With the rise of craft beer, terms are being flung about like IPA, Pale Ale, Porter and Stout and to confuse it just a little more a few additives like “American” or “English” are also mixed in.

With Cape Town Festival of Beer just around the corner here is a quick guide to a few of the style that you can expect to sample. Hopefully it will help clear up some of the confusion and help you with your choice when you get to a stand.

Just to be clear it’s not a set of rules or laws that brewers have to adhere to, but a brown colored beer is clearly not a pale ale or a beer with only the faintest hop aroma or bitterness just can not be called an IPA. It is better used to compare apples with apples and help you with choosing a beer you will enjoy.

Beers with English roots:

English Bitters:
Origin: Developed 1850-1950 as draft pale ale that grew lighter in alcohol and body over time. Usually brewed with adjuncts (sugar) in addition to malt to lighten body and improve drinkability. Despite their low alcohol and adjuct recipes these beers can seductively complex and appealing.
Flavor: Fresh hops plus nutty maltiness, crisp finish.
Aroma: Hops first, plus nutty/woody malt; spice and fruit also evident.
Balance: hop or malt balanced; bitter finish
ABV: 2.5-5.0%
Body: dry to medium
Color: light to dark amber
Bitterness: medium to high (25-55 IBU)

English Pale Ale:
Nearly impossible to completely differentiate pale ale from the bitter family, but pale ale is a more substantial beer and you are more likely to find an all-malt version. American brewers have made this style their own, but proper English pale ale always display English hop character.
Origin: descended from amber-colored “October” beers brewed in the English countryside, it was adopted in London well before 1800.
Flavor: crisp; nutty malt; spicy hops
Aroma: clean malt plus a good dose of spicy/herbal English hops.
Balance: even or dry/bitter
ABV: 3.8-6.2%
Body: crisp, dry
Color: gold to amber
Bitterness: medium-high (20-50 IBU)

India Pale Ale:
Very much part of the pale ale family. In any given brewer’s portfolio, the IPA is just about guaranteed to be just a little paler, stronger and more bitter than their pale. One brewer’s pale is another brewer’s IPA.
Origin: True Indian Pale Ale evolved from October ales shipped to India.
Flavor: Plenty of malt, but dominated by hops.
Aroma: Spicy English hops in the foreground, plus a nice backup of nutty malt.
Balance: Always hoppy
ABV: 4.5-7.5%
Body: crisp, dry
Color: gold to amber
Bitterness: High (40-60 IBU)

Tomorrow more on the American styles. Then still the dark beers and continental Europe to follow.

(Post adapted from Tasting Beer by Randy Mosher…..Great book to read for anybody with a interest in beer)