After decades of chugging cheap, watery lagers, America has been reborn in the church of beer. Even your corner bar has six craft offerings on tap, and your grocery store probably has an entire aisle devoted to independent, small-time brewers.
But while the big guys like Anheuser-Busch and Miller Brewing have had to make room for their craft cousins, there’s still shockingly little diversity when it comes to popular brewing styles.
“Stouts and pale ales are omnipresent,” says Matt Simpson, a.k.a. The Beer Sommelier. “You see bars with 20 craft beers on tap, and 19 are one or the other.”
While Simpson says he loves stouts and IPAs, “there are a lot of great styles that were really loved by craft beer fans 10 or 15 years ago that have fallen off,” he says.
Here are seven of them, and excellent exemplars of each.
Usually light in alcohol—4% to 5% ABV—and light in color, this style produces a wheat beer with a delightfully tart kick. “It’s fermented with lactobacillus, which is the bacteria that sours milk,” Simpson says. “It gives this style of beer a refreshing, bracing tartness.” He says it’s a brew you can drink all day long, and a good one to sample if you enjoy saison- or farmhouse-style beers.
One to try: Dogfish Head Festina Peche
“You almost never see this around, but if you like porters and stouts, it’s similar and just fantastic,” Simpson says. Baltic’s have the base character of a big stout—some chocolate notes and maybe a little coffee. “Rich, slightly sweet, without much hopping,” he says. “Also, very little bitterness and very drinkable.” The best of both worlds between lagers and more complex ales, he says.
One to try: Smuttynose Baltic Porter
Medium-light in body, golden in color, and about 5% ABV, this style tends to produce smooth, clear, clean beers. “This is basically what American lagers were like in the 1800s, and what many want to be again now,” Simpson says. He calls this a “great football season beer,” and says you’ll also see it referred to as “dortmunder.” If you like traditional American lagers like Budweiser or Coors, this is similar “but with a ton more flavor and body.”
One to try: Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold
FLANDERS RED STYLE
As the name implies, this beer originated in the Flanders region of Belgium. “Very tart, but also very clean and bracing,” Simpson says. “Medium bodied—about 7% ABV—this is a rich and fruity ale.” He says it’s a great beer to sip if you like cheese, and is a nice change of pace for guys who like Belgian fruit beers.
One to try: New Belgium La Folie
“You see barley wines all over the place these days, but not a lot of old ales, which are similar,” Simpson says. This style falls right in between ales and barley wines. “Tops out around 8% to 9% A.B.V.,” he says. “Slightly nutty with some caramel and molasses, some malt, and maybe some dry fruit character, depending on how it’s aged.”
One to try: North Coast Old Stock Ale
There are plenty of light Belgian beers on the market, and also huge “quadrupels and tripels,” Simpson says. “Dubbels fall in between.” On the darker side and somewhere between 6% and 8% ABV, these beers tend to be “effervescent, lightly fruity, and malty,” he says. “Worth checking out if you like Belgian ales.”
One to try: Chimay Red
“Boy, is this hard to find. But it’s a wonderful style,” Simpson says. Traditionally, brewers would freeze a double bock-style beer. Because water freezes faster than alcohol, the brewers could then “scoop away” some of the frozen surface water and end up with a very concentrated version of the style, Simpson says. “That’s an eisbock.” Typically in the 10% to 12% ABV range, this beer “doesn’t pair well,” he says. “Sip it by itself in a snifter.” (Ironically, he says it gets better as it warms up.)
One to try: Kulmbacher Eisbock