The classic amber to red lager that was originally brewed in Austria in the 19th century has come to be known as the Vienna style. These are reddish-amber with a very malty, toasted character and a hint of sweetness. This style of beer was adapted by the Munich brewers and in their hands has a noted malty sweetness and toasted flavor with a touch more richness. The use of the term “Märzen,” which is German for March, implies that the beer was brewed in March and lagered for many months. On a label, the words “fest Märzen” or “Oktoberfest” generally imply the Vienna style. Oktoberfest beers have be- come popular as September seasonal brews among U.S. craft brewers, though they are not always classic examples of the German or Austrian style.
Specialty Beer is, practically speaking, a catchall tasting for beers that don't fit neatly in an existing category. However, if enthusiasm for a particular innovation grows, an emerging style may come to warrant its own, new category, as was the case for the Imperial IPA or Barrel-Aged categories. Simply put, Specialty Beers may be flavored with or affected by unusual ingredients (ginger, chipotle peppers) or fermentation agents (Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus), or brewed with unusual fermentables (buckwheat, sweet potatoes, maple syrup). In addition, the base beer may be related to almost any classic beer style. Given the variation possible in this category, there are no established standards for appearance, aroma or flavor. Instead, judges look for a pleasing combination of the beer’s elements, and overall drinkability.
Turning wheat beer into a cocktail has precedent in Europe, where alcoholic cordials or fruit syrups can be used to help beer slide down more easily. Flavored wheat ales are an increasingly popular specialty category, covering a number of flavoring options that brewers have adopted, particularly in the United States, the home of “throw-the-rule-book-away” hybrid beer styles. The two most significant additives are fruit and honey, usually employed separately. Raspberry is a common choice of fruit to flavor these styles and the best examples have faithful fruit essence and avoid any sweet cloying character. Honey can add richness to the palate and give a hint of sweetness. Herbs and spices are also encountered, but the possibilities are endless.
Wit beer is a style of flavored wheat. It is distinctly Belgian in origin and is still very closely associated with this lowland country. Wits employ a proportion of unmalted wheat in the mash, but also have flavor added in the form of Curaçao orange peel and coriander, among other ingredients. Their appearance is marked by a hazy white precipitate and these beers generally have some sedimentation. Typically, these are very refreshing summer thirst quenchers. Their popularity in the United States is growing, with some notable examples to be found.
Weizen bier is a top-fermenting beer style that originates from southern Germany, particularly Bavaria, and is brewed with at least 50 percent wheat in the mash. Hefeweizens are refreshing, highly carbonated beers ideal for quenching summer thirsts. They undergo secondary fermentation, often in the bottle, and the yeast strains used for this purpose impart a spicy, clove-like flavor. Hefe (the German word for yeast) on the label denotes that the bottle contains yeast sediment. Alcohol content is typically 5-5.5 percent ABV, giving these beers a medium to medium-full body. Hop flavors play a very insignificant role in the flavor profile. The best examples to be found are still authentic Bavarian imports, although some good domestic examples are produced and are often available as a draft option.
These are Belgian-styled ales to which herbs, fruits, or atypical spices have been added in order to impart flavor or color. Depending on whether or not the seasonings have been used in the fermentation or as an addition of juice or extract, the beer will have more or less of the desired character. These beers are highly individualistic, and they allow the brewers great creativity in their formulations. They will range from mild aromatic overtones to intense and pungently-flavored concoctions.
If one were asked to name the definitive American craft beer style, they would pick pale ale. Ask a Brit
The precise definition of English brown ale would depend on where you are in England. It is nowadays much more closely associated with Northern England, specifically Tadcaster and Newcastle, home to Newcastle Brown Ale. These medium-bodied reddish-brown beers are malt-accented with a nutty character, a gentle fruitiness, and low bitterness. Alcohol is moderate, a maximum of 5 percent ABV. The much less prevalent Southern English style, not seen abroad, is much darker in color, sweeter on the palate, and made in a lighter style. English-style brown ales of the former type have become very popular with U.S. brewers, no doubt for the same reason as they took hold in England: namely, they offer great drinkability.
Many North American brewers are now producing ales that are identified by the term “amber ale.” This is a more modern, non-traditional style, and many of these beers borrow heavily from the characteristics associated with more classical styles such as pale ales or bitters. Amber ales are light- to medium-bodied and can be anywhere from light copper to light brown in hue. Flavorwise they can vary from generic and quaffable to serious craft brewed styles with extravagant hoppy aromas and full malt character. Typically amber ales are quite malty but not heavily caramelized in flavor. For our purposes amber ales will also include ales commonly identified as “red ales,” and “American ales” as, from the consumer’s viewpoint, the dividing line between these styles can often be a more a marketing concern than a consistently observed brewing convention.
Mild ale is a traditional style of English ale that is characterized by darker colors, sweetish malt flavors, and subtle hopping levels, all within a lower alcohol frame (typically 3.5 percent ABV). Their purpose is to allow the drinker to get a full quotient of flavor in a “session” beer―a trick to which English ale brewing lends itself readily. In the 1940s, mild was more popular than bitter in English pubs, though it is less common now. U.S. craft brewers occasionally pay homage to this style.