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Beer Styles

Core Objective

A core objective for the Campaign for Real Ale is to promote both the consumption and production of real ale. With nearly 2,000 breweries across the UK, you can be sure to find a taste to suit all preferences.

Beer is the world’s third favourite drink. The most popular beer style is lager, but beer is much more than this. Most beer drinkers might have an idea what a traditional bitter is, however, do you know how this differs from a Pale Ale or a Golden Ale? And what exactly is a Barley Wine? The situation is made more complex by the growth in the number of brewers brewing international recipes, experimenting with new beer styles and digging up very old ones as well. This page will help cut through some of the jargon and is designed to show you the 12 beer style categories, which CAMRA uses for judging its prestigious Champion Beer of Britain Awards.

1. Milds: Up to and Including 4% ABV
2. Session Bitters: Up to and Including 4.3% ABV
3. Premium Bitters: 4.4% – 6.4% ABV
4. Session Pale, Blond and Golden Ales: Up to and Including 4.3% ABV
5. Premium Pale, Blond and Golden Ales: 4.4% – 6.4% ABV
6. British & New World IPAs: 5.5% ABV and Above
7. Brown and Red Ales, Old Ales and Strong Milds: 4.1% – 6.4% ABV
8. Session Stouts and Porters: Up to and Including 4.9% ABV
9. Strong Stouts and Porters including Imperial Stouts and Baltic Porters: 5.0% ABV and Above
10. Barley Wines and Strong Ales: 6.5% ABV and Above
11. Speciality Beers: Differently Produced
12. Speciality Beers: Flavoured

Ingredients and Flavours

There are four basic ingredients in beer: water, yeast, malt and hops. Like a good chef, brewers will decide which ingredients to use to get the end result they desire. If the brewers want a strong beer, they will use a high level of malt, as it is the malt that provides the food for the yeast, which then produces the alcohol. Mal also gives the beer its sweetness and body as well as most of its colour. Malt is barley that has been germinated and then heated. A beer’s colour can range from very pale yellow to black, according to how long the barley is heated for, and at what temperature. The malt gives caramel, biscuity and roast notes, including chocolate and coffee. Black malt can also give a burnt bitterness. But hops are usually the main source of a beer’s bitterness. There is a huge range of hops from Europe, the New World and even Japan as well as Britain.

Hops contribute to fruit notes; citrus, peach and tropical are not unusual. They can also give floral and peppery notes. In stronger beers, the combination of the ingredients tends to give very complex flavours including caramelised fruit and you may also pick up the warming impact of the alcohol. The other two ingredients, water and yeast will also have an impact on flavour. For example, some beers, such as Pilsner, require soft water whereas Porters do better with water high in calcium carbonates such as in London. Conversely, if a brewer is trying to showcase the hops in a beer, they will choose a yeast, such as an American strain. This can have a more neutral taste compared to the type of British yeast that would be used in a traditional bitter, where the yeast gives a fruity edge.