The Nomenclature of Craft Beer Styles

Beer-Cat-680x425Hyper expansion of craft beer, due to an ever increasing consumer demand, has blurred the genres that categorize these quality beers. I’m going to pontificate in this here little beer censure specifically about the new India Pale Ale (IPA) genre now popularly known as ‘Session IPAs’. IPA’s, and American Pale Ales, or APA’s, are actually homogeneous of the  Pale Ale style but with a more hop forward flavor. Brewers have now defined a new subpar class of IPA’s known as ‘Session IPAs’ because they still have a (somewhat) extra hopped flavor but offer the alcohol content more signature of a Pale Ale. Sure, you can drink more of them. And, these “session” beers are all the rage right now with all of the neophytes (Welcome!) to craft beer that have finally seen the light and are making the switch from the less flavorful, lower alcohol by volume (ABV) macro brewed beers. However, the ABV of these ‘Session IPAs’  hovers a bit lower to the ABV ranking of an American Pale Ale but with a slightly more pronounced hop flavor, and a more watered down nature…

Really, I understand. Consumers want a beer that they can drink all day but they don’t want to sacrifice that hoppy nature. Great. Drink slower. Avoid Imperial IPAs. Drink less. Don’t start until 5 O’clock. Better yet, add distilled water to your growler as you go.  Would whiskey drinkers ever pine for a session whiskey? (Yes I understand it’s completely different, but)…..Hell’s no. Or at least I hope not.

So why does the style assigned to a beer matter? Well, if you are a brewer it matters because a  certified beer judge (or CBJP) will judge the flavor, aroma and color of  your beer in accordance to the style to which it is ascribed. Most breweries take their finest beers to the GABF (Great American Beer Festival held annually every fall in Denver) only to walk away with no medals (or award winning beers).  Often times the brewery will decide to re-enter the same beer the following year but they will attribute the beer to a different, more apt classification, possibly resulting in a medal for the beer which  will promote the marketing and sales of that beer and brewery.

Why else does it matter? Because I, the consumer, am sick of buying beers in the store that call themselves India Pale Ales when in actuality they’re Pale Ales, missing the boat on adding the proper amount of hops, or the right kind of hops, or the timing of the brewing of the hops, all of which give IPAs their stature of a hopped up beer. I hear many Pale Ale drinkers complaining in a similar nature in that their Pale Ales are too hoppy, again this is a mis-categorization of the style to which the mistake lies in the hands of the brewery.

But breweries still have the freedom (thank God) to label their beers however they deem fit. One that comes to mind is Rushing Duck’s ‘Divided by Zero’, facetiously illustrated as an “Imperial Session, Pale-Black-Indian Pale Ale AKA  West-Coast Style IPA”. Yes, that’s how they bill it, and I love it! But again, I personally know some people who didn’t buy it because of the way it is described.  Division by zero results in an undefined number and they have played on that with their definition of what this beer offers.

Maybe I’m being iconoclastic when it comes to the classification of craft beer, I prefer to think that I am simply a confirmed sybarite, confined to my own palate…and beer budget. I suppose it would be pertinent that I should at least suggest a resolution to all of these (craft) world problems. So I elect calling these watery, lower ABV beers masquerading as IPA’s, Extra Pale Ales. That is, after all, what they are.

9 comments on “The Nomenclature of Craft Beer Styles
  1. Since everyone and there brother has an IPA now it’s impossible to figure out what’s what.
    Frankly, I’ll try most things once, so I don’t pay much attention to anything past “ale, stout, lager, bock.”

    Any other modifier is just the brewer’s best guess, IMHO. Then I’ll either like it or I won’t. (Several things labeled “IPA” have varied from floral hops to bitter hops, it’s crazy.)
    Several breweries around here have been naming their beers based on the predominant hop variety in it, which at least (to the informed) gives you a general idea of what’s up.

  2. Listing the hops used is a great idea, for the consumer. Unfortunately with the hop shortage, which has been going on for nearly 2 years, and now the drought in CA, where majority (about 70%) of our hops come from, I don’t think too many breweries will be keen on being honest about the hop oils and bittering agents which they now (and will increasingly more) b

    • You put hop plants in your back yard, didn’t you? Best $7 I ever spent (for 3 rhizomes.)
      I let them grow a bit wild this year (with the kid and all) but cleaned them up about a month in.
      The Cascades are producing grate. The Centennial and Fuggles not so much (to much growth, not enough fertilizer.)

      Next year though should be a buffer crop.

  3. Totally agree with this whole session hysteria and how breweries should present their product in terms proper. Lord knows I have bought numerous beers and my expectations based on style and like did not add up.

  4. Billy full stack from single cut out of Astoria queens is my favorite ipa with that citrus dank hop character. I think the aromatic hop ( many are trade marked) are a leading cause to a shortage along with of course, lack of rainfall in California, WA and Oregon. They are harder to farm and yield much less than the more classic bittering hops. The whole sub style thing is total marketing beer industry dance and I find it annoying. I actually saw a beer on a shelf today that stated it was an imperial mild. In the end I would rather drink 2 regular ipa’s than 4 session beers .

  5. I do not understand why the craft beer sections have been blighted by this wave of overhopped crap.
    Hops are a preservative, and with all this stuff staying refrigerated until the final drive home, the only point of it seems to be to mask the fact that your beer has one note.
    (Stouts, dunkles, porters, altbiers, rauchbiers, etc. obviously excluded from this critique, but they don’t occupy much of the shelves anymore.)

    Hey, I love crystal malt, and it’s a focal point of most of the beers I’ve made (homebrew only, no commercial experience), but a beer made almost strictly from it would be cloying and unpleasant.
    Beers need balance.

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