There are any number of beer styles out there and almost as many style guides. Even still, there are many beers that defy inclusion into any “style.” Brewers continue to push the envelope and writers are always be playing catch up. For us, style guides can serve two audiences.
First is for the brewer, judge or pro that needs to understand technical details that are far beyond the casual beer drinker. If you are interested in such a guide, there is no better resource than the BJCP guide.
Second is the beer drinker who wants to know what to expect when they order a beer. The spectrum of beers varieties is wide and classification is important to some of us. Some such guides are very basic, others are quite advanced.
Obviously, this is a lighthearted approach to beer styles that should be easy to read and hopefully entertaining. Our goal here is to inform with some details, some history, some facts or whatever else we find interesting about these styles. We will continue to update this guide as we go forward, but here are some of the more popular styles served in California and a few quirky ones that we just love. Check back, we’re adding all the time.
Click below to view more info on each style
Ever had a beer that you could not quite put your finger on? Welcome to the world of American Strong Ales. This very broad category is used for American style ales over 7% ABV. A beer that fits into this category can also fit into others, often as a double IPA, barleywine or old ale.
The flavors can range from extremely malty and sweet to largely bitter and dry on the palate. This catch-all term really does not tell you much about the beer other than letting you know it’s going to pack a wallop. In beer, when in doubt, you’ve got an out. Try Stone’s Oaked Arrogant Bastard if we have it on tap – and you think you are worthy.
While this is not a style we’ll be serving anytime soon, it is the behemoth of beer styles and one that ought to be discussed. The world’s top two selling beers are Bud Light and Budweiser. Yes, Bud Light is the best selling beer in the world! The other top selling domestic brands you know like Miller, Coors, and ‘imports’ such as Corona, Heineken, Stella Artois etc and toss in all of their light and dry and premium varieties all have a few things in common: They are all yellow, all have adjuncts like rice or corn to keep them inexpensive to produce and consistent in their flavor, they cannot be enjoyed at anything less than near freezing temperatures, they all have very similar flavor profiles, and they are all owned by mega-corporations that are not based in the USA. That’s right, none of those brands is US owned! In fact the top selling US owned beer brand is Pabst, and they haven’t brewed their own beer in many years, opting instead to have the Miller/Coors Company contract brew for them.
The malt, yeast, and hops flavors are intentionally muted to make for universally drinkable beer. Normally the flavors are barely discernable from one brand to the next but mouthfeel does range from extremely light to medium. Adjunct beers normally run from 3% ABV to about 5% ABV.
Marketing, excellent distribution, and corporate clout certainly have helped the beer giants attain and cement their places in the global beer market but as Mark Jilg from Craftsman pointed out to us, “it must be more than talking frogs and sun kissed bikini bodies that sell this beer – people love it!” And love it we Americans do. More than 10 of the 11 gallons of beer that each American consumes annually are Adjunct beers of one sort or another. The typically witty Dave Barry once said, “All other nations are drinking Ray Charles beer and we are drinking Barry Manilow.”
All of this might make you think that we detest these beers and those that drink them but that is not true at all. It’s beer and we love beer and all that love beer. Though we’d almost always rather drink something with a little more personality, none of us is beyond drinking a Macro when the situation calls for it.
If this is what you normally drink, please come in and give one of our Lagers a try. Chances are we’ll have something that won’t upset your palette, who knows? You might even like it.
Oh baby do these pack a punch and its not just the style name that is a mouthful! Originally brewed in Belgium in response to the popularity of Hefeweizens, this style is no joke. Flavors can range from fruity to spicy to a pretty present hop bitterness, but one thing they have in common is alcohol. Do not be fooled by their dry finish and usually high carbonation.
Ranging from about 7% – 10.5% ABV, these ‘golden’ colored ales carry a medium mouthfeel and show off some serious throat-warming capabilities. These puppies are the golden ticket to a show you may not remember after only one or two.
Is it just us or does seem seem more like a Belgian style than it does a German one? While popular in Berlin and other parts of Germany, it likely has roots in Flanders where it seems to be a better fit. A delicate wheat beer bursting with flavors that are tart, sour, complex, and refreshing – no wonder Berliners usually add sweet fruit syrup and drink it through a straw. Wait – What? With the fruity syrups as an ad hoc add-in, it’s kind of the rebel of German styles as it toes the lines of some of the Reinheitsgebot (rigorous German purity laws) that forbids fruit (among other things) in beer.
Cloudy, very light in color and effervescent with a light and loose head and a norm of 3%ABV, this wheat is obviously not from around here. According to Michael Jackson, not that Michael Jackson, Napoleon’s troops referred to Berliner Weisse as ‘Champagne of the north’. A rare bird in California, Bruery makes a fine example of the style called Hottenroth.
Don’t let the name fool you. Bitters aren’t that bitter. In fact, for a California IPA drinker the bitterness in a Bitter can be hard to detect at all sometimes. This dominant British style of pub ale can be looked upon as the older and mellower brother to what we in California call a Pale Ale. Much lighter in alcohol and carbonation than a California Pale Ale but with a very similar flavor profile, these session beers usually carry less than 4% ABV. So, why do they call them Bitters anyway? The answer is rooted British pub culture.
Typical pub ale styles in England were/are called Milds, Browns, and Porters none of which are known for their hoppiness. Bitter was a way to distinguish from the other common ale styles. Today, Bitters are traditionally served from a cask and are not force carbonated.
Bock-off! This beer may just ram you in the knees if you are not careful. This ‘billy-goat’ of a beer, originally from Einbeck, Germany, is a dark, strong, malty lager. The term Bock covers a broad range of beers within this geographically defined style of beer. Bocks tend to have some high caramel notes usually not found in a bottom-fermented beer. Its hop bitterness is hardly present, but does a nice job of balancing out the toasty malt character.
Bock beers are easily broken down into sub categories like Weizenbocks (wheat Bock), Dopplebocks (double or strong Bocks often climbing over 10%ABV), and Maibocks (an outlier in the category that tends to have a higher bitterness and less exotic malty flavor), but the original Bock is the most popular style on its own.
Some claim it’s America’s only truly native beer style while others challenge that. Few disagree, however, that the unrivaled leader in the category is the Anchor Brewing Company of San Francisco. So closely associated with Steam Beer, Anchor was able to trademark the name in 1981, leaving the rest of the beer community to muddle through with the dispiriting California Common for all others in the category.
Using a variety of hops called Northern Brewer, Steam Beer’s hop character is woodsy minty as opposed to the citrus character we have grown accustomed to with the dominance of Cascade hops. That signature, minty hop aroma starts the beer off; dry, complex and bready malt character saturates the middle; a crisp finish runs out to a lingering aftertaste. Satisfying. Complex. An American classic.
See IPA as this is a subsection of that entry. CIPAs also known as West Coast Hoppy Beers are full of hoppy goodness. Pretty much every brewer in California makes a version of an IPA and this extra hoppy style is the dominant favorite up and down the coast. It takes a lot of malt to balance these beers but typically, balance is not what you drink these for. When we say IPA at Tony’s, this is what we’re talking about. According to BJCP, “An American version of the historical English style, brewed using American ingredients and attitude.” Ranging from very fragrant to hugely aromatic and from delightfully bittersweet to face contorting bitterness, CIPAs are about the hoppiest beers in the world with some now boasting 100+ IBU (International Bittering Units). Home brewers and craft brewers in California have taken the IPA genre to new heights and new depths. In fact, this style of IPA now routinely has more entrants in the Great American Beer Festival than any other style.
AVB can range from about 6% to 7% ABV for a standard CIPA, Double CIPAs Start at 8% ABV, and Triple CIPAs now get up to the 11% range. This is all a moving target. Russian River’s Blind Pig IPA was dubbed the original double IPA ringing in at a than impressive 6% ABV and still palatable. While still one of the best IPA’s around, Blind Pig is now on the light side for a CIPA. Taste and cravings for hops keeps growing, so more booze is needed to balance the hops. The color spectrum of these beers spans from pale straw to robust amber. There are too many good ones to list all of our favorites but check out today’s list for an always handsome selection.
You say DOO-bl, I say DUH-behl. Let’s call the whole thing off! Actually, let’s just go have a beer. Originated in Belgian monasteries during the Middle Ages, Dubbels have since been tweaked to what we know them to be today. Dubbels are going to give you a lot of flavor in a little glass. Strong caramel and toasted flavors along with dried dark fruit esters abound. There should not be much, if any, hop bitterness around.
The style usually comes with a medium to full bodied mouthfeel, and colors ranging from deep copper to mahogany and maroon. Dubbels may taste warm and fuzzy, but be warned, that warming feeling is not just love and lust for the beverage in your hand. These beers usually range between 6%-7.5% alcohol. We can’t get enough of Uncommon Brewer’s Siamese Twin, it’s not a prototypical Dubbel, but it sure is yummy.
ESB is a very common beer style that originated in England and was perfected by British brewers. The term ‘ESB’ is the property of Fullers in England but it is commonly used here in the US. The funny thing about ESB is that by today’s standards there is really nothing all that special or bitter about them. And therein lies their brilliance, not a drama queen – a work horse.
ESB is basically a stronger and hoppier version of a Bitter, which as you know by reading the Bitter description is not very bitter to begin with. Brewed to be a small step up from a pub style session ale, ESB’s, when done right, can exhibit a wonderful balance of malt, low but important carbonation, and medium hop bitterness. Usually light copper in color, these beers usually hover around 6% ABV. If you want to taste a good ESB, ask your bartender for Alesmith’s Anvil – Yum!
Okay, okay fill in your own jokes here but there is nothing funny about Fruit Beers, okay there is. Its beer, flavored with fruit, I mean come on! Sometimes brewed with real fruit but often brewed with extracts, this catch-all style includes many different styles and variations. Fruit in beer is nothing new, Belgians have been doing it for eons and they are pretty good at it too. You know who else is pretty good at it? Marin Brewery in Larkspur!
Maybe apricots, cherries, or blueberries are not what you are after when you are in the mood for a beer or maybe it does sound good and you just don’t want to be heard or seen ordering a ‘chick beer’. First of all, there is nothing wrong with chick beers and second, fruit when used artfully can add a plethora of extraordinary flavors to beer. Have an open mind, you might be delightfully surprised. Hangar 24’s Orange Wheat is one of the most delicious and refreshing beers we’ve ever tried. Try one, you’ll likely agree.
Translated into English, Hefeweizen means yeast-wheat. So, lets keep it untranslated. It sounds way cooler in German. You’ll never guess where this style originated…. Hefs are known for their creamy, smooth body and banana, clove flavors and usually ring in at about a 5% ABV. They can also include some round vanilla flavors and a bit of hop spiciness, but no real bitterness.
The beer can sometimes finish with some citrus notes, but does NOT require an actual piece of citrus to balance out the high yeast character. As with Witbiers, brewers make every beer to taste the way the make it, so please, leave the fruit slices in your margaritas. Craftsman in Pasadena makes an aptly names Heavenly Hef that is one of the best in California if not the entire new world.
Catherine the Great commanded its creation – got a problem with that? Seems Her Imperial Majesty drank some Stout in London, liked it, and commanded a case or twenty be shipped to St. Petersburg. The London Stout duly arrived and had spoiled in transit. Off with their heads! Well, not quite, but a new, tougher, sturdier Stout—a stouter-than-Stout—was concocted that could hold up to the grueling transit demands of a long sea journey. It worked, countless serfs kept their heads, and the world was given a 10.5% alcohol powerhouse of singular intensity.
Roasty, fruity and bittersweet, very full-bodied and chewy, Imperial Stout is as intense as its royal sponsor. There are many good ones out there but few hold a candle to North Coast’s Old Rasputin. Drinking one can be a prophetic experience.
IPA is British style of beer that is brewed stronger and hoppier than other Pale Ales. In the early 1800s British brewers were faced with the challenge of getting their product to the growing number of expatriates that had gone to exploit India. We all know, time, air, light, temperature changes, and agitation are the enemies of beer. As you can imagine, the long and bumpy boat ride halfway around the world in a time that predates mobile refrigeration and was not good for beer.
To make the beer more stable, brewers experimented with different yeast strains and heavier grain bills to produce more alcohol content (a good antibacterial) and less soluble sugars (a good meal for micro-organisms). The increased maltiness cried out for more hoppy bitterness to keep it balanced – and wouldn’t you know it the alpha acids in the hops were themselves a natural and powerful preservative. While mostly an export beer from its inception, IPAs have had moments of popularity all over the world including at home in jolly old England. The traditional version of IPA is generally amber or lighter in color and is usually close to 5% ABV and never less than 4% ABV. With an assertive hoppiness in both flavor and aroma, IPA is a very distinctive style.
In the last couple of decades IPA has had a very strong resurgence worldwide, but none as strong as here in California. See California Style India Pale Ale for a style description. Did you know that India Pale Ale predates Pale ale as a style in it’s native England?
Calling it Irish Style is a giveaway: someone is imitating someone. In this case it’s New World brewers echoing a traditional style of ale from Ireland. A small amount of roasted barley gives a robust color and in turn, its name. Irish Red Ale—like Kilkenny or Smithwicks—typically has little or no hop flavor but has malt sweetness and a fresh toast aroma. American-made Irish Style Red should have the same profile and the same roasted dryness in the finish as the original.
Here is a beer with an identity crisis. Is it an ale or a lager? It is top fermented at warm temperatures (usually in the 60-70 degree range) so it’s an ale. Then again, it is stored, or lagered, at cooler temperatures like a lager. The product is a unique hybrid style that until recently was only available in Cologne, Germany where it was innovated more than 100 years ago.
Technically, this style was developed over hundreds of years but it was defined as the style we know today in the early 1900s. A fast drinking session beer that is pale yellow with a subtle but present hop bitterness, when done right, this is a beer that appeals to the masses and satisfies the connoisseur. You’ll often find Ballast Point’s Yellowtail on tap at Tony’s, it’s a customer favorite.
Tastes just like it sounds: Stout softened with nutty, earthy oats, sometimes as much as 30% of the mash. Does putting oats in make it breakfast beer? Sure.
All that oatmeal creates an extraordinary and super-smooth mouthfeel and often a slight sweetening sensation. Hop bitterness varies among makers but rarely surmounts the impact of the oats. Don’t let the blackness scare you off, the flavors are hard not to love. Firestone’s Velvet Merkin is tough to find but worth the hunt and Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout from Anderson Valley has long been the gold standard of American versions of this style.
As you may have guessed, it is so named because it is older beer that was kept in stock by British brewers and barkeeps. Some refer to these beers as ‘cellar reserves’ although not all cellar reserves fit into this category. In England the range for these beers can run from below 5% all the way up to over 12% ABV. Here in California, these beers rarely start at less than 9% and sometimes get up over 14% ABV. The lines between American Strong Ale, Barleywine, and Old or Stock ale can get pretty blurry as all boast huge maltiness and weighty ABVs.
Visually, these beers show dark coppers to browns of every variety and usually a small, quickly dissipating heads. Its hard to hide all of the booze but aging and spicing can bring some balance to these heavy brews. Some of our favorites include Old Stock Ale from North Coast and Triple Exultation from Eel River. Ideally, this beer served at higher temperatures than most, some like to hold them in a snifter and let them warm up a bit so all of the nuances can be enjoyed one in a snifter and sip it slowly.
Ah, the All-American-Oh-Wait-Actually-Came-From-Eastern-Europe-And-Was-Good-Before-We-Over-Simplified-It Lager. Pilsners were first created in Bohemia, a not-so-long-gone region encompassing parts of Germany and the Czech Republic. ‘Pils’ is the original crisp, clean, fresh lager beer the world really got to know on a broad commercial scale. The beers lean toward a big, spicy hop aroma and flavor with biscuity malt touches. They are known for being some of the most refined beers in the world with zero fruity esters.
In more recent years, some obvious differences have emerged between the pilsners made in the Germany style and those styled in the Czech fashion. German style Pils’ have a lighter mouth feel and a little more carbonation. Czech style Pilsners are going to have a heavier mouthfeel and a little more hop spiciness balanced by a little more breadiness in the front of the beer. Easy to drink, pleasant to look at, and as Andy says, “tastes like beer”. We usually feature at least one Pilsner from Lagunitas, Einhorn, or Sudwerk and you can’t go wrong with any of them. Prost.
In the early 1700’s jolly old England must have been some place to work. They had a cheap beer mix of whatever was laying around that they concocted into a blend called ‘Entire’. Entire was low in alcohol and refinement but it was thought to be nourishing and invigorating. So, it was often sold or doled to the transportation workers in London who needed a little pick me up to get throughout the day but needed something that would not immobilize them as they had grueling tasks that needed to be done. Named Porter’s Ale and then shortened to “Porter” for its popularity among porters, this style was brewed to replace inconsistent and hit or miss Entire. Commercially and intentionally brewed for the first time in 1730, this dark brown ruby to near black ale is still widely brewed today. Loved for their chocolate, nutty, and caramel flavors that come from the roasted malts. Malty with only subtle hop flavor, Porters sport a medium mouthfeel.
Today, Porters are generally split into the categories: English (or Brown), American (or Robust), and Baltic. Without splitting hairs, the American variety is a little bigger all around than its English counterpart ringing in at about 5-6% ABV instead of 4-5% ABV. The Baltic variety is one big step bigger than both of the formers and can get up to 10% in some instances. As you might have guessed California brewers tend to favor the American style. Anchor Porter is one of our all time favorites and Walker’s Reserve from Firestone is on tap whenever we can get our hands on it.
Did you know that Guinness Extra Stout was once called Guinness Extra Stout Porter? That’s because Porter is the father of all stouts and stout was just a way to express the intensity of the porter. Interestingly, Baltic Porter was an adaptation of Russian Imperial Stout, which of course was an adaptation of Dry Irish Stout, which of course… I’m My Own Grandpa.
Sometimes referred to as the ‘barleywine of Belgium,’ Quadrupels are the stronger, darker cousins to Belgian Dubbels and Tripels. Weighing in at over 10% alcohol, quads are dark, rich, and very full bodied. Often you will get a large malt character ranging from dried dark fruit to toffees, as well as other toasted flavors, mixed with some heated alcoholic punch.
Although Quads can come across as quite smooth and easy to drink, these beers are not for the faint of heart, and should be looked at as sipping beers, not slamming beers. The rightfully esteemed Brewmaster at Lost Abbey, Tomme Arthur, makes more great beers than anyone we know, but his Quad, Judgment Day is among his very best. If we have it on tap, it likely won’t last long, so ask for a snifter, sit back and enjoy.
Think bacon beer. No, you will not find this beer out on a cigarette break, but you may find it chilling by the BBQ ribs at your next family reunion. Don’t worry all you vegetarians; no animals were actually hurt during the process of this style’s creation. German for ‘smoked beer’, this ale’s origin comes from a small German city named Bamberg.
Bambergers (we made that word up – we think) starting drying malted barley over beechwood embers many years ago in order to impart an actual bacon-like flavor into their beers. Low in alcohol, but dark in color, meat is the main event of this beer. If you can get past the overwhelming flavors of pig, there is a lot more to discover as well. Usually some sweet maltiness will be the backbone for this beer with a dry finish complimented by the high smoky qualities.
Voila! Saison! This beer style, originally brewed to be quaffed during the summer months, comes to us from the French-speaking section of Belgium. The style has been revived in recent years, but was almost forgotten until brewers realized the wide likability of Saisons. These beers have a peppery, yet extremely fruity front, usually with yeasty and grassy notes (both good, trust us) and a unique bitterness in the finish.
Typically, this rustic style is pretty high in carbonation and quite refreshing. Known as great beer to drink with food because of its easy drinkability and palette widening properties, Saisons usually stay within the 5%-7% ABV range. Even with this punch of alcohol and flavors, these delicacies remain thirst quenching and reasonable for hotter day drinking.
Difficult to make correctly, due to their some-what unpredictable brewing process that originated in less-than clean farmhouses, when done right a Saison will be one of the most refreshing and downable beer styles you may ever imbibe. If you are lucky enough to come in when we have one of the delectable Saisons made by Patrick Rue from The Bruery, do your self a favor and savor one.
Never judge a book by its cover. The pretty girl actually got into Yale based on grades, the football player is in a committed gay relationship, and this ‘black beer’ is, in fact, a delicious lager and only weighs in at around 4.5% ABV. Bottom fermented, and usually pretty light bodied, this creamy German style of black lager does not hold the same roasted notes that its cousins, the stout and porter, do.
Although dark in color and rich in flavor, Schwarzbiers carry a medium hop bitterness and a streamlined malt character. You will still get a good amount of chocolate and nuttiness on your palate, but be prepared for a dry finish. If you are bold enough to try one of these black beauties, make sure its not too cold or you’ll miss out on many of its wonderful flavors. Moonlight Brewing in Santa Rosa makes one of our favorites called Death and Taxes. It’s almost never found in Southern California – but we’re working on it.
Most style guides break these into two separate styles but we opted to keep them together as they are merely offshoots of the same idea. Originally developed deep in the wild jungle of central Thailand…. Just kidding, as the name reveals this style comes to us from the 200 year old Scottish brewing tradition of caramelizing the wort during an extended boil. The Scots were brewing long before that but it seems there was nothing all that noteworthy about what they were doing until they started brewing these beers that boast great richness in taste and color.
What you call the subsection of Scottish Style Ale that you are drinking is almost entirely based on how strong the brew is. As the alcohol goes up, so does the richness and the mouthfeel, and often times the copper/red colors deepen too. Whether you are enjoying a Light, an Export, Wee Heavy or any of the stops along the way Scottish Style Ales are distinctive and full of sweet roasty maltiness.
Ranging from about 4% ABV to up over 9% ABV one needs to be careful which variety they order. One of our favorite Scotch Ales, Kilt Lifter, comes from Moylans Brewery in Novato and their internationally recognized Brewmaster Denise Jones.
Nearly extinct, it was the Gatorade of industrial workers for generations. Safer than water—which wasn’t safe at all—small beer began with boiling and ended with microbe-killing alcohol. Even if the alcohol was very low—thus small beer—the drink aided hydration without introducing a deadly bacterial stew. Sometimes produced directly by using reduced measures of fermentable grain, it is better known as a second-runnings brew. Make a strong beer. Then remake it, reusing the nearly-spent grain, and you have yourself Small Beer. Nearly no one bothers anymore. A rare exception is Anchor Brewing which makes a Small Beer from the second runnings of their very big Old Foghorn Barleywine Style Beer. And those industrial workers? They’re back to drinking contaminated water.
Think Guinness. Black. Daunting. As implacable as the Irish and almost as impenetrable. And light! Nice, easy, drink-it-all-night light. Huh?
Dry Irish Style Stout’s opaque blackness is the result of using heavily roasted grains. The same heavy roasting produces its distinctive espresso-like bite, but has no impact on the alcohol level. Most Irish-made stouts come in around the easy-drinking 5% ABV mark and U.S. brewers paying homage to the style commonly do the same.
Creamy-smooth. Bitter-sweet. Dry Irish Style Stout summons any number of hyphens. Brendan Moylan’s brewery in Marin County makes a great example called Dragoons. North Coast’s Old No. 38 is the other staff favorite.
Two heads are better than one and Tripels can make you feel like you have two heads if you are not careful. Tripels, light in color and body but high in alcohol and flavor, are the middle sibling in the Belgian ale family. Usually a spicy-citrus flavor up front with some sweetness in the finish, mostly because of the Belgian candy sugar used to increase the ABV in these beers.
A good Belgian-style Tripel will mask its 8%-11% ABV with its soft malt character and peppery sweetness. Anderson Valley’s Brother David is a very good example of this style.
Don’t worry; Belgium is not trying to take a racist political stance. This ‘white’ beer, or ‘wheat’ beer, is named because of the cloudiness caused by the large wheat content in the grain bill and because of the yeast that is kept in the beer to impart a creamier body to each glass. Witbiers are traditionally spiced with coriander and orange peel which really help to shape the flavor profile.
Bright, tangy and refreshing are often heard when one tries a Wit for the first time. Although most people are used to high-volume commercial versions of this beer being served with a piece of fruit, you will never see an orange slice on your glass at Tony’s. Well-crafted Wits were created to taste exactly as they do, and do not need the extra citrus to give them more flavor.
Generally less than 5% ABV Witbiers have become an extremely popular lighter style beer among many US drinkers in the know. We are fortunate enough to have several solid Wits brewed here in California, and why not? It’s a great summer beer and we have summer all the time
1710 W. Magnolia Blvd.
Burbank, CA 91506
~ map ~