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The craft beer revolution has seen an explosion of beer styles on our shelves. Made by small, independent brewers, who are experimenting with creative flavours and referencing classic styles. We have never had more choice to slake our thirst with a good beer. Don’t get tripped up on terminology. Get to know the basic differences between beer styles here with our basic guide.
In a very basic way, a beer is either an ale or a lager.
Today, craft brewers distinguish between ales and lagers by the yeast type. This can be a top-fermenting yeast (ale) or a bottom-fermenting yeast (lager). Craft brewers also like to play with a combination of both, such as Camden Brewery’s India Hells Lager, dry hopped as an IPA with a lager fermentation, for example.
It wasn’t always this way. Traditionally, in historical centres of brewing in Germany and Britain, ales and lagers were defined by the way it is fermented rather than the yeast. In Germany, ales are considered a typical British beer; in Britain, for example, Porters or Stouts would be considered separately from ales.
As you may have guessed, craft brewers like to turn traditional categories on their head and mix it up a bit. Here are some of the main styles.
What are the main styles of beer?
IPA (India Pale Ale)
Originally made in England for export to India in the 18th century, many consider IPAs the flagship style for modern craft beer: hoppy, full of citrus and tropical fruit flavour and stronger in alcohol than Pale Ales at 5.1 to 7.6%. You can double that strength for Double IPAs.
Styles: English IPA, American IPA, Speciality IPA, Double IPA
Try: Crate Brewery IPA
Balanced, drinkable and less intensely hopped than IPA. Spicy fruit and floral notes feature. English Pale Ales are often more bitter, with less sweeter fruit, than American Pale Ales (APAs).
Styles: Cream Ale, Kölsch, Golden Ale, Blonde Ale, American Pale Ale, Belgian Pale Ale, Belgian Blond Ale, Trappist Single, Saison
Amber Ales are amber-coloured beers with caramel malt characters, a bitter finish and a moderate strength of 4.5% to 5.7% alcohol. Amber Ales can show a balance between malt and hops but some styles can swing either way: either very malty or very hoppy (such as Red Ales).
Styles: Altbier, Best Bitter, Strong Bitter, Red Ale, American Amber Ale, Belgian Dubbel, Bière de Garde
Try: Gipsy Hill Brewing Southpaw Amber Ale
High levels of malt used in the brew gives Brown Ales less bitter characters. It is a mellow beer showing sweet malt, toffee, chocolate and caramel characters. The American Brown Ale is similar to the British Brown Ale but with more hoppy characters and higher alcohol.
Styles: Dark Mild, British Brown Ale, American Brown Ale, London Brown Ale (Historical style)
Dark, spicy and complex, this is a slow sipping style of beer with a restrained roasted character, malty flavours and dry-fruity chocolate notes.
Styles: Baltic Porter, English Porter, American Porter
Guinness began brewing their famous style of stout in 1810, claiming it was a “stouter kind of porter” in 1810. Originally inspired by the London Porter style, known at the time as Single Stouts, they are creamy and full-bodied with a pronounced roasted flavour and a hint of coffee.
Styles: Tropical Stout, Sweet Stout, Oatmeal Stout, Foreign Extra Stout, Irish Stout, American Stout, Imperial Stout
Made with 40-60% wheat rather than 100% malt, this is a lighter style with a bright clean taste. Medium to high carbonation, it has a long-lasting white head with a soft, fluffy texture. Sometimes cloudy.
Styles: American Wheat Beer, Weissbier, Weizenbock, Berliner Weisse, Lambic, Witbier
Here the usual hoppy bitterness of other beers is replaced by sourness. Fruit flavours of lemon tart, apple tart or even Haribo sours, which becomes more floral with age. Always effervescent and very refreshing.
Styles: Flanders Red, Oud Bruin
Crisp, refreshing and smooth with high carbonation. Low levels of yeastiness can sometimes be added to give complexity to what is otherwise a clean style. Drink cold.
Styles: American Lager, Munich Helles
Classic Czech beer. Light bodied, clear, yet rich in hops and spicy floral flavours. Pilsners are brewed with pale lager malt and matured before carbonation. Easy to drink with a smooth and refreshing finish.
Styles: German Leichtbier, Czech Pale Lager, German Pils
You don't have to spend a fortune on top-end Bordeaux and Burgundy to start collecting and ageing wine. There are quite a few sure bets out there that cost £25 or under, and also some good everyday options that do last a suprisingly long time and make interesting "project bottles" for the aspiring wine afficionado. You may raise an eyebrow at my suggestion that £25 for a bottle of wine is not a fortune, but by Claret standards it isn't.
The sure bets would include Chablis Premier Cru from decent producers like Domaine Christian Moreau and (soon to arrive on our shelves) Domaine des Malandes. The former's Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons 2010 (£23) is going to get more honeyed as it ages, but is likely to retain a balancing freshness for 5 or 6 years at least before it begins to seem "mature" and will last a few years after that. German Rieslings can also be very long-lived and something like the (deep breath) Mosel Riesling Spaetlese Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr 2007 from Max Ferd. Richter (£20), whilst already evolving, has a long future ahead of it; buy 2010 German Riesling at this sort of quality level, be it dry or off-dry, and it should last into the next decade. For reds, there are some perhaps surprising choices from the New World. It's rare to find aged South American reds in the UK but I have had some brilliant examples from both Chile and Argentina. You could try sticking away the Arboleda Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 from the Maule Valley (£15.50) for five years. From South Africa, Meerlust's famed Stellenbosch Rubicon 2007 Bordeaux Blend (£1 more than my £25 limit!) actually needs a few years to knit together, and will hit its peak around 2017, I reckon.
For a bargain white that can be very interesting with a few year's age, you can try hiding away a Muscadet Sevre et Maine Sur Lie, like our Christophe Drouard 2010 (£10). In reds, consider Cotes du Rhone: good examples now push above £10 per bottle but they do tend to hold their own for anything up to a decade, maybe a bit more in the right vintage. The Domaine de l'Espigouette 2010 Cotes du Rhone (£11.50) is a new vintage of a wine we have enjoyed in the past, and will gain more a savoury edge to its ripe berry fruit if you can be patient.
Welcome to the first in a series of missives about collecting and laying down wine.
Why start to build up a wine collection? Obviously some famous collections were built up with an eye on investment. But in this series of posts I'm going to focus on laying down wine to drink later, for personal enjoyment. I'm sure you've heard if big auctions where the contents of the cellar of someone recently deceased have gone under the hammer. As far as I'm concerned there's no point dying with wine left undrunk.
Off the top of my head I can think of two key reasons behing having a "drinker's cellar" (or wine rack, pantry etc). The first is to put some wines away and see how they change over time. It's great if you can have three or four bottles of some of these wines, and then (if very keen) you can take notes each time you open one. The second main reason is that quite a few fine wines are released before their optimum drinking window, and so the onus is on you to stick them away and, hopefully, only crack them open when good and ready. Red Bordeaux is often released in a fairly raw state. However I don't collect it because, in London, if you shop in the right places, you can always get your hands on a bottle with sufficient bottle age. Italian wines like Barolo, however, are more rarely seen on the shelves in mature vintages; so the basis of my collection is Barolo, Barbaresco, and the tuscans Brunello di Montalcino and Chianti.
You don't have to spend a fortune to get an ageworthy wine; there are wines like top-end Muscadet which costs £10 an can develop nicely over several years, as can a Cotes du rhone which might cost £12 to £15. I'll give you a list of suggestions in another post.
My dream house would probably have a pukka cellar, or temperature-and-humidity- controlled room, a spiral cellar, or at very least a big tall wine cabinet. But many of us can't necessarily afford these options, or are living in rented accomodation, or have yet to build up a collection to make them seem worthwhile. I paln to discuss these options, however, in a subsequent post.
When starting out as a wine collector, the standard wine-rack-under the stairs may have to suffice. You might want to check that there isn't too much vibration in the area as this can harm the ageing process. Also make sure that there are no heat sources nearby. The key with keeping wine is temperature consistency, so you need to avoid the sort of temperature spikes that might be caused by nearby heating on a timer, or by white goods. Avoiding direct sunlight is also important. The ideal temperature for keeping wine is probably around 14-16 degrees. You can keep wine in a warmer environment - it will age quicker, but as long as the temperature is not too variable it should be okay.
It always annoys me when I see adverts for fitted kitchens and they have built in wine racks right next to the oven. Doh! And the other classic cock-up is to have a wine rack on top of the fridge-freezer. Because of the vent on the back of the unit, you might just as well stick your Puligny-Montrachet next to the oven.
One way of trying to keep wine insulated from extremes in temperature is to use the foam packing that you get in some wine transit boxes. Perhaps easier is to get a basic cool box. As these are not permeable you would want to put a damp cloth in every so often so that the corks do not dry out. A certain degree of humidity is vital to keep corks elastic, though too much and your labels will suffer! Similarly we keep wine bottles on their side to preserve the corks and therefore the seal.
I'm lucky that my cupboard under the stairs wass in fact a pantry, and so is now storing my compact and bijou stash of around 100 bottles. It is on an outside wall which is mostly in shadow, so the average temperature is both very steady and low enough at about 15 degrees.
Whether you’re new to wines and feeling lost with all the jargon or consider yourself something of a connoisseur and want to clarify an unfamiliar term, this wine glossary is a helpful resource you might want to bookmark for future use.
Describes the flavours left in the mouth after swallowing the wine. Harsh, smooth, hot, and tannic are among the terms used to characterize aftertaste. Also known as ‘finish’.
Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC)
The highest legal classification of French wine, requiring conformity to the most regulations concerning viticulture, alcohol content etc.
Wines with backbone are full-bodied red wines in which tannin and/or acidity predominates.
Wine in which individual taste elements are in harmony, with no individual one dominant. Can also describe a sense and ability that wine drinkers lose after excessive wine tasting.
An exacting approach to wine-making based on the philosophy of Austrian Rudolf Steiner, biodynamics calls for organic production and considers the effects of the moon and stars on grape vines.
Describes the wine’s perceived weight on the palate – e.g. light, medium or full.
A mould that attacks grapes, causing them to shrivel on the vine. Can be used intentionally in the process of creating certain sweet wines, such as Sauternes and Tokay.
Pouring a wine into another container – a glass or decanter – mixes it with air, which allows flavours to open up
A method of winemaking that produces immediately drinkable red wines that are fruity, soft and with little tannin.
A red Bordeaux in British parlance.
An effervescent wine produced in the Champagne region of France.
Describes a pleasingly tart, young white wine that is fresh and easy to drink.
Spanish red wines bearing this description must be aged at least 2 years, of which six months must be in barrel.
Denotes wine of a particular batch or blend. ‘Vat’ in French.
Pouring wine from a bottle into another container for the purpose of aerating it (in a young wine) or separating it from any sediment (in older wines).
How the wine tastes just as it passes your lips. Sometimes called ‘attack’.
German dessert wine made from frozen grapes (literally ‘ice wine’).
How the wine tastes when swallowed. And what you might want to do to the bottle if it’s pleasant.
Describes wine with a fruity acidity: in general young whites, light reds and roses.
General description for a wine made from ripe grapes, usually slightly sweeter.
Spanish classification of wines aged at least five years, of which two must be in barrel and three in bottle.
In French literally ‘great growth’. Wine from the very top rated vineyards.
Denotes a high quality German wine with quality measured by sugar levels in the grape. The name comes from the idea that you put nice things on display in a cabinet.
Late Bottled Vintage (LBV)
A style of Port produced to approach true vintage qualities for a fraction of the expense, by aging in wood for up to six years to soften the wine.
Describes dessert wines produced with grapes that have been on the vine much longer than usual, often after botrytis has set in.
How a wine’s taste lingers on the palate after swallowed. A good length means a long finish.
A river in central France and the region renowned for producing Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc.
The process of leaving grape skins with grape juice during the fermentation process, further enhancing tannins and aromas.
A bottle with contents equivalent to two regular 750ml bottles.
Quite a mouthful, this secondary fermentation process is used in the production of most red wines (and often in Chardonnays) to reduce sharpness and apparent acidity, namely by converting malic acids (apple) to smoother lactic (milk) acids.
The stage in wine tasting (after entry and before length and finish) in which one holds the wine in the mouth to form impressions on flavour, texture, tannins and acidity.
Perception of overall texture of the wine in the mouth through the entire tasting process.
A wine’s aroma or bouquet (the latter implies aging), as detected by the facial protuberance of the same name.
Wine is aged in oak barrels, imparting an ‘oaky’ taste and aroma, the intensity of which is determined by the duration of aging.
The science of winemaking.
‘First growth’ en francais; not Grand Cru but a very good vineyard.
Spanish red wine that has been aged at least three years.
A tasting term referring to the completeness of the wine in terms of tannin and acidity levels.
Not an Italian in tights and a mask who fights villains, but a group of red wines produced in Tuscany that aren’t in accordance with DOC regulations; often a blend containing Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Merlot.
A wine that goes down easy – no hard edges. Tends to imply balance and higher quality.
Found in grape skins, stalks and pips, tannins account for any bitter taste in a wine. In proportion, this helps achieve a balanced character, but too much tannin is a fault.
A French word, difficult to translate, that refers to the influence of soil, climate, and other natural factors on the ripening of grapes used for wine.
How a wine feels in the mouth, synonymous with mouthfeel.
A wine made from one particular type of grape rather than a blend of two or more.
Vin de Pays
This French category of wines just above the lowest, Vin de Table, contains many good wines.
Vin de Table
The lowest category of French wines. Labels on Vin de Table bottles are not permitted to disply grape varieties or vintage. Best used for cooking or unwelcome guests.
A specific year of harvest for a wine; a vintage wine is made from grapes harvested in a particular year.
The cultivation of grapes for winemaking.
The species of grape from which all the world’s fine wine is produced, although often grafted onto a related species’ rootstock to protect the grapes from infestation by an aphid called Phylloxera vastatrix.
We can't call ourselves Bordeaux and Burgundy specialists, though I think our selection will grow as the company grows more generally, and once our online shop is (imminently) launched. Funnily enough the team love Burgundy, and whilst we probably have a more complex relationship with Bordeaux, it's certainly a region I have visited several times. Moreover we are doing brilliantly with our Bottle Apostle Graves 2005 (£15) made for us by Chateau du Seuil. So what are the snags to stocking Bordeaux and Burgundy?
Firstly there is the complex "open" market which means that well heeled individuals are often buying from the same sources as retailers, which means that outside of the very well established merchants with large buying power, there isn't much of a customer base to encourage us to dive in head first.
Claret might not be the go-to region for all of our groovy South Hackneyite wine lovers; Burgundy, and particularly Pinot Noir is a bit more hip. But there are still problems. The price rises over the last few years mean that we are pushing £40 for village wines (ie not Premier Crus) from the best locations (eg Gevrey Chambertin) and best producers. And this is generally for pretty young vintages too. It takes some effort to find much older than 2006 in reds, and similarly our Meursault spot on the list is empty whilst we find something younger than a 2008.
Bordeaux meanwhile suffers from being either a bit old school in some of our customers' minds, either in marketing terms or through being rather drier and savoury than some reds with more tannin and acidity. But perhaps the bigger barrier is placed in front of Chris and I as "professional" buyers: much of the Bordeaux that we get to taste is in general tastings where we are tasting wines from around the world. And if you try a Claret, then a Brunello di Montalcino, you can guess which is going to suffer by comparison. The trouble is that even we separate out the Bordeaux wines, I find that I'm always getting a question mark of "value for money" hanging over them - at all price levels. Of course the wines we do have are exceptions: the aforementioned "House Claret", 2004 Haut-Bages Liberal Pauillac (£34) etc. But we're running out of our excellent 1998 Chateau Bellefont-Belcier St Emilion Grand Cru (£38) and I'm struggling to find a worthy 2000 or 2001 to replace it.
But we keep battling; a recent lucky break with a private source landed us some Francois Parent Chambolle Musigny (£35) and Pommard 1er Cru Les Rugiens (£45) from the great 1999 vintage are drinking beautifully and do provide a wine experience worthy of the price tags. So keep your eyes open...
This week we've had another batch of new Spanish wines arriving, and it's noticeable that they're not from the "obvious" regions of Rioja and Ribera del Duero. We seem to be getting more excited about the less well-known stuff.
A recent trip to Spain to seek out "House Rioja" featured an array of lollipoppy sweetish "easy drinking" reds made using Carbonic Maceration (as with most Beaujolais) and confirmed that I should look for sub £10 Tempranillo based wines elsewhere. This sentiment was echoed by a client who has replaced a Rioja on their wine list with the "Bajondillo" 2009 (£10.00) made by Jimenez-Landi in the Mentrida region of central Spain. They felt not only that they got more bang for their buck, but also that the Mentrida tasted more like what they expected from Rioja. It's hard to keep loyalty if you don't conform to some degree to customer preconceptions.
That's not to say that we've given up on Rioja; whites are a bit hit and miss, especially as the traditional Reservas and Gran Reservas are phased out, and the same-old-same-old Chardonnay and Sauv Blanc are introduced to try to raise sales figures. But we've tasted lots of very good reds albeit in the £10+ sector and from (to us anyway) familiar names. There is a newish category clumsily called semi-Crianza (a bit of oak ageing) which is meant to be a halfway house between party wines and the serious stuff and so should address the concerns laid out above, but I haven't tried anything with wow factor yet. As I write we have an "Introduction to Rioja" event coming up on Thursday, so we are definitely commited to the cause. Similarly with Ribera del Duero we've been looking beyond the ubiquitous brands and have taken a while to hit on something but think we may be there...you'll just have to watch this space.
I digress; here are three of the Spanish surprises.
The region of Penedes is not as well known as it's biggest brand, Torres. It's the heartland for Cava but there are also some interesting wines featuring the Cava grapes. "Massis del Garraf" 2009 from Terraprima is a vibrant, zesty white which blends some Riesling in with the local Xarel-lo (one of my favourite grape names; it sounds like a relative of Superman.) Yours for £11.00.
Bobal is a grape I had most associated with good value gluggers from Central Spain; I remember in the early days of my wine career enjoying an unpretentious little number at £4.99 from M&S. We've been stocking the marvellously named Manchuela winery Bodegas y Vinedos Ponce's Clos Lojen (£12.00) for some time, but myself and Chris were both blown away with their top wines. So salute the "P.F" 2009 Manchuela (£18.00) which marries vibrant cherry fruit and nutmeg with well balanced tannin and acidity.
I have to admit I had to look up Conca de Barbera in my wine Atlas; it's also in Catalunya, just inland from the Tarragona region. "Les Paradetes" 2006 by Escoda Sanahuja (£21.50) is an epic well structured red full bodied red with a hint of medicinality - it certainly made me feel better.