013. History, characteristics, and flavor attributes of styles by region

History, characteristics, and flavor attributes of styles by region

In the previous lesson we learned how to describe a beer by its qualitative and quantitative measurements. Now we can dig into the different styles of beer.

It’s important to know the defining characteristics for a variety of beer styles. As beer servers, we’ll not only need to speak in an educated manner of the products we’re selling, but sometimes we’ll also need to help customers decide which beer they want.

Beer tasting flight at Golden Road Brewing, Los Angeles, California, September 14, 2013.

Beer tasting flight at Golden Road Brewing, Los Angeles, California, September 14, 2013.

Cicerone program uses BJCP Style Guidelines, which has more than a hundred different styles of beer, plus mead and cider! Luckily the Certified Beer Server syllabus requires us to know only 40 different styles.

I’ve heard from other Certified Beer Servers who have told me this is the main part of the exam. I’m familiar with many of the common styles, but there are a lot of nuances here. If I were start again, I would study this section first, and review the beer style flashcards every time that I reviewed flashcards from any of the other sections.

The information that we learned in the previous two lessons about understanding beer styles and the style parameters all comes together in this section. Again, I have presented the characteristics in the order we experience them.

C – Color

Straw, Gold, Amber, Brown, Black

PB – Perceived Bitterness

Low, Moderate, Pronounced, Assertive, Highly assertive

ABV (Alcohol By Volume) – Alcohol content

Lower, Normal, Elevated, High, Very high

Review the parameters for determining beer style

For the Certified Beer Server Exam, they want to simplify it a bit. It’s most important to memorize the qualitative descriptors from the syllabus. I’ve added the quantitative descriptors in case you want to geek out, and because I feel, aside from SRM, people more commonly speak in terms of IBU and ABV.

The exam will reference both qualitative descriptors and quantitative measurements, so you just need to memorize one or the other. Feel free to memorize the quantitative measurements for each style, it will certainly help you if you want to go on to the Certified Cicerone® level.

And we don’t need to memorize all the stats for every style. Get a good feel for each beer style.

Beer Style Flashcards

Beer Exam School flashcards, beer styles set. Formatted for perforated business card sheets. Compatible with Avery 8371.

Descriptions of beer styles

Keep in mind that these styles are a general representation of most beers of the given style. That is, most beers in a style will follow these parameters and ranges that we’ll discuss. However, there will be some outliers, some beers that fall slightly outside of the strict parameters for a given style.

The style descriptions below follow this formula:

Style name: From CBS syllabus.

Category: From CBS syllabus.

Origin: From CBS syllabus.

C: Color from CBS syllabus. SRM from BJCP Style Guidelines.

PB: Perceived Bitterness from CBS syllabus. IBU from BJCP Style Guidelines.

Alcohol: Alcohol content from CBS syllabus. ABV from BJCP Style Guidelines.

Examples: From BJCP Style Guidelines and Beeradvocate beer styles.

Overall impression: From BJCP Style Guidelines “Overall Impression.”

History: From BJCP Style Guidelines “History.”

The style descriptions used below are taken from:

Commercial examples are professionally made beers that you can find and taste yourself to learn more about the specific styles. I tried to show examples that are most available in the largest area. Many of the examples in BJCP seem obscure to me (I haven’t heard of them). Whereas beeradvocate.com shows many more examples and it ranks the beers by number of ratings. I figure if it has a ton of reviews in Beeradvocate, probably it’s widely available enough that you could find a sample in your area. Sometimes I cross-referenced with Untappd to confirm that an example is still in production.

Thus, I used the following methods to pick 3 commercial examples for each beer style.

  1. Look for examples on BJCP that are also shown on Beeradvocate.
  2. Look for examples that I recognize as being widely available.
  3. Try to pick examples that are listed high on Beeradvocate as having lots of ratings.

40 beer styles from Certified Beer Server Syllabus:

World Map by shaireproductions.com on flickr (CC BY 2.0) was modified from its original state.

World Map by shaireproductions.com on flickr (CC BY 2.0) was modified from its original state.

Belgium and France

Gueuze (Lambic beers)

Fruit Lambic (Lambic beers)

Flanders Red Ale (Flanders ales)

Belgian Dubbel (Trappist and abbey ales)

Belgian Tripel (Trappist and abbey ales)

Belgian Blond Ale (Pale Belgian beers)

Belgian Golden Strong Ale (Pale Belgian beers)

Saison (Unique beers)

Witbier (Unique beers)

Britain and Ireland

Best Bitter (England, Pale ales)

English IPA (England, Pale ales)

British Brown Ale (England, Dark ales)

Sweet Stout (England, Dark ales)

Oatmeal Stout (England, Dark ales)

Wee Heavy (Scotland)

Irish Stout (Ireland)

Germany, Czech Republic, and Austria

German Pils (Pale lagers)

Munich Helles (Pale lagers)

Czech Premium Pale Lager (Pale lagers)

Märzen (Amber or dark lagers)

Helles Bock (Bock lagers)

Doppelbock (Bock lagers)

Weissbier (Wheat/rye ales)

Berliner Weisse (Wheat/rye ales)

Gose (Wheat/rye ales)

Kölsch (Rhine Valley ales)

United States

American Light Lager (Pale lagers)

American Wheat Beer (Pale ales)

American Blonde Ale (Pale ales)

American Pale Ale (Pale ales)

American Amber Ale (Pale ales)

American IPA (IPAs)

Double IPA (IPAs)

American Brown Ale (Dark ales)

American Porter (Dark ales)

American Stout (Dark ales)

Imperial Stout (Dark ales)

American Barleywine (Strong ales)

California Common (Historic styles)


International Pale Lager

Forget the insanity and just use the flashcards

Beer Style Flashcards

Beer Style Flashcards

Beer Exam School flashcards, beer styles set. Formatted for perforated business card sheets. Compatible with Avery 8371.


Belgium and France

Lambic beers



Lambic beers

Belgium and France

C: Straw to Gold (SRM: 3-7)

PB: Low (IBU: 0-10)

Alcohol: Normal to Elevated (ABV: 5.0-8.0%)

Examples: Cantillon, Classic Gueuze 100% Lambic; Drie Fonteinen, Oude Geuze; The Lost Abbey, Duck Duck Gooze.

Overall impression: A Belgian wheat beer with spontaneous fermentation. Complex, pleasantly sour/acidic, balanced, and pale.

History: Comes from a farmhouse tradition near Brussels that is several centuries old. Numbers are dwindling. Some modern versions have sugar added post-fermentation to make it more palatable to a wider audience.


Fruit Lambic (Kriek, Framboise, etc.)

Lambic beers

Belgium and France

C: Varies with fruit (SRM: 3-7)

PB: Low (IBU: 0-10)

Alcohol: Normal to Elevated (ABV: 5.0-7.0%)

Examples: Cantillon, Fou’ Foune (apricots); Lindemans, Framboise Lambic (raspberries); Cantillon, Kriek (cherries).

Overall impression: A Belgian wheat beer with spontaneous fermentation. A lambic with fruit, not just a fruit beer. Complex, pleasantly sour/acidic, balanced, and pale.

History: Originated when blenders or pub owners added fruit to lambic or gueuze, to increase the variety of beers available.


Flanders ales


Flanders Red Ale

Flanders ales

Belgium and France

C: Red-Brown (SRM: 10-16)

PB: Low (IBU: 10-25)

Alcohol: Normal to Elevated (ABV: 4.6-6.5%)

Examples: Verhaeghe, Duchesse de Bourgogne; Rodenbach, Grand Cru; Bocker N.V. / Omer Vander Ghinste, Cuvée Des Jacobins Rouge.

Overall impression: A Belgian-style ale that is the most similar of beers to red wine. It is complex with a range of sour flavor. Often aged for 1-2 years in large oak barrels.

History: Indigenous to West Flanders. Used to be common practice to blend mature beers with young beers to balance the flavor, but it’s now done mostly at only the larger breweries.


Trappist and abbey ales


Belgian Dubbel

Trappist and abbey ales

Belgium and France

C: Light amber to dark amber (SRM: 10-17)

PB: Low (IBU: 15-25)

Alcohol: Elevated (ABV: 6.0-7.6%)

Examples: Chimay, Première (Red); Ommegang, Abbey Ale; Westmalle, Trappist Dubbel.

Overall impression: A Belgian ale that is deep reddish, moderately strong, malty, and complex.

History: Developed in monasteries during the Middle Ages. Revived in the mid-1800s after Napoleonic Era difficulties to the beer market ended.


Belgian Tripel

Trappist and abbey ales

Belgium and France

C: Straw to Gold (SRM: 4.5-7)

PB: Moderate (IBU: 20-40)

Alcohol: High (ABV: 7.5-9.5%)

Examples: Unibroue, La Fin Du Monde; Victory, Golden Monkey; Westmalle, Trappist Tripel.

Overall impression: A Trappist ale that is pale, slightly spicy, and dry. Strong, high in alcohol, but doesn’t taste strong.

History: The Trappist monastery at Westmalle first made this popular.


Pale Belgian beers


Belgian Blond Ale

Pale Belgian beers

Belgium and France

C: Light gold to Gold (SRM: 4-7)

PB: Low (IBU: 15-30)

Alcohol: Elevated (ABV: 6.0-7.5%)

Examples: Leffe, Blonde; Affligem, Blonde; Aiken-Maes, Grimbergen Blonde.

Overall impression: A golden ale with subtle Belgian complexity. It is moderate-strength with slight malt flavor and dry finish.

History: Developed relatively recently for the fans of European Pils. It is becoming more popular and is now widely marketed and distributed.


Belgian Golden Strong Ale

Pale Belgian beers

Belgium and France

C: Straw to Gold (SRM: 3-6)

PB: Moderate (IBU: 22-35)

Alcohol: High to Very high (ABV: 7.5-10.5%)

Examples: Duvel, Duvel; Huyghe, Delirium Tremens; Russian River, Damnation.

Overall impression: A strong Belgian-style ale that is golden, complex, and effervescent.

History: The Duvel Moortgat Brewery originally developed this after World War II in response to the growing popularity of Pilsner.


Unique beers



Unique beers

Belgium and France

C: Light gold to Amber (SRM: 5-22)

PB: Moderate (IBU: 20-35)

Alcohol: Normal to Elevated (ABV: 3.5-9.5%)

Examples: Boulevard, Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale; Dupont, Saison Dupont; Fantôme, Saison.

Overall impression: A medium to strong fruity/spicy ale, usually citrus and pepper. Refreshing with high carbonation and a very dry finish. Can range from pale to dark in color, and lower to high in alcohol.

History: Originally from Wallonia, the French-speaking part of Belgium. It is a seasonal summer style. Before refrigeration was common, it was brewed at the end of the cool season to last through the summer months. Sturdy enough to last for months, but not too strong, so it’s still refreshing and quenching in the summer. Small artisanal breweries now brew this year-round. Also known as “Farmhouse Ale.”



Unique beers

Belgium and France

C: Straw to Light gold, made white by haze (SRM: 2-4)

PB: Low (IBU: 8-20)

Alcohol: Normal (ABV: 4.5-5.5%)

Examples: Allagash, White; Hoegaarden, Wit Blanche; Samuel Adams, Cold Snap.

Overall impression: A wheat-based ale that is refreshing, elegant, tasty and moderate in strength.

History: A 400-year-old beer style that lost popularity in the 1950s. Milkman, Pierre Celis later revived this at Hoegaarden. It has steadily grown in popularity since then.


Britain and Ireland



Pale ales


Best Bitter

England pale ales

Britain and Ireland

C: Gold to Amber (SRM: 8-16)

PB: Pronounced (IBU: 25-40)

Alcohol: Lower to Normal (ABV: 3.8-4.6%)

Examples: Goose Island, Honker’s Ale; Rogue, Younger’s Special Bitter; Fuller’s, London Pride.

Overall impression: A session beer that is flavorful, yet refreshing. Some have more prominent maltiness, but not overriding the overall bitterness. Very drinkable. Emphasis is still on the bittering hop aromas, as opposed to the aggressive middle and late hopping in American Ales.

History: A “real ale,” originally served at cellar temperature, under no pressure (only gravity or hand-pump). Created around the end of the 1800s as a draught alternative to country-brewed pale ale. Became widespread after brewers could “Burtonize” their water to brew pale beers and use crystal malts to add a full and round palate.


English IPA

England pale ales

Britain and Ireland

C: Gold to Amber (SRM: 6-14)

PB: Assertive (IBU: 40-60)

Alcohol: Normal to Elevated (ABV: 5.0-7.5%)

Examples: Brooklyn, East India Pale Ale; Meantime, India Pale Ale; Thornbridge, Jaipur IPA.

Overall impression: A pale ale that is hoppy and moderately strong. Features characteristics from English malt, hops and yeast. Less hop character and more malt flavor than American counterparts.

History: Brewed to survive the sea voyage from England to India in the 1700s and 1800s. Temperature extremes and rolling of the seas mellowed the beer during voyage. English pale ales came from the India Pale Ale style.


Dark ales


British Brown Ale

England dark ales

Britain and Ireland

C: Amber to Brown (SRM: 12-22)

PB: Moderate (IBU: 20-30)

Alcohol: Lower to Normal (ABV: 4.2-5.4%)

Examples: Newcastle, Brown Ale; Samuel Smith, Nut Brown Ale; Abita, Turbodog.

Overall impression: A malty, brown ale with light to heavy caramel character. Color varies from light to darker. No roasted flavors.

History: Different from historical brown ales. Modern brown ales originated in the 1900s as bottled beer.


Sweet Stout

England dark ales

Britain and Ireland

C: Dark brown to Black (SRM: 30-40)

PB: Low to Moderate (IBU: 20-40)

Alcohol: Lower to Normal (ABV: 4.0-6.0%)

Examples: Left Hand, Milk Stout; Young’s, Double Chocolate Stout; Samuel Adams, Cream Stout.

Overall impression: A very dark ale that is sweet, full-bodied, and slightly roasty. Often has strong coffee notes.

History: This English style of Stout was historically called “milk” or “cream” stout. Now it’s illegal to use those designations in England, but it’s acceptable elsewhere. The “milk” name is from using lactose (milk sugar) as a sweetener.


Oatmeal Stout

England dark ales

Britain and Ireland

C: Brown to Black (SRM: 22-40)

PB: Moderate (IBU: 25-40)

Alcohol: Lower to Normal (ABV: 4.2-5.9%)

Examples: Samuel Smith, Oatmeal Stout; Anderson Valley, Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout; Firestone Walker, Velvet Merlin.

Overall impression: A dark, full-bodied oatmeal ale, with roasty and malty flavors. Varies from sweet to dry. American versions will have more hoppy flavors and less fruity flavors.

History: A seasonal variation of the English sweet stout, with more nourishing oatmeal added. It emphasizes oatmeal for body and complexity, rather than using lactose for body and sweetness.



Wee Heavy


Britain and Ireland

C: Amber to Brown (SRM: 14-25)

PB: Low (IBU: 17-35)

Alcohol: Elevated to High (ABV: 6.5-10.0%)

Examples: Orkney, Skull Splitter; Belhaven, Wee Heavy; Traquair House, Traquair House Ale.

Overall impression: This beer is rich, malty and usually sweet, so it’s nice as a dessert. Varies in strength and maltiness. Usually has complex secondary malt flavors.

History: Originates from strong Scottish ales of the 1700s and 1800s. Sometimes called “Strong Scotch Ale.” This is a premium product usually made for export.




Irish Stout


Britain and Ireland

C: Brown to Black (SRM: 25-40)

PB: Pronounced (IBU: 25-45)

Alcohol: Lower to Normal (ABV: 4.0-4.5%)

Examples: Guinness, Guinness Draught (also in cans); Murphy, Murphy’s Irish Stout; Carlow, O’Hara’s Irish Stout.

Overall impression: An ale that is very dark, roasty, bitter, and creamy.

History: Originally called a “Stout Porter,” it evolved as attempts to capitalize on the popularity of London porters. Had a fuller, creamier, more “stout” body and strength, and was always stronger than a porter.


Germany, Czech Republic, and Austria



Pale Lagers


German Pils

Pale lagers

Germany, Czech Republic, and Austria

C: Straw to Light gold (SRM: 2-5)

 andPB: Pronounced (IBU: 22-40)

Alcohol: Normal (ABV: 4.4-5.2%)

Examples: Tröegs, Sunshine Pils; Left Hand, Polestar Pilsner; Trumer, Pils.

Overall impression: A crisp, clean and refreshing beer. German malt and hops provide excellent head retention and floral aroma.

History: Copied the Czech Premium Pale Lager style, but adapted to brewing conditions in Germany.


Munich Helles

Pale lagers

Germany, Czech Republic, and Austria

C: Straw to Light gold (SRM: 3-5)

PB: Moderate (IBU: 16-22)

Alcohol: Normal (ABV: 4.7-5.4%)

Examples: Weihenstephan, Weinhenstephaner Original; Surly, Hell; Löwenbräu, Original.

Overall impression: A German lager that is clean and malty with a soft, dry finish. Subtle hops add spicy, floral, or herbal flavors. More body and malt than Pils. Less malty-sweet and more pale than a Munich Dunkel.

History: Spaten brewery in Munich created this in 1894 to compete with Pale beers like Pilsner. Even today it is the most popular style in Southern Germany.


Czech Premium Pale Lager

Pale lagers

Germany, Czech Republic, and Austria

C: Straw to Gold (SRM: 3.5-6)

PB: Pronounced (IBU: 30-45)

Alcohol: Lower to Normal (ABV: 4.2-5.8%)

Examples: Plzensky Prazdroj, Pilsner Urquell; Sierra Nevada, Summerfest Lager; Budweiser, Budvar (Czechvar in the U.S.).

Overall impression: Crisp and complex. Well-balanced and refreshing.

History: Pilsner Urquell was first brewed in 1842, and still today in the Czech Republic it’s the only beer called a Pilsner.


Amber or dark



Amber or dark lagers

Germany, Czech Republic, and Austria

C: Gold to Dark amber (SRM: 8-17)

PB: Moderate (IBU: 18-24)

Alcohol: Normal to Elevated (ABV: 5.8-6.3%)

Examples: Samuel Adams, Oktoberfest; Paulaner, Oktoberfestbier-Märzen; Gordon Biersch, Märzen.

Overall impression: Clean and rich with a toasty and bready malt character. The maltiness is usually described as soft, elegant and complex, but never too strong.

History: Commonly brewed in the spring, at the end of the traditional brewing season, then served in autumnal celebrations. Historic versions were darker and toasty. Modern versions in the U.S. are golden, often labeled Oktoberfest (Festbier).




Helles Bock

Bock lagers

Germany, Czech Republic, and Austria

C: Gold to Light amber (SRM: 6-11)

PB: Moderate (IBU: 23-35)

Alcohol: Elevated (ABV: 6.3-7.4%)

Examples: Rogue, Dead Guy Ale; Einbecker, Mai-Ur-Bock; Capital, Maibock.

Overall impression: A lager that is relatively pale, strong and malty, with a more prominent hop character than other bocks.

History: Sometimes called a Maibock. Developed relatively recently compared to the other bocks. Traditionally served in springtime and especially the month of May.



Bock lagers

Germany, Czech Republic, and Austria

C: Gold to Brown (SRM: 6-25)

PB: Low (IBU: 16-26)

Alcohol: Elevated to High (ABV: 7.0-10.0%)

Examples: Ayinger, Celebrator Doppelbock; Tröegs, Troegenator Double Bock; Paulaner, Salvator Doppel Bock.

Overall impression: A lager that is very strong and rich. Stronger, richer, and more full-bodied than a traditional bock or a Helles Bock. Dark ones have a more malty flavor. Paler ones are a little drier and have a little more hop flavor.

History: First brewed by monks in Munich. Historically, it was lower in alcohol, and they called it “liquid bread” because of the high sweetness and low alcohol levels. Consumers called it “doppel (double) bock.”




Wheat/rye ales



Wheat/rye ales

Germany, Czech Republic, and Austria

C: Straw to Gold (SRM: 2-6)

PB: Low (IBU: 8-15)

Alcohol: Normal (ABV: 4.3-5.6%)

Examples: Weihenstephaner, Hefeweissbier; Sierra Nevada, Kellerweis Hefeweizen; Paulaner, Hefe-Weizen Natural Wheat.

Overall impression: A wheat-based ale that is pale, spicy, fruity, and refreshing. Commonly features banana and clove flavors and aromas.

History: Originated in Bavaria (Southern Germany) as a traditional wheat-based ale. Served especially during summer, but widely produced year-round.


Berliner Weisse

Wheat/rye ales

Germany, Czech Republic, and Austria

C: Straw (SRM: 2-3)

PB: Low (IBU: 3-8)

Alcohol: Lower (ABV: 2.8-3.8%)

Examples: Dogfish Head, Festina Pêche; Bell’s, Oarsman; The Bruery, Hottenroth.

Overall impression: A pale, refreshing, highly-carbonated wheat beer that is sour. Sour aromas and sour flavor provide balance in place of hops.

History: Originally a regional specialty of Berlin, which Napoleon’s troops called “the Champagne of the North.” Becoming more rare in Germany, but American craft breweries are producing it more.



Wheat/rye ales

Germany, Czech Republic, and Austria

C: Straw to Light gold (SRM: 3-4)

PB: Low (IBU: 5-12)

Alcohol: Lower to Normal (ABV: 4.2-4.8%)

Examples: Anderson Valley, The Kimmie, The Yink, & The Holy Gose; Sierra Nevada, Otra Vez; Samuel Adams, Verloren.

Overall impression: A wheat ale that is tart, fruity, and highly carbonated. Bright flavors, including coriander and salt.

History: Originated in the Middle Ages in the town of Goslar, Germany on the Gose River. Popularity declined after World War II so much that it wasn’t made from 1966 until the 1980s.


Rhine Valley ales



Rhine Valley ales

Germany, Czech Republic, and Austria

C: Straw to Light gold (SRM: 3.5-5)

PB: Moderate (IBU: 18-30)

Alcohol: Normal (ABV: 4.4-5.2%)

Examples: Goose Island, Summertime; Ballast Point, California Kölsch; Reissdorf, Reissdorf Kölsch.

Overall impression: Clean, crisp and delicately balanced. Usually has subtle fruit flavors and aromas. There is a subdued maltiness with pleasant, refreshing crisp finish.

History: The Kölsch Konvention limits the use of the name to the 20 or so breweries in and around Cologne (Kiln), Germany. Defined as a “light, highly attenuated, hop-accentuated, clear top-fermenting Vollbier.”


United States of America

Pale lagers


American Light Lager

Pale lagers

United States (USA)

C: Straw (SRM: 2-3)

PB: Low (IBU: 8-12)

Alcohol: Lower (ABV: 2.8-4.2%)

Examples: Anheuser-Busch, Bud Light; Coors, Coors Light; Miller, Miller Lite.

Overall impression: Very refreshing and thirst quenching with very light body and very high carbonation. May seem watery.

History: In the 1940s, Coors briefly made a light lager. In the 1960s, Rheingold tried to appeal to diet-conscious consumers. In the 1970s Miller used the same recipe and made it popular among sports fans. Since the 1990s, this style has been the largest seller in the U.S.


Pale ales


American Wheat Beer

Pale ales

United States (USA)

C: Straw to Gold (SRM: 3-6)

PB: Moderate (IBU: 15-30)

Alcohol: Lower to Normal (ABV: 4.0-5.5%)

Examples: Bell’s, Oberon Ale; Samuel Adams, Summer Ale; Boulevard, Unfiltered Wheat Beer.

Overall impression: A refreshing wheat beer, sometimes with a “fluffy” mouthfeel. Some versions have more hop and less yeast character than German versions.

History: First popularized in the U.S. in the 1980s by Widmer. It is modeled after the German weissbier, but with cleaner yeast and more hops.


American Blonde Ale

Pale ales

United States (USA)

C: Straw to Gold (SRM: 3-6)

PB: Moderate (IBU: 15-28)

Alcohol: Lower to Normal (ABV: 3.8-5.5%)

Examples: Victory, Summer Love; Kona, Big Wave Golden Ale; Deschutes, Twighlight Summer Ale.

Overall impression: A malt-oriented style that is easy-drinking and approachable.

History: Currently produced by many American microbreweries and pubs. Varies by region. For example, more assertive on the West Coast. Usually designed as an “entry-level” craft beer.


American Pale Ale

Pale ales

United States (USA)

C: Light gold to Light amber (SRM: 5-10)

PB: Pronounced (IBU: 30-50)

Alcohol: Normal (ABV: 4.5-6.2%)

Examples: Sierra Nevada, Pale Ale; Oskar Blues, Dale’s Pale Ale; Firestone Walker, Pale 31.

Overall impression: Refreshing. Hoppy with supporting malt.

History: The modern American version of the English pale ale. Reflects indigenous ingredients and is usually lighter in color, cleaner in fermentation byproducts, and has less caramel flavors.


American Amber Ale

Pale ales

United States (USA)

C: Light amber to Dark amber (SRM: 10-17)

PB: Pronounced (IBU: 25-40)

Alcohol: Normal (ABV: 4.5-6.2%)

Examples: Tröegs, Hopback Amber Ale; North Coast, Ruedrich’s Red Seal Ale; Anderson Valley, Boont Amber Ale.

Overall impression: Similar to American Pale Ale, but is usally darker in color and has more body, more caramel flavor. The balance is usually more towards malt than hops, but sometimes the hop rates are significant.

History: Sometimes called Red Ale. Originated from the American Pale Ale in the hop-loving Northern California and Pacific Northwest, then spread nationwide.


India Pale Ales (IPAs)


American IPA


United States (USA)

C: Gold to Amber (SRM: 6-14)

PB: Assertive (IBU: 40-70)

Alcohol: Normal to Elevated (ABV: 5.5-7.5%)

Examples: Bell’s, Two Hearted Ale; Dogfish Head, 60 Minute IPA; Anchor, Liberty Ale.

Overall impression: An American pale ale that is noticeably hoppy and bitter, and moderately strong.

History: In 1975, Anchor made the first modern American IPA with their Liberty Ale. American ingredients and attitude go into brewing this American version of the historical English style.


Double IPA


United States (USA)

C: Gold to Dark amber (SRM: 6-14)

PB: Highly assertive (IBU: 60-120)

Alcohol: High (ABV: 7.5-10.0%)

Examples: Dogfish Head, 90 Minute IPA; Russian River, Pliny the Elder; Firestone Walker, Double Jack.

Overall impression: A pale ale that is intensely hoppy and very strong, but without a lot of maltiness or the deeper malt flavors of American barleywine. It is strongly hopped, but clean, lacking harshness. Drinkable, not so heavy that it’s just for sipping.

History: A recent American innovation from the 1990s, “pushing the envelope” on bitterness to satisfy the desire of hop heads. Sometimes called “imperial,” it simply implies a stronger IPA; “double,” “extra,” “extreme,” or other similar adjectives would work.


Dark ales


American Brown Ale

Dark ales

United States (USA)

C: Dark amber to Black (SRM: 18-35)

PB: Moderate (IBU: 20-30)

Alcohol: Normal (ABV: 4.3-6.2%)

Examples: Big Sky, Moose Drool Brown Ale; Smuttynose, Old Brown Dog Ale; Brooklyn, Brown Ale.

Overall impression: A brown beer that is hoppy and strongly flavored. Like the English brown ale, but hoppier. Sometimes has the citrus-accented hop presence, characteristic of American hops.

History: Originated by American homebrewers. It is similar to American pale ales and American amber ales, although the hop bitterness and finish is balanced with more caramel and chocolate flavors. Most commercial versions are not as aggressive as the original homebrewed versions or some modern craft brewed examples.


American Porter

Dark ales

United States (USA)

C: Brown to Black (SRM: 22-40)

PB: Pronounced (IBU: 25-50)

Alcohol: Normal to Elevated (ABV: 4.8-6.5%)

Examples: Founders, Founders Porter; Great Lakes, Edmund Fitzgerald Porter; Deschutes, Black Butte Porter.

Overall impression: A substantial beer that is dark and malty, complex and flavorful.

History: A modern craft beer originating from weaker, pre-prohibition porters or English Porters.


American Stout

Dark ales

United States (USA)

C: Dark brown to Black (SRM: 30-40)

PB: Assertive (IBU: 35-75)

Alcohol: Normal to Elevated (ABV: 5.0-7.0%)

Examples: Deschutes, Obsidian Stout; Sierra Nevada, Stout; Avery, Out of Bounds Stout.

Overall impression: A dark ale that is strong, roasted, bitter, and hoppy. Varies from medium- to full-body. Hops are more pronounced than in English export stouts.

History: A modern craft beer originated from the English or Irish stout, but with American hops and more of them.


Imperial Stout

Dark ales

United States (USA)

C: Dark brown to Black (SRM: 30-40)

PB: Pronounced (IBU: 50-90)

Alcohol: High to Very high (ABV: 8.0-12.0%)

Examples: North Coast, Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout; Bell’s, Expedition Stout; Great Divide, Yeti Imperial Stout.

Overall impression: A big dark ale with intense flavors. Roasty, fruity, and sweet with a bitter aftertaste and prominent presence of alcohol. Typically has dark fruit flavors combining with roasty, burnt, or almost tar-like flavors.

History: Historically brewed in England with high ABV and heavily hopped for export to Russia. The name comes from the alleged popularity with the “Russian Imperial Court.” Today it is even more popular in the U.S., where the style has wide variation.


Strong ales


American Barleywine

Strong ales

United States (USA)

C: Light amber to Light brown (SRM: 10-19)

PB: Pronounced (IBU: 50-100)

Alcohol: High to Very high (ABV: 8.0-12.0%)

Examples: Sierra Nevada, Bigfoot; Great Divide, Old Ruffian; Avery, Hog Heaven.

Overall impression: An American version of the richest and strongest of the English ales. It is well-hopped, but not so much that it’s unbalanced. Has a very long finish from the high alcohol strength and hop bitterness.

History: This is usually a brewery’s strongest ale. In recent years, many examples often show a vintage (production year). Usually aged a bit before being released. Often released in winter or especially during the winter holiday season.


Historic ales


California Common

Historic ales

United States (USA)

C: Light amber to Amber (SRM: 10-14)

PB: Pronounced (IBU: 30-45)

Alcohol: Normal (ABV: 4.5-5.5%)

Examples: Anchor, Anchor Steam Beer; Widmer Brothers, Columbia Common; Steamworks, Steam Engine Lager.

Overall impression: A slightly fruity beer with strong, grainy maltiness, and toasty and caramel flavors. Typically showcases the signature character of Northern Brewer hops, definitely not modern American (citrusy) hops.

History: This style is an American West Coast original, narrowly defined around the standard: Anchor Steam. It is fermented with a lager yeast that thrives at the cooler end of temperatures where ales ferment. Because there was no refrigeration, they traditionally used large, shallow, open fermenters to utilize the cool ambient temperatures in the San Francisco Bay Area.


Other regions



International Pale Lager


Other regions

C: Straw to gold (SRM: 2-6)

 PB: Moderate (IBU: 18-25)

Alcohol: Normal (ABV: 4.6-6.0%)

Examples: Grupo Modelo, Corona Extra (Mexico); Heineken Nederland, Heineken (Netherlands); Desnoes & Geddes Limited, Red Stripe (Jamaica).

Overall impression: Very refreshing and thirst quenching with very light body and very high carbonation.

History: Outside USA, large industrial breweries created imitations of the highly popular American lager.



Wow. I sure was working on this section a long time. It is definitely the most intensive so far, there’s so much information. I’m glad I took so long with it, I was able to better wrap my head around it and I think the information and the notes are better organized this way.

If I had to do it again, I would start with this section on beer styles. There is a lot of information to memorize, so it would be good to practice these flashcards the whole time. Plus, a couple people who already took the exam told me to sort of focus on the beer styles.

Flashcards for this section

Beer Exam School flashcards, beer styles set. Formatted for perforated business card sheets. Compatible with Avery 8371.

This whole lesson is put into flashcards. That’s going to be the best way to learn this material. Beer is not so much about reading. It’s a sensory experience. Holding the cards and seeing the imagery on the cards will help reinforce the information.

The flashcards for each of the beer styles above have been pre-formatted into a PDF so you can print them onto perforated sheets of business cards compatible with Avery 8371.

Or just print them onto regular printer paper and cut them out with scissors.

Either way, this is going to be daunting. Some of the data is minute, it has a lot of subtleties, so I better start reviewing these flashcards every day while I continue studying the other sections!

Get your flashcards now: Beer Style Flashcards

    I'm Nathan Pierce. I drink beer, I quit my job, and I'm planning to start a brewery. I also host a podcast about how to start a brewery. So I’m studying for Cicerone® Certification Program, Certified Beer Server exam.

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    2 thoughts on “013. History, characteristics, and flavor attributes of styles by region

      • Susan,

        “Sour beer” is a broad category used colloquially. It encompasses many different styles. For the Certified Beer Server exam, stick with just the beer styles prescribed by the syllabus and you’ll do great.

        Some sour beer styles in the Certified Beer Server Syllabus are:

        • Gueuze
        • Fruit Lambic
        • Flanders Red Ale
        • Saison (some saisons are made sour)
        • Witbier (can have carrying degrees of sourness)
        • Berliner Weisse
        • Gose

        If you want to geek out and learn a little more about sour beers that we’re hearing so much about these days, here’s a brief overview.

        As a beer style, sour beers can be a tricky bunch because it’s such a broad category. And because there’s confusion about the terminology. To begin, the word “sour” often refers to the flavor sour. Sour beers can have a sour, tart, or acidic flavor, so sour flavor does have some relevance here. But some sour beers taste sour, and some do not so much taste sour.

        I think of sour milk: essentially it’s rotten. Sour beers are kind of like that, in the sense that some little buggers from the air somehow got into the beer and contaminated it. I guess that’s why it’s an acquired taste. haha Nonetheless, that might not help you understand the beer style. And if you want to go there, all fermentation is rotten, and cheese for that matter! But I digress…

        Wild fermented beers are certainly a kind of sour beer. However, in the modern age, brewers also make sour beer on purpose under much more controlled conditions. Wild fermentation is very unpredictable and it can create some gross flavors. So brewers found out which wild microbes were rotting their beer, then reproduced them under a controlled environment to pick the most palatable kinds. This could include yeast like Brettanomyces, or bacteria like Lactobacillus or Pediococcus.

        The sour beer style can also include beers with added fruit. Tart or sour flavors can come from fermented fruit. Additionally, the fruit skin often brings wild yeast that can yield unpredictable results.

        Many sour beers are aged in wood barrels. Flavors become more palatable with time and oak.

        This is a very brief introduction to the sour beer style, the sour beer style encompasses a lot more than this.
        BJCP 2015 Style Guidelines talks about sour beer in several different categories. Start out with section 23. European Sour Ale. Give a glance at section 25B. Saison because some saisons can be sour. Check out section 27. Historical beer: Gose, which is becoming pretty popular and easy to find. Lastly, BJCP describes sour beers in sections 28. American Wild Ale.

        Of course if you want to learn about beer, drink beer. If you want to learn more about beer, drink more beer.
        For just introducing your palate to sour beers, I recommend starting with something like this:

        • Rodenbach Grand Cru (Flanders Red Ale)
        • Verhaeghe Duchesse de Bourgogne (Flanders Red Ale)
        • Sierra Nevada Otra Vez (Gose)

        From there, the world is your playground.

        When you’re just starting to get into sour beers, don’t be surprised nor feel bad if at first you don’t like it. Many people didn’t like their first IPA that they tried. Of course, now we all love IPAs.

        Remember, bitter flavor warns your body to stay away from something that might be poisonous. So give your palate some time to realize that sour beer won’t kill you. Then you might grow to love sour beers.