Beer is brewed in a bewildering range of styles. There are stouts, dry stouts, milk stouts, oatmeal stouts, coffee stouts and more, and that’s just one branch of a rather massive family tree. There are IPAs and APAs. There are kolschs, hefeweizens, and tons of others out there. Of course, the sheer diversity means that you’re more likely to find something that you’ll love and the process of finding your perfect brew can be a lot of fun in and of itself. With that being said, the beer market runs in cycles.
As some styles gain in popularity, others wane. There are some interesting things about to happen or that are already happening and knowing a little bit about some lesser-known styles can help you broaden your palate a bit, while enjoying new creations put out by forward thinking breweries. Let’s look at some of the more interesting styles that are currently experiencing something of a renaissance.
If you’ve never tried a gose (pronounced go-zuh), don’t feel bad. It was a relatively obscure beer brewed only in one part of Germany. Today, it’s experiencing a resurgence both in its home nation and here in the US with a number of craft breweries producing their own unique take on this interesting style.
The most important thing to understand about gose is that it’s made with saltwater. That gives it an odd burn at the back of the throat. It’s also traditionally low on hops, taking more of its flavoring from things like coriander seed. Twangy and crisp, gose is very much worth a try if you find a brewery putting it out. You’re most likely to find this at local brewery tastings and beer festivals. There are fewer examples of gose in terms of those readily available in bottles or cans, but a few of them include Union Craft Brewing’s Old Pro Gose, Westbrook’s Gozu, Boulevard’s Hibiscus Gose, and Victory Brewing’s Kirsch Gose.
Wit or Witbier
Wit means wheat, so this is really just a wheat beer. However, it’s unfiltered, so the final product is cloudy and hazier than what many drinkers are used to. The style is generally lightly carbonated and the use of wheat rather than barley means there’s a different amount of crispness and twang. Seasonings added usually include orange peel, coriander and herbs, but these vary greatly by brewery. If you’re looking for an example to try, you might consider Dogfish Head’s Namaste, or their Red & White. Blue Moon’s Belgian White is another example if you’re looking for something from Big Beer. Clownshoes’ Clementine is another tasty option, as well.
Another wheat beer, Berliner weisse is a German take on the style, and is top-fermented at relatively warm temperatures (not lagered). In terms of appearance, they’re much clearer than witbiers and the head rarely stays around very long. Most of them are sour and acidic, although many have fruits added. Hops are generally not particularly strong at all. A couple of examples of this style include Bell’s Oarsman, Evil Twin’s Justin Blabaer and NOMADer WEISSE, and Pipework’s Blue Lady.
You’ll find rye beers in a very wide range of styles, from dark to golden and everything in between. The single largest factor here is that at least some of the barley has been replaced with rye (although only a portion of it needs to be replaced in order to call the result a rye beer). Rye beers tend to have an underlying spiciness and the more rye used in the malt bill, the spicier the end beer will be. There are different takes out there today, including Terrapin Brewing’s Black Is the New Wit, which marries rye beer with wit beer to create an interesting fusion. Founder’s Black Rye is another tasty example of this style in modern brewing, although there are plenty of others, including Founders Red’s Rye IPA, Bell’s Smitten Golden Rye Ale and Smuttynose Rhye IPA.
Porter might be losing favor with many drinkers, along with stouts and other darker beers, but there’s a lot to love about a good Baltic porter, particularly if you’ve never had the pleasure of sampling one. Baltic porters are fuller bodied than their English or American counterparts, a little closer to stouts on that score. They tend to have higher ABVs, as well (think 8% and higher) than what you’ll find with traditional English porters, many of which are as low as 4 or 5% ABV. If you’re a big fan of roasted grains, then this is a must-sample style. They’re hugely roasty, almost smoky, but that gives way to an incredible creaminess that must be experienced to really be appreciated.
Ok, so saisons seem to be everywhere today. The word is French, and it means “seasonal”. In their purest form, they’re farmhouse ales, and their tastes and colors can vary widely. Most of them are produced with not-quite-tamed yeast strains that give the finished beer something of a Belgian quality (the fruity flavors, such as banana and citrus). Again, while they’re much more widely available today than they were even a year or two again, there’s an immense amount of diversity when it comes to saison style beers and you can have a great time just figuring out what’s what.
There you have them – some of the lesser known beer styles that are now coming to be more prevalent on the market. While it’s doubtful that gose or rye will replace IPAs as the beer of choice for most drinkers, it’s always a good thing to have more diversity on the market. What are your favorite lesser-known beer styles? How do they stack up to the ones above? Better yet, have you tried a gose you’d recommend, or do you have a favorite Baltic porter or rye?