What Style Really Means

Bev Blackwood - creativity within the rules.

The BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) forced me to buy Beck’s Light. In green bottles, no less. It was the only commercial example available to me, so into the cart it went, despite all my misgivings. The updated 2015 style guidelines that I am using as a guide to my judging class tastings have a number of new styles that the BJCP previously ignored.The particular one I’m grousing about today is German Leichtbier, which as you might guess is German Light Beer: I.E. reduced calorie, lower carbs, etc. You may well wonder just how many homebrewers are crafting this particular style for competition… I sure do.Making “light beer” isn’t usually on the homebrewer’s agenda, although there are certainly ample reasons for the technical challenges alone. (Fermentation control, yeast selection, high carbonation, appropriately light flavor profile and more.)Even so, I doubt it will be widely brewed and even more rarely entered.

When I first read Michael Jackson’s Beer Companion, it opened my eyes to the ways that beers could be classified and sorted into styles.However, it never occurred to me that defining a style also imposes a certain amount of rigidity into what was previously an opportunity for creativity and innovation.Indeed, reading back, there was no Imperial I.P.A. defined in Jackson, as the style hadn’t yet been created.Yet, to understand the subtlety and variations crafted by brewers, or to judge their products against one another in anything from the smallest homebrew competition all the way to the World Beer Cup, you need a definition of what you’re looking for in the glass.Imagine the nearly 7,000 beers entered into the Great American Beer Festival having to be winnowed down to the ONE best beer regardless of style.The already herculean task of judging would become ridiculously complicated, not to mention inherently biased to the tasting preferences of the final judging panel. Hence the 92 styles defined by the competition, enabling entered beers to be judged with beers sharing similar characteristics.Does that mean the first place robust porter at GABF will forever define the style?Of course not, although should a new brewery want to produce a quality beer in that style, it gives them an idea of what to shoot for flavor-wise.

Today’s range of beer styles borders on bewildering, as nearly every brewery is barrel aging, adding unique ingredients (don’t ask me about a local brewery’s experiment with a Cumin I.P.A.) and generally trying to find that unique beer that will sell like proverbial hotcakes… and in some cases, even taste like them. (Check out Armadillo Ale Works Brunch Money… It really does!)For my part, I use the BJCP Guidelines as a means to guide my students through the flavor elements that make each style unique and then highlight the flavor differences that occur when we move between similar styles.It’s very instructive to do this exercise when you have the chance, tasting exactly what makes that German Leichtbier different from a Kölsch, an Export Hellesbier or the classic German Pils… Even if you have to invest in some Beck’s Light to do it.

The Author:

Bev Blackwood II is the Southwest Brewing News Contributing Editor for Texas and has been covering Texas beers for 17 years An award winning home brewer, Bev has also brewed professionally at St. Arnold Brewing Company and was part of the team that brought home Saint Arnold’s first Great American Beer Festival gold medal in 2007. A long time member of Houston’s premiere homebrew club, the Foam Rangers, Bev teaches their Beer Judge Certification Program course and has also taught at Rice University’s Glasscock School of Continuing Studies.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC, its affiliates, or its employees.

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