Oktoberfest: mapping the beers of Europe
How many styles of beer can you name? Or for those old enough to do so legally, how many have you tasted? According to the Oxford Companion to Beer, there are well over 100 styles from all over the world. With the start of Oktoberfest, the annual German festival with a tradition of celebrating all things beer, well underway, now is as great a time as any to learn about the origins some of the different styles of European beers.
Vienna. Amber-reddish lager, similar to the Märzen style of Munich, Bavaria. This is no accident, as the brewers who created these styles, Anton Dreher and Gabriel Sedlmayr, were close friends and collaborated in their development.
Brewed by the Hoegaarden Brewery in the small town of the same name, this beer is widely considered the standard-bearer of the Belgian white (“wit”) style. It is made of malted barley, unmalted wheat, hops, coriander, and Curaçao orange peels. Not itself a style, but a specific brand representative of a style.
Sour wheat beers that incorporate wild yeasts and bacteria during fermentation. Originated in the Pajottenland region of Belgium (southwest of Brussels) and in Brussels itself.
Strong, golden ale theoretically named for the medieval tradition that used crosses to mark casks with the approximate strength of the brew, allowing illiterate people to know what they were getting. Three XXXs indicated the strongest beer. First commercialized by the De Drie Linden brewery in Braaschat.
A pale, golden lager associated with the town of Pilsen (or Plzen). In the mid-19th century the Czechs were displeased with the quality of their beer, and built a new state-of-the-art brewery in Pilsen. They recruited a Bavarian brewmaster, Josef Groll, to brew a Bavarian-style lager, but instead he brewed a new style with a more assertive hop character that uses Czech ingredients, including, to excellent effect, the very soft, sandstone-filtered Pilsen water.
Derives from 19th century Burton-on-Trent IPAs. As IPAs became enormously popular, brewers began making a variety of similar beers at varying strengths, including “pale ales”. English pale ale is traditionally brewed using the classic English hop varieties Golding and Fuggle, though other varieties may be substituted.
A type of dark beer that first saw life in the 1700s and helped build London’s greatest breweries.
A top-fermented, unfiltered, unpasteurized beer with pronounced banana-like aroma.
A farmhouse beer once ubiquitous in French Flanders, which now encompasses the French departments du Nord and Pas-de-Calais and the Belgian province Hainaut. Bière de Garde translates to “beer for keeping”, reflecting the practice of brewing higher alcohol beers towards the end of the cold season for storage during the warmer months of the year, when conditions were not as hospitable for brewing because beers spoil easier in warm climates. Considered the only widely acknowledged French contribution to specialty brewing.
A style that gradually developed from the 17th to the 20th century, originating from the region around Berlin. Its main characteristic is a mild sourness and tartness with a light and fruity character, leading to its nickname, “Champagne of the North”. At the height of its popularity in the 19th century it was the most popular alcoholic style in Berlin, but its popularity has since fallen off.
A strong beer with an original gravity above 16 degrees Plato and a typical alcohol content beyond 6.5% ABV. The style originated in the lower-Saxonian town of Einbeck.
A strong lager beer with typical alcohol content beyond 7% ABV. Also known as “liquid bread,” doppelbocks once helped monks through the long fasting days of Lent. The style originated in Munich.
An ale style from Leipzig that notably incorporates salt and coriander, and uses a high percentage of malted wheat. Gose belongs to the same family of sour wheat beer as Berliner weisse.
A golden, hoppy ale from the town of Cologne (or Köln in German). It was first brewed in the late 1800s by the Cologne brewers who wanted to fight back against the invasion of imported pale lagers coming in from Bohemia. The resulting style is golden and hoppy, like the lagers, but maintains the warm-fermenting ale yeasts.
German for “March beer,” a golden to deep amber lager style with a full body and moderate bitterness. Its historical origins lie in a decree issued by the Bavarian ruler Duke Albrecht V, in which he forbade all brewing between April 23rd and September 29th because beer would often spoil in the warmer temperatures. The brewers thus worked overtime in March to brew enough to last until fall. This style is closely related to Vienna lager.
The classical wheat beer of Bavaria whose name means “white beer” in German, due to the yellowish-white tinge imparted by the pale wheat and barley malts from which it is made. Outside Bavaria this beer is better known as hefeweizen.
Literally “black beer”, a black lager with a light to medium body and a moderate to high bitterness. Popular in East Germany, it made a large impact on the market after Germany’s reunification in 1990.
Low-alcohol, lightly sour beer made from fermented rye bread and flavored with mint or fruits. Available on street corners in Russia, Latvia, Uzbekistan, and many other countries of the former Eastern bloc.
A traditional lager brewed to varying strengths, ranging in color from amber, to light brown, to deep mahogany. The aromatics tend towards rich maltiness, with low levels of fruity esters because of the cool climate, and consequently cooler fermentation temperatures.
A complex, strong beer characterized by substantial malt-influenced flavors. As a general rule it has little hop character, in part because of its origins in 18th century Scotland. Hops were not native to the country and were therefore an expensive commodity to ship from England, let alone abroad. Hop content was therefore kept to a minimum, while malting barley, which Scotland has in abundance, was used liberally.