%-5% alcohol content.
Brown Ale: Originated in the northeast region of England the brown is an easy drinking ale designed for the end of a hard working day. Should be brown in color, with a balanced blend of nutty and fruity notes and a woodiness in American browns. Should have a certain amount of dryness from the malting.
German-Style Ale (Alt/Kolsh)
Alt: Color should be copper brown. The aroma should be fresh and lightly fruity. The body will be assertively hopped and therefore bitter.
Kolsch: Color should be golden. The aroma should be hoppy with an earthly note. The body will be delicate in it’s maltiness with a lightly acidic from hopping.
Pale Ale: Color is not pale, but lighter than porters and dark ales. The aroma should be hoppy and complex, and the American pale should have a more floral character. American pales will have a pronounced woody and bitterness due to the hopping.
Porter: Milder than a stout with a color dark brown to black. Aroma shows a roastiness of coffee, chocolate, anise or soft fruit.
Scottish Ale/Scotch Ale: Because they are styled as very malty beers, Scottish ales tend to be dark brown to almost black (Scotch Ale) in color, and have a strong malt in their aroma.
Stout: Deep brown to jet black in color. The aroma
tends to be roasty, with a body showing the complexity related to its called style.
Strong Ale/Barley Wine: Alcohol contents of 8%-10% with few around 14%. Color in the rust to dark brown range with a forceful aroma from the heavy hopping. The most important characteristic is that Strong Ale/Barley Wine should not bully the consumer.
These brews are commonly identified as being of the lager class. The reason they are known as a bottomfermenting beer is that they employ yeast strains that work at the bottom of the fermenting vessel. A generalization of bottom-fermented beer is that the brew will emerge with a crisper, drier character when finished.
Bock: A strong brew of German origin. Traditionally amber-rust to deep purple in color. The aroma is sweet and the body should be complex with tones of chocolate, mocha, and spices.
Dunkel: A dark Lager by definition. The color will range between medium to dark brown. The aroma should be malt dominated with a balance of floral hopping. The body will be malt-dominated with a mildly sweet or spicy character.
American Wheat Ales: Light in color usually yellow to medium gold. Aroma will be grainy with tones of citrus and spices. The body will be similar to a light ale without the hops.
Weisse/Weizen: The most common form of a wheat beer. Color will be light to medium gold. Should appear cloudy due to the addition of yeast to the bottle. Aroma is normally characterized by cloves, bubblegum, or banana. The body should be full to medium in character without much hopping.
Wit/White: The rarest of Wheats. By definition, it must have a yeast in the bottle and should be served with the yeast in suspension. This action gives it a shimmering, sandy color, and appears closer to white in direct sunlight. Aroma is dominated by spices and should be crisp and invigorating.