Regional Beer Traditions

One of the many problems that come from trying to understand the whos and whats of beers is the fact that there are so many of them. For a newcomer to beer, trying to understand the differences between a bock and a porter, a pilsner and a helles, a dortmunder or an altbier, or any number of other combinations, can seem a bit daunting.

This challenge for newcomers, I believe, comes from the fact that we tend to focus on the breweries themselves, rather than the brewing traditions that they use for their beer. While we may recognize a beer from being from Budweiser, Dogfish Head, or any other brewery, recognition of the company tells us precious little of the beer itself.

What has helped me overcome this obstacle is separating the types of beer into the regional traditions from whence they came. My understanding of certain beers has increased once I figured out the environment where they were developed. For example, knowing that helles beers came as a direct response the pilsners has helped me realize that when tasting a helles, there should be pilsner characteristics, but with a different mineral composition of the water when brewing. This is but one of many ties that one can make between certain beers.

Below I’ve seperated many of the beers that the Beer Judging Certification Program recognizes into one of four regions: Bavaria, Belgian, The British Isles, and North America.

Note that there will be some categorizations that will seem out of place, but I will try to notate those sufficiently. This list should not be considered authoritarian, and is indeed up for debate.

Bavarian

  • Bock (Bock)
  • Bohemian Pilsner (Pilsner)
  • Doppelbock (Bock)
  • Dortmunder (Light Lager)*
  • Dunkelweizen (German Wheat and Rye Beer)
  • Düsseldorf Altbier (Amber Hybrid Beer)**
  • Eisbock (Bock)
  • Kölsch (Light Hybrid Beer)***
  • German Pilsner (Pilsner)
  • Maibock/Helles Bock (Bock)
  • Munich Dunkel (Dark Lager)
  • Munich Helles (Light Lager)
  • Northern German Altbier (Amber Hybrid Beer)**
  • Oktoberfest (European Amber Lager)
  • Roggenbier (German Wheat and Rye Beer)
  • Schwarzbier (Dark Lager)
  • Vienna Lager (European Amber Lager)
  • Weizen/Weissbier (German Wheat and Rye Beer)
  • Weizenbock (German Wheat and Rye Beer)

Belgian

  • Belgian Blond Ale (Belgian Strong Ale)
  • Belgian Dark Strong Ale (Belgian Strong Ale)
  • Belgian Dubbel (Belgian Strong Ale)
  • Belgian Golden Strong Ale (Belgian Strong Ale)
  • Belgian Tripel (Belgian Strong Ale)
  • Berliner Weisse (Sour Ale)!
  • Bière de Garde (Belgian and French Ale)
  • Belgian Pale Ale (Belgian and French Ale)
  • Belgian Specialty Ale(Belgian and French Ale)
  • Flanders Red Ale (Sour Ale)
  • Flanders Brown Ale/Oud Bruin (Sour Ale)
  • Fruit Lambic (Sour Ale)
  • Gueuze (Sour Ale)
  • Saison (Belgian and French Ale)
  • Straight Lambic (Sour Ale)
  • Witbier (Belgian and French Ale)

British Isles

  • Baltic Porter (Porter)
  • Brown Porter (Porter)
  • Dry Stout (Stout)
  • English Barleywine (Strong Ale)
  • English IPA (India Pale Ale)
  • Extra Special/Strong Bitter (English Pale Ale)
  • Foreign Extra Stout (Stout)+
  • Imperial Pale Ale (India Pale Ale)
  • Irish Red Ale (Scottish and Irish Ale)
  • Mild (English Brown Ale)
  • Northern English Brown (English Brown Ale)
  • Oatmeal Stout (Stout)
  • Old Ale (Strong Ale)
  • Robust Porter (Porter)
  • Russian Stout (Stout) ++
  • Scottish Export 80/- (Scottish and Irish Ale)
  • Scottish Heavy 70/- (Scottish and Irish Ale)
  • Scottish Light 60/- (Scottish and Irish Ale)
  • Southern English Brown (English Brown Ale)
  • Special/Best/Premium Bitter (English Pale Ale)
  • Standard/Ordinary Bitter (English Pale Ale)
  • Strong Scotch Ale (Scottish and Irish Ale)
  • Sweet Stout (Stout)

North American@

  • American Amber Ale (American Ale)
  • American Barleywine (Strong Ale)
  • American Brown Ale (American Ale)
  • American IPA (India Pale Ale)
  • American Pale Ale (American Ale)
  • American Stout (Stout)
  • American Wheat or Rye Beer (Light Hybrid Beer)
  • Blonde Ales (Light Hybrid Beer)
  • California Common Beer (Amber Hybrid Beer)
  • Classic American Pilsner (Pilsner)
  • Cream Ale (Light Hybrid Beer)
  • Dark American Lager (Dark Lager)
  • Light American Lagers (Light Lagers)
  • Premium American Lagers (Light Lager)
  • Standard American Lagers (Light Lager)

* While Dortmund is not technically in the Bavarian Region, the Dortmunder beer was developed as a response to Pilsner’s rise in popularity in the 1800′s.

** Altbiers hold an odd position in the Bavarian category, as they evolved as much from the older, pre-lager brewing traditions as they did from the new processes that came from Bavaria. However, as they are both technically lagers, they seem more at home here than in other categories.

*** Kölsch beers are another German amalgam between lagers and ales, thus the reason the BJCP has put it under hybrids. I’ve put it under the Bavarian Category, as it has more in common with the beers of Bavarian than not. It should be considered an odd variant.

+ Foreign Stouts are typically brewed for the tropical beer markets of the world, but owe their existence pretty much to the Guinness company of Dublin, Ireland.

++ Russian Stouts started off as English exports to Russia, rather than a Russian variant of an English Recipe.

@ For as large as the North American category is, it’s remarkable how many of the beers listed below are simply regional variations of established brews. Out of the beers listed below, only the California Common beer can be considered a truly new and unique type of beer. Most of the others are variations of Bavarian or British Isle beers, albeit with more local ingredients (and often higher hop content).