Non-existent but Well-known Styles
Craft brewers continue to work beyond these guidelines. These are descriptions but not limits. There is nothing that says an imperial stout can’t also be a fruit beer and a wood-aged beer. Ideally, I would like to incorporate a tag system in beer descriptions on beer websites.
Brewers continue to create new styles. When Stone Brewing produced their 11th Anniversary Ale it was described as a Double IPA… that just so happened to be pitch black. It was one of the first beers to popularize the marriage of citrusy hops with roasted malts. This was beyond any style invented at the time, but as the basics of the style caught on in beers like Deschutes Hop in the Dark and 21st Amendment Back in Black a new style emerged. Slowly, the Cascadian Dark Ale (or Black IPA) emerged and is slowly being accepted.
One well known but unacknowledged variation in beer styles is the huge range of beers that comprise the category of American India Pale Ale. The “West Coast” IPA is in-your-face with citrusy hops, and largely dry and devoid of malt character. “East Coast” IPAs are balanced with a considerable sweet malt character and tend to be somewhat fruitier. This distinction is widely known, yet none of the guidelines approach it. This goes to illustrate that there is considerable variation possible within each style. Extol Beer hops to publish more articles on this subject in the future.
Breaking the rules
Although we have all of these resources, the creativity of craft brewers is still difficult to contain in a narrow set of guidelines. Style guidelines should be looked at to communicate general expectations between beer drinkers and beer producers. Knowing the guidelines comes in handy because we can take these guidelines as a base of knowledge and add onto them. I can describe some very unique beers by adding adjectives to styles or combining them. Last week I drank an India Pale Ale with guavas and earlier today I drank an Imperial Stout with coffee. With beer styles as a base knowledge, one could reasonably estimate what these might taste like.
It would be impossible to list of styles long enough to encompass every possible style of beer that could be produced given the immeasurable freedoms brewers have today. Yet beer styles are excellent tools in describing beer. They are traditional with recipes tested over the centuries and they are contemporary with exciting styles that have only recently emerged. There are wild experimentations that will never quite be described and even extinct styles of beer waiting to be rediscovered. We are here to drink them and Extol Beer.
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