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Beer styles – tasting notes

Beer comes in many colours, flavours and scents. These different varieties of beer are known as beer styles. Familiarising yourself with beer styles will enable you to navigate bar menus and beer festivals with greater ease.

With nearly 2,000 breweries across the UK, you can be sure to find a taste to suit all preferences.

From malty, lightly-hopped milds to dark, bitter stouts and porters, there is a beer out there for everyone. To find out more about individual beer styles, please take a look below.

To guide and to ensure fairness for the prestigious Champion Beer of Britain judging process CAMRA uses its own Beer Styles Guide.

 

Ales

Milds: 4% (or less) ABV

Pale Mild

Colour

Pale amber or even gold.

Flavour

These beers differ from Bitters and Pale Ales in that they are lightly hopped and may have a light fruit character. They are malty and the beer may be sweet with a little butterscotch/toffee (diacetyl).

Dark Mild

Colour

Dark brown to black

Flavour

Dark Milds are frequently sweet with a light bitterness. The dominant flavour is of malt and roasted notes of chocolate, coffee and liquorice. Caramel and butterscotch/toffee (diacetyl) may also be present.

Scottish 60 Shillings / Scottish Light

Colour

Dark brown to black

Flavour

The dominant flavour should be malt with caremilsed notes and low to medium sweetness. As with the other Milds, they are lightly hopped. Butterscotch/toffee (diacetyl) may also be present. The ‘Shilling’s in the name refers to a mid 19th century pricing system for barrels or casks of ale 

Bitters: 4.3% – 6.4% ABV

Session Bitters: 4.3% or less ABV

Colour

Usually, amber to dark brown.

Flavour

These are ‘traditional’ Bitters with a thin to average body. They are often called Bitters and Best Bitters. These beers should have a malt character with noticeable hops; typically earthy, spicy and peppery but may also be floral or piney. Fruit may also be present, sometimes of citrus but must not dominate the taste. Bitterness may range from light to strong. A little butterscotch or toffee (diacetyl) may be present but should be minimal.

Premium Bitters: 4.4% - 6.4% ABV

Colour

Usually, amber to dark brown.

Flavour

Medium to strong malt flavour with noticeable hops; typically earthy, spicy and peppery but may also be floral, piney or citrus. Fruit may be medium to strong but should not dominate. Stronger Bitters may have estery notes such as pear drops and the bitterness may range from medium to strong. A little butterscotch or toffee (diacetyl) may be present but should be minimal.

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Premium Pale, Blond and Golden Ales:
4.4% – 6.4% ABV

British and New World Pale Ales

Colour

Dark gold to amber.

Flavour

Malt should be present but must be light to medium in character and should not dominate the flavour; fruit may be minimal to strong and citrusy or tropical. Hop flavours are noticeable but may vary from traditional earthy and spicy English and German hops to citrusy New World hops. Minimal or no butterscotch (diacetyl). Medium to full-bodied. Fruitier than a Premium Bitter. Minimal or no butterscotch (diacetyl).

Blonds, British/New World Golden Ales

Colour

Straw to gold.

Flavour

Minimal or no malt should be present. Hop flavours are noticeable and may vary from traditional earthy and spicy English and German hops to citrusy New World hops. Minimal or no butterscotch (diacetyl).

Golden Ales will have pronounced fruity, citrus hop notes and may have a strong bitterness. Blonds will have minimal to moderate fruit but not a strong citrus character.

British & New World IPAs: 5.5% and above

British IPA's

Colour

Amber to pale brown.

Flavour

Hoppier than Premium Bitters. There is often honeyed/biscuit malt aroma and flavours with pepper, spicy, earthy, piney or floral resins from the hops.

Fruit, if evident, should not be the overwhelming citrus kick of New World IPAs.

More modern hop varieties can be used but they should be English in style rather than New World.

New World IPA's

Colour

Straw to pale brown.

Flavour

‘Hop forward’. A balance of malt, hops and fruit. More complex than Premium Pale Ales and Blonds. Fruit levels akin to New World Golden Ales. Noticeably fruitier than British IPAs: citrusy, tropical or of white wine with floral notes. Malt flavours not as prominent as traditional British versions. New England IPAs (NEIPAs) tend to have a greater malt balance than the more assertively hoppy West Coast versions.

Black IPA's

Colour

Typically dark brown or black.

Flavour

The roast character should be zero to light, complementing rather than dominating the hops and fruit in the flavour. Typically, little residual sweetness.

Weaker ‘black IPAs’ sit within either the Session or Premium Pale, Blond and Golden Ale categories (for CAMRA competition judging purposes).

Brown and Red Ales, Old Ales and Strong Milds: Up to 6.4%

Brown Ales

Colour

Light brown to black.

Flavour

Malt is to the fore sometimes with roast and/or some smokiness and nut-like flavours. There may be some hop character and a light to moderate bitter or dry finish. Fruity flavours such as raisins or sultanas may be present. Occasionally, sweeter variants can be found where more caramel and chocolate notes are evident.

Red Ales

Colour

Light brown to black.

Flavour

As with Brown Ales and American Brown Ales, malt is to the fore, often with roast and nutty flavours. Rye may be present, creating a tartness, but should be balanced and not dominate. American Red Ales are fruitier and hoppier.

American Brown Ales

Colour

Light brown to black.

Flavour

As Brown Ales but overlaid with fruity hops, sometimes intense, which may lead to pronounced bittering. Fruit may often be citrus and/or tropical.

Strong Milds and Unaged Old Ales

Colour

Light brown to black.

Flavour

They have a light to rich malt character, sometimes with caramel and fruit such as raisins and sultanas. Lightly hopped. Old Ales tend to be more estery.

Session Stouts and Porters: up to and including 4.9% ABV

Dry Stouts

Colour

Black

Flavour

Minimal sweetness and a dry astringency that may come from unmalted dark roasted barley.

Oyster Stouts

Colour

Black

Flavour

These do not always contain oysters, being stouts to accompany oysters. Those that do may often have salty notes, either due to adding oyster shells (for subtle semi-sweet flavours) or adding whole oysters to create a unique ocean flavour and can be slightly bitter.

Oatmeal Stouts

Colour

Black

Flavour

Oatmeal is added during the brewing process to create a stout with a full body and creamy notes, often sweet.

Porter

Colour

Usually, dark brown to black.

Flavour

Roasty notes of coffee or chocolate that are balanced by a hoppy character with some fruit.This may be dark fruits e.g. damsons, black cherries, or caramelised fruits, such as raisins or sultanas. Sweetness ranges from sweet to dry.

Milk Stouts

Colour

Light brown to black.

Flavour

Lactose (milk sugar) is added to create a smooth, sweet stout with a rounder mouthfeel, usually with subtle sweet, creamy notes and sometimes with vanilla and custard notes.

Strong Stouts and Porters including Imperial Stouts and Baltic Porters: 5.0% ABV and above

These are stronger versions of the Session varieties, usually with smoother, fuller mouthfeels.

Strong Stouts

Colour

Black

Flavour

These beers have flavours and aromas resulting from the roasted malts e.g. chocolate, caramel and coffee notes. They should have a full mouthfeel with minimal hop and fruit notes. There are a number of subsets in this category.

Strong Dry Stouts

Colour

Black

Flavour

Full mouthfeel with only a little sweetness and a dry astringency that may come from unmalted dark roasted barley

Strong Oyster Stouts

Colour

Black

Flavour

These do not always contain oysters, being stouts to accompany oysters. Those that do may often have salty notes either due to adding oyster shells (for subtle semi-sweet flavours) or adding whole oysters to create a unique ocean flavour and can be slightly bitter. Being stronger, these beers have a richness on the palate.

Strong Oatmeal Stouts

Colour

Black

Flavour

Oatmeal is added during the brewing process to create a stout with a full body and creamy notes, often sweet.

Strong Milk Stouts

Colour

Black

Flavour

Lactose (milk sugar) is added towards the end of brewing to create a smooth, sweet stout with a rounder mouthfeel, usually with subtle sweet, creamy notes and sometimes with vanilla and custard notes. Rich, full mouthfeel.

Imperial Stouts and Baltic Porters

Colour

Dark red/copper to browny black, black

Flavour

Aromas and flavours are deep and complex with roasted grain, burnt fruit (raisins and sultanas), fresh leather, espresso coffee, bitter chocolate, molasses and liquorice. Hops may not be too much in evidence on the nose but may be peppery and spicy. The finish is long and complex, with bitter and spicy hops balancing creamy malt, roast, dark fruit, coffee, chocolate and liquorice. Warming alcohol is often noticeable due to the high alcohol content. These beers are full bodied, smooth and rich. If beers are aged in wood, there may be caramel and vanilla flavours.

There is considerable overlap between these two beer styles but Baltic Porters (sometimes called Imperial Porters) tend to be fruity e.g. blackcurrant, cherries and other dark fruits. They can also be paler in colour, dark reddish copper to browny black.

Strong Porters

Colour

Usually, dark brown to black.

Flavour

Roasty notes of coffee or chocolate that are balanced by a hoppy character with some fruit. This may be dark fruits e.g. damsons, black cherries or caramelised fruits, such as raisins or sultanas. Sweetness ranges from sweet to dry but with a rich, full body

Barley Wines and Strong Ales: 6.5% and above

Rich, complex, full bodied with noticeable alcohol. May vary from dry to sweet, sometimes with honey notes. Bitterness may be medium to strong. 

Barley Wines

Colour

Usually, gold to tawny in colour.

Flavour

Estery and ripe fruit characteristics such as pear drops or strawberry may be present as well as sweet citrus marmalade flavours.

Strong Ales – Blond

Colour

Yellow to dark gold.

Flavour

Medium to strong malt character and some fruity notes may also be present.

Strong Ales – Dark

Colour

Brown to black.

Flavour

Roast notes of chocolate and coffee may be present as well as dark fruits and/or caramelised fruit.

Lager: Up to and including 8.5% ABV

Lagers and ales are both members of the beer family. The yeasts and techniques used in making them result in drinks with unique aromas, mouthfeel, flavour and carbonation.

Pilsners

Colour

Yellow to gold.

Flavour

Depending on whether it is a German or Czech style Pilsner, the beer may range from light in malt to having a noticeable bready, malt aroma and flavour. Hop flavour should be present from Noble hops, giving fruity notes. Medium to high bitterness depending on the style. Helles are lower in hop and bitter notes.

Vienna Lagers

Colour

Amber

Flavour

Clean malty character and some hoppy bitterness to create balance and a crisp finish. Floral, spicy flavours are minimal.

Marzen

Colour

Tawny to copper

Flavour

A sweet malty character. Some caramel may be present but with the bitterness providing balance. Lightly hopped.

Dark Lagers

Colour

Brown to black

Flavour

Roast flavours of chocolate and coffee and some malty sweetness. There is a little hop bitterness and medium to low fruit associated with the hop. This style includes Alts, Dunkels, Schwarzbier and Bocks. Alts are top fermented but at a cool temperature.

Kölsch

Kölsch

Colour

Yellow to gold.

Flavour

Delicate and softly fruity with a clean finish. Not a lager but is sometimes put into this continental style. Either top fermented or a hybrid of cold and warm fermentation.

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