Session strength in the US is interpreted more liberally than elsewhere, as American beer lovers from the craft era are not great session drinkers, preferring to sample or sip their beers. US listings typically quote 6.2% ABV as the upper limit.
To a European palate the four main sub-styles – Blond, Pale, Amber and Brown – differ most obviously in colour, though brewers are starting to match different grain bills to particular hop varieties as assiduously as some chefs and sommeliers approach food and beer pairing, floating them off in different directions.
The craze for haze that began on the US East Coast has impacted on disciple brewers in many countries, seeing beers deliberately hazed up with starch, proteins, dead yeast, hop residues and other adjuncts. This undoubtedly alters the character of a beer but opinion is divided about the extent to which it raises or flattens it. Marketeers often refer to these beers as “juicy”, for the similarity in appearance to fruit juices and the citrus or tropical fruit flavours from some hops.
Hoppy and refreshing are the keynotes of this session- to sampling-strength style (4.5-6.2% ABV), though in contrast to most IPAs a clear malt presence should balance things out and make the beer more accessible. The hops used should be more aroma and flavour focussed, with less bittering, thus creating less of the full-on hop punch of an IPA.
Differs from other IPAs by being weaker, with an upper limit around 5% and no lower limit. The key distinction is that they feature high hopping, usually with bitter aromatic varietals, even when they are near to 0.0% ABV. They vary in quality, dependent in large measure on whether the brewer manages to produce a firm enough grain base to support the IBUs.
With up to 40% adjunctive maize and sugar, this light-bodied, delicately hoppy style (4.2-5.6% ABV) is not seen as “craft”, even ardent fans describing it as a lawnmower beer for people who don’t like to be seen drinking lager. It is the ale that survived the Prohibition years in the US.
Darker in colour and reasonably robust (4.5-6.2% ABV), the malt base nudges towards light caramel, while the hopping, which varies a lot in intensity, will tend to favour piny, resinous, dark fruit and floral varieties. Balance is the key, the best being cheerful rather than shocking. Some are termed Red Ale.
This gentlest of modern American ale styles (4.0-5.2% ABV) should be easy-drinking and approachable with initial malty sweetness, balanced and refreshing, making any individual statement through use of characterful fruity, hoppy or malty notes.
Set apart from other genres of brown ale by being noticeably though not aggressively hoppy, an American Brown should nonetheless at the same time be malty with chocolate-caramel flavours. There is a range of strengths (4.3-6.2% ABV).
The lead author and curator of The Beer Styles of Europe and beyond is Tim Webb, co-author of The World Atlas of Beer. We welcome all comments on the factual accuracy of these pages. These should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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