Beer has come a long way since its B.C. days. Back then, beer was actually safer to drink than water, a public health crisis of sorts thanks to the lack of proper sewage systems. While we can’t solve a public health crisis like the novel coronavirus by drinking beer, we can at least pass the time enjoying it under our masks.
That being said, beer drinkers in ancient times didn’t have nearly as many varieties of beer styles to choose from as we do in 2020. Brewers worldwide have created an overwhelming number of styles over the centuries. Where is a craft beer novice to start? In order to understand the main differences between styles of beer, you’ll need a brief chemistry lesson.
Beer comes down to one of two main classifications: ale or lager. The difference between the two depends on the yeast used to ferment it. The fermentation process converts sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Ales are brewed through top fermentation using warmer temperatures. Through this process, the yeast settles at the top of the beer. The fermentation process to create a lager uses colder temperatures and the yeast settles at the bottom.
From there, brewers tinker around with various malts, hops and grains, as well as carbonation levels, bitterness scales and other flavorings. These combinations make an ale an IPA, for example, or a lager a pilsner.
While what’s laid out in these pages is a great place to start, the best way to learn about the infinite world of craft beer is to go out and try it. If you don’t know what appeals to your palate, don’t buy any old six-pack. Find out what styles of beer you like by going to a brewery and ordering a flight of 3- to 5-ounce pours. Ask your bartender questions. If there’s one thing to know about brewery employees, it’s that they love to talk beer.
Since all of the categories, subcategories and sub-subcategories of beer styles could take up an entire book, we’ve narrowed it down to the staples. As an added bonus, we’ve included where you can find each style locally throughout the DMV. So cheers! Prost! Na zdrowie! Salud! However you say it, do it at a socially distant 6 feet apart from others. Air clinks are always Dr. Fauci-approved.
Learn The Lingo: A Craft Beer Glossary
ABV: This term means alcohol by volume, measuring how much alcohol is contained in a given volume of an alcoholic beverage.
Barrel-aged: Barrel-aged beers have exploded in popularity over the last several years. It’s beer that has been aged for a period of time in a wooden barrel that previously housed a liquid like whiskey, bourbon or wine.
Bottle share: A social gathering of beer nerds who each bring a beer to open and share.
Brett: Short for Brettanomyces, it’s a wild yeast that brings out a range of funky flavors. It’s typically used to make wild ales.
Cicerone: Pronounced “sis-uh-rohn,” this term means beer sommelier. In other words, it’s someone certified in all things beer – from food pairings to brewing techniques.
Crushable: Saying a beer is “crushable” means it’s a low ABV, very drinkable beer you could drink more than one of.
Crispy boy: A – you guessed it – crisp beer for easy drinking on a porch in summer or around a firepit.
Drain pour: A beer that tastes so offensively bad you dump it down the drain.
Hazy: Hazy IPAs, or New England-style IPAs, are murky-looking and juicier compared to traditional IPAs.
IBU: This stands for international bitterness units, a scale that gauges a beer’s bitterness.
Imperial: These are beers with an ABV over 7.5 percent. Drink too many and you’ll topple over.
Stout: This is the porter’s fuller-bodied spinoff, an ale commonly misidentified as a strong, extremely heavy beer. While this is true of some, this dark-colored barley brew with a silky mouthfeel can be lighter than expected. Many are even lower ABV and have fewer calories than other beers.
Whale: These are very rare beers that collectors actively seek out – the Moby Dick to your Ahab.
Wort: No, it’s not the lumpy skin growth on your hand. Wort is the liquid extracted from mashed grain during the brewing process.
Illustrations by James Coreas.
Now that you know the differences between ales and lagers, tap into which varieties are adapted for the cooler months of the year. Though the golden beverage originates from Mesopotamia and Egypt, beer as we know it today is primarily developed from German brewing techniques. After all, September is our Drink Issue. With crisp air, changing leaves and Oktoberfest on the horizon, it really is German beer’s time to shine. Get ready to put your sandals away and fill up a stein with beer worthy of sweater weather. We talked to some local breweries about fall flavor profiles, what seasonals are on their radar and a preview of new releases beerheads have to look forward to. Note: All descriptions of seasonals and releases provided by respective breweries.
“With October right around the corner, we can’t wait to bring back our märzen and Vienna lager, as well as a few other surprises. We also have some amazing barrel-aged beers (eight in fact!) we will be releasing in conjunction with our fifth anniversary at the end of September. We’re working on some cocktail-inspired DIPA [or double IPA] sour recipes that we can’t wait to share with everyone.” – Erik Raines, Brand Manager
Notable + In Season
This bohemian pilsner makes its debut with crazy, thirst-quenching notes of lime zest, honey dew melon, cantaloupe and wildflower honey mixed with subtle spice, and is finished off with a satisfying water cracker-like finish. It’s the kind of pils where you blink, and the can is somehow mysteriously empty.
Aslin is super excited about this batch of amber lager. It’s balanced with a sweet aroma and caramel, malty notes that have a hop bite. This one you just cannot get sick of, and it gives us a hardcore itching to be lounging in a lawn chair or tubing on the river.
Much Ado Helles Lager
This beer is basically telling the summer heat to go kick rocks. Refreshingly crisp and dry with subtle lemon and caramel notes, this lager is best enjoyed with friends, on a river, doing yard work or on a Thursday. I mean, it’s pretty much the weekend, so…
Stating the Obvious Vienna Lager
This lager is triple decocted with Vienna, pilsen and Munich malt, and hopped with noble hops. The result is a pale amber color, caramel-like sweetness and a crisp, light toast.
Follow Aslin on Instagram @aslinbeerco and Twitter @aslin_beerco. Pick up beer or hang at the Alexandria location at 847 S Pickett St., pick up to-go orders at 257 Sunset Park Dr. Herndon, VA and visit the beer garden at 771 Elden St. Herndon, VA. Learn more at www.aslinbeer.com.
“Festbier, our German-style amber lager, will be canned in late September. This taproom-only release will be accompanied by a draft release of a Munich-style dunkel lager. We’ll also be making a taproom favorite, our Blueberry Stout, as a draft-only taproom seasonal available October through December at the bar and in crowlers to go.” – Hollie Stephenson, Head Brewer
Upcoming Dual Release
Gingerbread Stout + Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout
Available in late November
A bourbon barrel-aged stout brewed with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice, the Gingerbread Stout was a holiday favorite last year. The Gingerbread Stout will be a dual release with a bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout that is also delicious. These are national releases and both beers will be in 11.2-ounce, four-pack bottles. In the taproom only, there will be a 16-ounce, four-pack can and draft release of a bourbon barrel-aged coffee from our amazing local partners Vent Coffee and Coconut Imperial Porter.
Follow Guinness Open Gate Brewery on Instagram @guinnessbreweryus and on Twitter
@guinnessus. Visit 5001 Washington Blvd. Halethorpe, MD and learn more at www.guinnessbrewerybaltimore.com.
“We are a funny brewery. We don’t get too hung up on trends. Ultimately, our goal is to be a reliable and innovative brewer of delicious, well-balanced beers that celebrate their source and raw ingredients.” – John Gartner, Director of Sales
Available in October
Colossal® IX is a German-style weizenbock – a style fusing characteristics of a wheat and bock beer. Mahogany in color, this malt-forward beer boasts a bouquet of ripe banana, clove and dark fruit capped off with a billowing beige head.
Available in October through early November
Hoppy Brown is an American-style brown ale with notes of chocolate, caramel and tropical fruit in the nose. Rich flavors of roasted malt and caramel in the body pair with a bright hop character, finishing balanced and crisp.
Available in October
Brilliant copper in color, this beer showcases toasty German malt character, including traditional beechwood-smoked malts that impart an appetizing, savory smokiness.
Available in November
Port City’s Tmavé Pivo is brewed with all Czech malt and hops, lagered for six weeks, and served unfiltered. This dark lager finds the perfect balance between malt roastiness, spicy aromatic hoppiness and a slight caramel sweetness.
Available in December
Doppelbock is a stronger version of a German-style bock beer. This malt-forward lager is reddish brown in color, with highlights of crimson. Weighing in at 8.2 percent ABV, Doppelbock has notes of toasted malt, dark fruits and caramel, with a touch of roastiness.
Maniacal® Double IPA
Available in December
Deep golden with subtle orange hues, Maniacal® Double IPA perfectly balances hop bitterness, tropical and citrus aromatics, and malt structure. This deceptive double IPA satisfies the strongest hop cravings, while remaining balanced enough for the double IPA skeptic. Averaging five pounds of hops per barrel, Maniacal® is dry-hopped with azacca, citra and jarrylo through Port City’s patented HopZooka®.
Follow Port City Brewing Company on Instagram and Twitter @portcitybrew. Visit 3950 Wheeler Ave. Alexandria, VA and learn more at www.portcitybrewing.com.
Information about all releases mentioned in our beer adventure infographics can be found at the breweries listed below.
3 Stars Brewing Company: 6400 Chillum Pl. NW, DC; www.3starsbrewing.com
Aslin Beer Company: 847 S Pickett St. Alexandria, VA; 257 Sunset Park Dr. Herndon, VA; www.aslinbeer.com
Bluejacket: 300 Tingey St. SE, DC; www.bluejacketdc.com
Caboose Brewing Company: Caboose Tavern: 520 Mill St. NE, Vienna, VA; Caboose Commons: 2918 Eskridge Rd. Fairfax, VA; www.caboosebrewing.com
Christian Heurich Brewing Company: www.heurichhouse.org
Crooked Run Brewing: 205 Harrison St. SE, Leesburg, VA; 22455 Davis Dr. Suite 120, Sterling, VA;
DC Brau: 3178 Bladensburg Rd. Suite B, NE, DC; www.dcbrau.com
Denizens Brewing Co.:1115 E W Hwy. Silver Spring, MD; 4550 Van Buren St. Riverdale Park, MD; www.denizensbrewingco.com
Evolution Craft Brewing Company: 201 E Vine St. Salisbury, MD; www.evolutioncraftbrewing.com
Fair Winds Brewing Co.:7000 Newington Rd. Suites K & L, Lorton, VA; www.fairwindsbrewing.com
Flying Dog Brewing: www.flyingdog.com
Hellbender Brewing Company: 5788 2nd St. NE, DC; www.hellbenderbeer.com
Heavy Seas Beer: 4615 Hollins Ferry Rd. Halethorpe, MD; www.hsbeer.com
Jailbreak Brewing Co.: 9445 Washington Blvd. N, Suite F, Laurel, MD; www.jailbreakbrewing.com
Manor Hill Brewing: 4411 Manor Ln. Ellicott City, MD; www.manorhillbrewing.com
Milkhouse Brewery: 8253 Dollyhyde Rd. Mt Airy, MD;
Old Ox Brewery: 44652 Guilford Dr. Unit 114, Ashburn, VA; 14 S Madison St. Middleburg, VA; www.oldoxbrewery.com
Ocelot Brewing Company: 23600 Overland Dr. Suite 180, Dulles, VA; www.ocelotbrewing.com
Port City Brewing Company: 3950 Wheeler Ave. Alexandria, VA; www.portcitybrewing.com
Red Bear Brewing Co.: 209 M St. NE, DC; www.redbear.beer
Right Proper Brewing Co.: 624 T St. NW, DC + 920 Girard St. NE, DC; www.rightproperbrewing.com
Silver Branch Brewing Company: 8401 Colesville Rd. #150, Silver Spring, MD;
Strangeways Brewing: 2277A Dabney Rd. Richmond, VA; 3110 West Leigh St. Richmond, VA; 350 Lansdowne Rd. Fredericksburg, VA; www.strangewaysbrewing.com
Three Notch’d Brewing Company: 520 2nd St. SE, Charlottesville, VA; 2930 West Broad St. Richmond, VA; 24 Campbell Ave. SE, Roanoke, VA; www.threenotchdbrewing.com
Triple Crossing Brewing:113 S. Foushee St. Richmond, VA; 5203 Hatcher St. Richmond, VA; www.triplecrossing.com