Category: Beer History

Native Beer: A Guide to Indigenous Beer Around the World

Mbege (Beer)

At one point or another, all beer was native.

It was regional. Indigenous. Communal. Domestic.

Nearly all cultures have their own version of beer based on whatever grain was around in the area at the time.  In Asia it was often rice, in Europe barley or wheat, millet in Africa, and in the Americas maize was common.  The only universally consistent components found in beer were grain, water, yeast and/or bacteria.  The widespread use of hops in beer is only a historically recent occurrence beginning in about the 11th century in Europe, which is partly why hops as an ingredient is not typical seen in indigenous beer around the world.

And with the craft beer renaissance in full swing at least in the U.S., don’t be surprised if you happen across one of these exotic brews in the near future as modern brewers rediscover native beer.  Dogfish Head already did a take on at least one of the old school brews below, but the truth is that you don’t have to wait for Dogfish Head to revive these not so well known brews— some of these traditional beers are so user-friendly, you could make them in our own home today!

First we’ll look at an old Slavic beer, then jump over to the New World for a few native treats, and finally swing back around to Africa to check out some tribal beers.

Or you can do a choose-your-own-adventure tour and skip to whatever region interests you most by clicking below.

Native Slavic Beer

Native Beer of the Americas

African Native Beer

Gose and Gueuze: A Tale of Two Sours- Act 2

[Read part one of this article, “Gose and Gueuze: A Tale of Two Sours- Act 1“]

The Search for the Origin of a Belgian Masterpiece: A Wild Gueuze Chase

The naming of a beer style isn’t always a consistent practice. Sometimes a beer style is named after the place where the recipe was originally brewed as with California common ale or Flanders red ale.  Other times the name reflects the ingredients used in the recipe of the beer; take oatmeal stout or fruit beer for example.  And in at least one instance, a beer style is named in relation to the people who drank or popularized it, as is said to be the case with porter, a dark ale of English origin named after the river porters and other physical laborers who favored the brew.

Similar to the way porter reportedly got its name, some have suggested that geuze (or “gueuze” in French) was named after the Geuzen, a political group whose beverage of choice was a nice sour, carbonated geuze.

Break out your historian hat, it’s theory testing time.

For all those not very well versed in pre-independent Belgian history, here’s a little background on the Geuzen.

Geuzen, Gueux, and Sometimes Geus

Emblem of the Geuzen

The term “Geuzen” and sometimes “Geus” in Dutch (or “Les Gueux” in French) translates as “beggars”, and, in the historical context we’re concerned with, was first documented as referring to a coalition force of Dutch freedom fighters from the 1560s.  Originally composed of noblemen, the Geuzen opposed Spanish rule and religious despotism in the Netherlands during the days leading up to the War of Dutch Independence, a.k.a. the Eighty Years’ War.

For those who are a bit rusty, here’s the quick and dirty version of the Eighty Years’ War in 80 words or less… The Spanish Empire was calling the shots in The Netherlands at the time (16th century) and were being Inquisition-y jerks about it which caused the Dutch, in part instigated by the Geuzen, to go to war for their freedom.  The end of that war resulted in The Netherlands being divided into two regions: in the north, The Netherlands as we know it today won its independence (congrats); however the Southern Netherlands (modern day Belgium) remained under Spanish rule (sorry bros).

Back to the Geuzen.

You might be asking yourself why would well-to-do noblemen revolutionaries be referred to as “beggars”?  Well, the story goes that on April 5, 1566, about 250 of these nobles marched to the palace of Regent Margaret, Duchess of Parma, to present a petition of grievances, demanding less taxation and more religious freedom.  Margaret, who was Governor of the Netherlands under King Philip II of Spain, was initially startled to see such a large group marching on the palace until one of her councilors, the Count of Berlaymont, is said to have remarked, “N’ayez pas peur Madame, ce ne sont que des gueux” (fear not madam, they are nothing but beggars).

Three days later, Hendrik van Brederode, one of the leaders of this opposition party, purportedly proclaimed in a speech that if necessary the members of his political group must all be ready to become “beggars” (Geuzen) for the sake of their country.

Hendrik van Brederode

Whether or not Hendrik personally heard and was directly referencing the alleged impolite comment made by the Count of Berlaymont who referred to this band of nobles as “beggars” is unclear.  Nevertheless, the name “Geuzen” stuck.

Now on to the connection between the Geuzen (political group) and geuze (beer style).

One theory has it that members of the Geuzen confederacy used to carry beer (presumably lambic, but then known as “yellow beer”) in a jug on their belts, and as a result of the shaking of the beer while walking in the sun, a second fermentation was induced creating a carbonated ale, suggestive of the how modern day geuze goes through a secondary fermentation in the bottle.

But as lambic history enthusiast Aschwin de Wolf discusses on his website, this story was considered and ultimately rejected by Belgian poet Hubert van Herreweghen in his 1956 book Geuze and Humanism (yes, there’s actually a book called Geuze and Humanism).

Ok, so this theory was rejected.  But why?

To find out, I contacted Sophie Matkava of The Brussels Gueuze Museum and legendary Cantillon Brewery, who was kind enough to indulge me on my wild geuze chase.

Cantillon Brewery

We know that geuze is a blend of uncarbonated young and old lambic which is then bottled (lambic is uncarbonated by definition).  Once bottled, a secondary fermentation occurs inside the bottle itself, resulting in a carbonated sour beer.  Because of this, geuze has the somewhat peculiar distinction of being a beer style that, with rare exception, by definition must be bottled, which of course makes finding a traditional geuze on tap something of a challenge.

Nowadays, geuze is typically bottled in thick champagne-style bottles capable of withstanding the sometimes significant levels of carbonation created by the secondary fermentation that takes place in the bottle.  But as Matkava pointed out, in the 1560s “there were no bottles that could be closed to keep the CO2 gas inside to have a production of “refermented” lambics.  Even for Champagne it was too soon.

She’s right.  In fact the champagne method and the strong glass required to prevent sparkling beverages from exploding under pressure wasn’t even invented, or at least officially documented, until 1632 when Christopher Merrett presented his paper to the Royal Society in London about it, which is long after the Geuzen were active.

Remember, the story is that the Geuzen were carrying around glass jugs of fermenting beer on their hips.  The deal with beer that hasn’t finished fermenting yet is that not only is the fermentation process creating more alcohol, it’s also producing more CO2.  If the glass containing this still fermenting beer isn’t strong enough to withstand the pressure of the ever-increasing CO2, then, you guessed it, the bottle will explode.

So it’s highly unlikely that these Geuzen from the 16th century were strutting around with bottles of still-fermenting geuze swinging from their hips unless they didn’t mind the occasional bottle bomb spraying shards of glass shrapnel in their face after the bottle would explode under the gradually increasing pressure of CO2.

Case closed.  Geuze (the beer) couldn’t have been named after the Geuzen from the 16th century who are said to have drank a geuze-like drink from glass bottles because the glass bottles of the time weren’t strong enough to hold carbonated beer.

Geuzen of the 16th Century

Even so, Matkava didn’t entirely rule out the idea that geuze might have gotten its name from a group of revolutionaries called the Geuzen.  Eh, just not the Geuzen from the 1560s.

Duck, Duck, Geuzen

Wait a minute.  There’s more than one political group in and around The Netherlands calling themselves the “Geuzen“?  Yep.

As Belgian historian Marcel Franssens pointed out to me, since the time of the original Geuzen of the 16th century, those who opposed the establishment were called or called themselves Geuzen (or les Gueux).  Just when you thought pre-Belgian history was going to be easy…

The Geuzen Sophie Matkava was talking about were a lesser known group of Geuzen who were active in the late 18th century.  Keep in mind that Belgium wasn’t even a country until 1830, and before that it was considered the part of the Netherlands under Spanish, then Austrian, and finally French rule.  In 1792, France invaded and took control of Belgium from the Austrians.  This new group of Geuzen saw the transition of power from the Austrians to the French as an opportunity to revolt and establish a free and sovereign Belgium.  The people who comprised the Geuzen revolution of 1792, Matkava explained, were “people from the city working in guilds”, which included some brewers.

Alas, this little known mini-revolution failed, but it could be, as Matkava suggested, “that the term Gueuze was given to define the beer from the Gueux…  But it seems that the term Gueuze appeared formally in 1900-1902.  Before that people were speaking about refermented lambics.

Ah ha!  So, it appears there was a time that geuze existed as a bottled, carbonated, blend of lambics more of less as we know it today, but it wasn’t formally called “geuze” until 1900-1902, which makes the Geuzen from 1792 possible candidates for originating the name.

Either that, or, as Matkava threw in there, the name gueux could have come from “a brewery located in Brussels in the 19th century in the “rue des Gueux” (that does not exist anymore).

Once again, I turned to Belgian historian Marcel Franssens to help sort these theories out, and here’s what he had to said:

I have no indications which of them [the theories] could have a historical background.  In general I therefore avoid to comment on them.

Insert dramatic pause here.

A Geus with a Twist 

But Franssens didn’t leave me empty handed.  Reluctantly, he went on.

When I nevertheless have to say something on this topic, I mention different possibilities and I indicate as my personal preference the “political” one because there are some historical facts to support that.

It is very well documented that in the 19th century, in the small villages of Pajottenland and Zennevallei, brewers were very active in local politics and frequently there was even a catholic and a liberal (in the Belgian meaning of this word) brewer who presented himself as candidate [for] mayor. The name of “geus” was allocated usually to the liberals because the Catholics where considered [to be] representing the “establishment”.

Just to be clear, when referring to “Liberals” in Belgium, we’re not talking about those who conservative U.S. radio personality Rush Limbaugh would condemn a “Liberal”.  In English-speaking countries, the Belgian Liberal Party would be closer to moderate, fiscal conservatives— a party appealing to business people.  In Belgium during the mid-1800s, the Liberal party aimed to curb the growing power of the government and the Roman Catholic Church, a theme reminiscent of the Geuzen of the 16th century.   A “Catholic Party” was formed and politics in Belgium became polarized, with the Catholics on one end, and the Liberals, a.k.a. the Geus, on the other.

Franssens concluded: 

Not the drinking of “geuze” was assumed to be a sign of liberalism but its brewing. The use of the name geuze for that type of beer spread very rapidly and lost its presumed political background.

Final Verdict

It seems no matter what story we’re told about how geuze got it’s name, there is an inescapable link to the Geuzen.  And though it appears geuze as a style of beer did not exist until the 19th century, it is almost certain that without the freedom fighting Geuzen revolutionaries of the 16th century, geuze would not be called geuze.  And for my part, a geuze by any other name would not taste as sweet.  Or sour.  You know what I mean.


[Still thirsty for more Gueuze origin stories? Here’s a link to some more Gueuze-tastic tales:]

Like this blarticle? Well, thanks- you’re far too kind.  

Tweet-worthy?  That would be very kind of you

Want to read more beer inspired thoughts?  Come back any time, friend us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter:

Or feel free to drop me a line at:

Hi, I’m Dan: Beer Editor for Beer Syndicate, Beer and Drinking Blogger, Gold Medal-Winning Homebrewer, Beer Reviewer, AHA Member, Beer Judge, Shameless Beer Promoter, and Beer Traveler.  Add “Beer Historian” to the list?  Sure- why not.

Daniel J. Leonard

Gose and Gueuze: A Tale of Two Sours- Act 1

There’s an unattributed Irish quote that goes something like this:

“An Irishman is the only man in the world who will step over the bodies of a dozen naked women to get to a bottle of stout.”

Replace “stout” with “gose” or “gueuze”, and you can count me in.

As beer aficionados probably already know, despite their sort of similar sounding names and sour dispositions, gose and gueuze are two different styles of beer with two different brewing traditions.  But like the hazy acidic ales themselves, even some beer buffs are a bit cloudy on the details.  As such, I’ve taken it upon myself to clear up the sometimes re-quoted, but not double checked, facts about these sour subjects.

Gose: The Stuff of Legends 

First things first: pronunciation.  The word “Gose” comes to us from Germany and is pronounced “Go-Zah”, with emphasis on the “O” like the healthy breakfast beverage Mimosa.   The style originated in the town of Goslar, which is located almost dead center in northern Germany.

In the Fatherland, it’s fairly common to find a certain beer style (rather creatively) named after the city or town from which it originated as is the case with Berliner Weisse, Munich Dunkel, Dortmunder Export, Dusseldorf Altbier and even the refreshing summer beer Kölsch, named after the city of Köln, or in English, Cologne.   Perhaps this is the reason some sources assert that gose got its name from the town of Goslar where it was first brewed, though it’s probably more accurate to say that both the town of Goslar and the beer gose derived their names from the river Gose which flows through the center of the town; the water from which is said to have been used in the original brewing of gose.

What is more debatable however is exactly when gose was first brewed.  At least one source suggests that Kaiser Otto III was already sipping the sour stuff in 996 AD:

According to the legend, already Kaiser Otto III enjoyed it [gose] very much in the year 996.

Even The German Beer Institute makes the claim that “It is known that even Emperor Otto III, who ruled Germany between 983 and 1002, sang the Gose’s praises.”  Perhaps this is why several other sources including Brew-Your-Own Magazine,  All About Beer Magazine, West Coaster Magazine, Sori Brewing, and many others assert that gose is over 1,000 years old. * However, the earliest recorded document officially mentioning “gose” by name is the Goslar Council Regulations (Goslarer Ratsverordnungen) of 1470 AD, which nevertheless makes gose quite the historic beer.

Goslar Council Regulations of 1470 (Ratsverordnung 1470)

 [Goslarer Ratsverordnungen von  1470 (Stadtarchiv Goslar, Bestand B 832 b, fol. 58). Credit: Ulrich Albers.]

Prior to 1470, it may be that gose was referred to as “Goslar Beer”, or “cervisia Goslariensis” in Latin, which was first documented in writing in 1239. ¹ It was then that Duke Otto von Braunschweig encountered Goslar beer, a fact that is significantly more historically supported than the claim that Kaiser Otto III was singing gose’s praises in his lifetime.  To make matters worse for our dear Kaiser, the earliest record of beer, any beer, ever being brewed in Goslar dates back to 1181 AD as documented in a cartulary (medieval manuscript) in the City Archives of Goslar, which puts the possibility of Otto III enjoying a sour pint of gose in 996 even further out of reach. ²  Perhaps the final nail in the coffin is that according to Ulrich Albers of the Stadtarchiv in Goslar, there is absolutely no reference to the Kaiser being in Goslar at any time, let alone in 996.

Kaiser Otto III

[Kaiser Otto III holding a big cookie with sliver cross-shaped frosting; rumored to be his favorite dessert. Wink.]

Although first brewed in Goslar, gose almost certainly owes its survival to Leipzig, a city about 115 miles to the east, where the beer became extremely popular after arriving on the scene in 1738 (it’s said that Duke Leopold of Anhalt-Dessau brought it to the city).  However, as with high school, popularity doesn’t always last.

After ceasing to be brewed and nearly becoming extinct first in 1945 and then in 1966, and then again in 1988, gose has seen a resurgence with at least three German breweries producing this die-hard brew.³ In addition, plenty of American brewers have come to this once ailing ales’ aid with both micro and macro breweries brewing their part to keep gose off the endangered spices list.   Breweries breathing new life into the traditional sour are all too aware of gose’s brushes with death, and often make playful reference to it on their labels as with Sam Adams’ interpretation of the style called “Verloren” (meaning “lost” in German), and Freigeist’s “Geisterzug” (meaning “Ghost Train”).


[The image on the Freigeist label (top right) is that of the Völkerschlachtdenkmal, an iconic monument in the city of Leipzig commemorating Napoleon’s defeat there.  The Sam Adams label (top left) is most likely a reference to “endangered spices”, or a tribute to the Snow Owl scene from Dumb and Dumber.  Probably the latter.]

Gose, the Comeback Kid, has even gained the title of the official drink of Leipzig and the style has been further classified there as “Leipziger Gose”, which is reportedly more sour than the Goslar version.

Gose: The Salty Sour Treat

Like a traditional lambic, gose was originally a spontaneously fermented ale, but that practice has since changed in favor of a more controlled and predictable process.  As far as ingredients go, gose is brewed with at least 50% malted wheat, coriander, a small portion of oats, hops and both brewer’s yeast and the souring bacteria lactobacillus.  Oh yeah, and salt. ⁴

Yes, gose has the distinction of being one of the only, if not the only, traditional beers still brewed today that uses salt; in fact in some places in Leipzig, you can even select your desired salt level.  As an ingredient, salt can be used to accentuate flavor and enhance mouthfeel , and in the case of gose, may have been used to emulate the water profile of the Gose River.

Either way, is it really so strange that brewers, the liquid analogs of bakers, might have salt on the ingredient roster when salt is added to almost every type of baked good in existence?  It also doesn’t hurt that salt has the added property of making people thirsty, and what better way to quench that thirst than with another gose!

It should be noted that depending on the brewery, particularly Döllnitzer’s Ritterguts Gose brewed just south of Leipzig, German gose can be extremely sour, sometimes rivaling any sour beer on the market, even the lactic acid laced Berliner Weisse.


[Decline in gose popularity in the early 20th century possibly due to the homeless magician guy in the image above… “Gose first. Wear your face like a mask later.”] 

This may have been in part due to the fact that during a gose revival in the 1980s, gose was being brewed by the Berliner-Weisse-Brauerei.  And like the über-sour Berliner Weisse, gose is often served mixed with sweet raspberry or woodruff syrup, or even sacchariny schnapps, in order to sugar coat the tartness of this sour bomb.  Though per a source from 1927, it was said that “Gose is a Leipzig speciality. It is similar to Berliner Weiße, but sourer and not to everyone’s taste. (Pour the bottle slowly.)”  So it could be that gose was always on par with Berliner Weisse, at least as far as sourness is concerned.  

From Gose to Gueuze… or is it Geuze?

Unlike gose, gueuze is of relatively recent Belgian decent (arguably the 1800s) and because Belgium is a country comprised predominately of French and Dutch speakers, there are two common spellings and pronunciations.  The easier of the two to pronounce, and coincidentally the version that most English speakers use, is the French version spelled “gueuze” and pronounced “G’ugh-zz”. (Audio clip below.)

The Dutch spell it “geuze” and the pronunciation is a little trickier for English speakers, but give it a try: “Heww-Za”, where the “eww” part is pronounced like when a little kid expresses disgust as in “Eww gross!” (Audio clip below.)

Geuze/Gueuze Spelling

Pronunciation was the easy part… sort of.  Now, the task of determining the actual origin of the word “gueuze” (or “geuze”) turns out to be slightly more challenging, and, like the original weekly-installment-style-release of Dickens’ classic novel, A Tale of Two Citiesone that will have to wait until next time.

[As fate would have it, “next time” is already here. Read part two of this article, Gose and Gueuze: A Tale of Two Sours- Act 2]


* A) “Gose is a 1000-year old top-fermented beer style that is now most closely associated with Leipzig […] It is known that even Emperor Otto III, who ruled Germany between 983 and 1002, sang the Gose’s praises.” 

B) “It has been over 1,000 years since this ale [gose] was first brewed.”

C) “Owing its name to the Gose River in Lower Saxony, gose is thought to have originated in the 10th century, possibly earlier.”

D) “Gose is 1000 year old beer style, which is pretty sour and salty ale.”

E) “This 1000-year old beer style is named for the naturally saline water of the Gose river which flows through the town center of Goslar, Germany.”

[¹ & ² Ulrich Albers, Stadtarchiv Goslar (Überlieferung des Domstifts). ³ Frey, A. & Weinkauf, B. (1999) Gose Häppchen: 100 Jahre Gosenschenke Ohne Bedenken,  Leipzig. ⁴ Mosher, R. (2004) Radical Brewing: Recipes, Tales & World-Altering Meditations in a Glass. Boulder, CO. Brewers Publications]

Like this blarticle? Well, thanks- you’re far too kind.  

Tweet-worthy?  That would be very kind of you

Want to read more beer inspired thoughts?  Come back any time, friend us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter:

Or feel free to drop me a line at:

Hi, I’m Dan: Beer Editor for Beer Syndicate, Beer and Drinking Blogger, Gold Medal-Winning Homebrewer, Beer Reviewer, AHA Member, Beer Judge, Shameless Beer Promoter, and Beer Traveler. Add “Beer Historian” to the list?  Sure- why not.

Daniel J. Leonard

Sour Beers: The Newest Oldest Craze that Almost Didn’t Happen

 ‘Hey, have you ever heard of a beer called IPA?  Apparently it’s a really bitter…’ — And that’s when your face goes dull with that ‘You so 2000 and late’ look and you stop listening.  That’s being nice- you’d probably tune out at ‘IPA’.

Just like how Christopher Columbus thought he was the first to discover America, so too are foodies, trendies, and fledgling craft beer enthusiasts of late discovering sour beer.  Hipsters heard about them after NPR broke the story on sours in October of 2013, but then promptly gave up drinking them a week later out of principle.  My mom even forwarded me a snippet from February’s Bon Appétit magazine¹ where the author dishes out food pairing advice, remarking how the “elegant Champagne fizz and acidic twang” of this sour style, beloved by “beer nerds” [thanks?], “chainsaws through fatty or salty foods, yet is delicate enough for sushi.”  Domo arigato Mr. Foodboto, but having an appreciation for sour beer does not qualify one as a “beer nerd” (whatever that means) any more than eating at a food truck makes one a culinary aficionado.

The truth is that if NPR, Bon Appétit, USA Today, the New York Times, and my mom have already heard about them, sours have officially reached critical mainstream mass.  Though to be fair to the late comers, sour brews have only gained this new found pop culture popularity over the last two or three years.  Prior to that, sour craft beers were something of a rarity stateside, let alone the majority of the modern beer drinking world.

Go back 150 years though, and sour beers weren’t simply a regional specialty or a brewer’s attempt at passion-driven innovation, nor were they altogether uncommon.  Even so, it was seldom the brewery’s intention to pour their publicans a sour pint.  In fact, in many circles of the brewing industry, sour beer was often referred to as “diseased beer” and was almost without exception considered the bane of the brewhouse.  Because once a brewery noticed one of its beers becoming unintentionally sour, to its helpless devastation, it was usually only a matter of time before the rest of the production line followed sour suit, thereby risking the life of the brewery itself.  And beer wasn’t the only fermentable becoming “diseased”.  Nope, wine and some spirit producers suffered the same fate as well.

That was until 1866 when Louis Pasteur, under the commission of Emperor Napoleon III- nephew to the Napoleon (oh my), published his book Etudes sur le Vin (Studies on Wine) as a remedy to both the economic and reputational loss within the French winemaking industry due to diseased wine.  Both brewers and winemakers alike were plagued by “spoilage”, or the unintentional souring of their products, and it was Pasteur, doctor of boozeology, who identified that the culprits responsible for the souring were primarily tiny black rod shaped lactic acid producing micro-organisms presumably introduced into the fermenting beverages via germ-ridden dust in the air (an idea that was largely groundbreaking for the day).


[Lactobacillus bacteria responsible for producing lactic acid.]

What was Pasteur’s solution to these ATDs (Aerially Transmitted Diseases)?  Practice safe fermentation.  Clean up the winery and the staff, limit exposure of the wine to the souring critters in the air, and last but not least, master the art of Pasteurization, i.e. heating the wine to about 122-144 °F for a specific period of time in order to kill off any potential souring microorganisms.  Many of these tactics were soon adopted by the brewing industry along with other methods including temperature control, increased hopping rates, and yeast purification, all of which were prescribed in Pasteur’s follow-up blockbuster (and Amazon Best Seller of 1876) Etudes sur la Bière²; literally “Studies on Beer”, but masterfully translated into English as “Studies on Fermentation: The Diseases of Beer”.

Studies on Fermentation: The Diseases of Beer by Louis Pasteur

And with this, the days of sour beers appeared to be numbered; however the final curtain call wouldn’t come from Pasteur, but rather a man on an island over 600 miles away.

One Yeast Strain to Rule Them All

Around the time Pasteur was releasing his book Studies on Beer, Danish scientist Emil Hansen was set with the task of separating out unwanted microorganisms in a yeast culture in order to cultivate a pure strain of yeast. But this was no random undertaking in the vacuum of science.  No, Hansen was employed by the Carlsberg Laboratory in Copenhagen, a facility created in 1875 by the founder of the Carlsberg Brewery and established for the purpose of advancing biochemical knowledge particularly related to brewing.  It turns out that Hansen was triumphantly successful at his task and in 1883 he was able to isolate one very particular yeast strain that would go on to form the basis of a certain style of beer that quickly dominated the world.

This singular variety of yeast in conjunction with the techniques Hansen used to ensure a pure culture brought about not only the absolute monarchy of a single beer style (which established the reign of at least one King of Beers in the U.S.), but also led to the growth of multi-billion dollar corporations so powerful that it would take a revolution to even slightly loosen their soul-crushing stranglehold on the industry.

The beer style in question is none other than lager.

Hansen’s pure lager yeast was offered to other breweries when their beers turned sour, and eventually this lager yeast made its way around the world, changing the entire landscape of beer along with it.  In honor of Hansen’s industry revolutionizing accomplishment, the Carlsberg Brewing consort named this world-famous pure yeast strain after him, calling it “Saccharomyces Carlsbergensis”— wait, umm, well close enough.

But it was to be Hansen who would have the last laugh as S. Carlsbergensis was later renamed, to the delight of Francophiles, “S. Pastorianus”, which of course is Latin for “let’s pretend that Pasteur figured out how to produce pure yeast cultures and give no credit to Hansen”.  I guess if you really wanted to get technical, Hansen actually “borrowed” his yeast separating technique from German microbiologist Robert Koch.³  So if I were Germany, I’d throw my vote in for renaming the yeast “S. Kochianus”, but that’s just me.

Brewers became so efficient at isolating and controlling souring bacteria and yeast that with the exception of a number of breweries in Belgium and a few regional ones in Germany, sour beers nearly went extinct.

Certainly some sour styles of beer did go extinct, and perhaps more would have if it weren’t in large part for the craft beer revolution sweeping the globe today.  Country after country is walking up from its lager/pilsner saturated slumbers and realizing there’s something else out there.  Something better.  Something sour.  And we want it.

It’s said that a full 70 percent of the production of the world-renowned Belgian sour beer producer, Cantillon, is exported to the U.S.  To those who’ve ever had the pleasure of sipping a sour from Cantillon, you’ll know why the U.S., as with other desirable finite commodities, wants as much of it as we can get our greedy little fingers on.

Cantillon Beer

And sours aren’t just the realm of traditional continental breweries or the more specialized Russian River or Crooked Stave types in the U.S.  Big names are getting in on the action too.  Boston Beer Company, Sierra Nevada, Widmer Brothers, Flying Dog, Magic Hat, Odell, Avery, Anderson Valley, Great Lakes, Bell’s, Allagash, Ballast Point, Deschutes, New Belgium, Goose Island, Three Floyds, and Grand Teton have all brewed sours or have one in the rotation.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see a weak, watery pseudo sour in the pipe from one of the mega un-craft breweries trying to cash in on this craze, albeit disguised in the predictable faux-craft fashion as is now the custom (think Bluemoon and Shocktop- brewed by Coors and Anheuser Busch respectively, and both go out of their way to hide that fact on the bottles).  Alanis couldn’t have written a better irony.

To be honest, I’m shocked that the last major brewery in Berlin that still brews Berliner Weisse hasn’t gotten the message.  As far as I know, the Berliner-Kindl-Schultheiss-Brauerei GmbH (yeah, yeah, German words are long), doesn’t even distribute their sours to the U.S., let alone much outside of Berlin.  Talk about missing Das Boot.

Berliner Weisse

Despite the bandwagon, sour beers aren’t universally welcomed.  To this day, some breweries are so concerned about the souring boogiemen bacteria, many brewmasters have sworn that they will never brew a sour beer lest their entire brewery become infected. I know of at least one brewery owner who told me that not only will he never brew a sour, but that sour beers will never become popular enough to sell.

I guess only time will tell if sour beers ever catch on.

Ok, Desert Island time:


[¹Bernstein, J. M. “Sour Beer Primer: How (and Why) to Drink These Funky Wild Ales” bon appetit 26 Feb., 2014. Web. 10 July, 2014; Pasteur, L. (1879) Studies on Fermentation: The Diseases of Beer, London. Macmillan & Co.; ³Rogers, A. (2014) Proof: The Science of Booze. Boston, MA. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt]

Like this blarticle? Well, thanks- you’re far too kind.  Want to read more beer inspired thoughts?  Come back any time, subscribe to our RSS feed or follow us on Twitter at

Or feel free to drop me a line at:

Hi, I’m Dan: Beer Editor for Beer Syndicate, Beer and Drinking Blogger, Gold Medal-Winning Homebrewer, Beer Reviewer, AHA Member, Beer Judge, Shameless Beer Promoter, and Beer Traveler.  Interests? Beer.

Daniel J. Leonard

A Brief History of Beer Styles

Like Moore’s Law applied to brewing, the number of variations in craft beer seems to double every two years, which can leave the modern consumer moderately perplexed when happening across the next Kentucky Bourbon Barrel-Aged Double Decoction Trappist Imperial Gueuze dry hopped with Woodruff and blended with Russian River’s Supplication. (A concoction courtesy of The Craft Beer Trend Predictor.)

Long gone are the days when the average beer consumer could get by with the notion that somehow the true essence of any beer could be discerned via the all-revealing dichotomy of “domestic” or “import”.  Alas, in order to meaningfully talk about beer nowadays, it is virtually impossible to do so without referring to and having a general awareness of the basic beer styles.  And because beer, like mathematics, builds upon itself, if you missed the basic algebra of beer styles, you’re probably gonna run into some trouble when it comes to the present day calculus of beer.  So let’s take it back to beer basics in an attempt to demystify the oft esoteric realm of modern craft beer.

Beer Styles: The Dirty Little Secret

Ask the average craft beer fan to name their top five favorite styles of beer, and they might say something like IPAs, Porters, Belgians, Sours and maybe Wheat Beers. Ask that same question prior to 1977, and it’s doubtful anybody would have known what you’re talking about. Well, anybody except Michael Jackson.  Fine, I’ll say it: No, not Michael Jackson the pop singer, Michael Jackson the beer guy from England— the apparent real-life inspiration for Michael Bolton’s character from the movie Office Space.

Michael Jackson (the beer guy), flat out invented the term “beer styles” more or less as we understand it today when he first introduced the concept back in 1977 with his vastly influential book The World Guide to Beer.

That’s right; the term “beer styles” is no older than Orlando Bloom and is just as made up as Legolas of the Woodland Realm.

To be clear though, classifying and differentiating beer is not a new concept by any means. An ancient Sumerian tablet dating back to 2050 BC turned out to be a receipt for beer, documenting that the purchaser received a “best” ale, which suggests there were at least two “styles” of beer back then: “best” and “not the best”.

Alulu Beer Receipt

[Sumerian tablet dating back to 2050 BC is actually a receipt for beer.  The text translates as “Ur-Amma acknowledges receiving from his brewer, Alulu, 5 sila (about 4 1/2 liters) of the ‘best’ beer.”]

Nevertheless, it is unlikely that at any point in history were beers more systematically and extensively classified as they are today, a trend which is most likely to continue until Armageddon, i.e. April 21st, 2053.

Not long after the release of Jackson’s seminal book, the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) was created, an organization known for defining and judging world beer styles.  Beginning in 1985, the BJCP ran with the idea of beer styles (supplemented by Fred Eckhardt’s book The Essentials of Beer Style in 1989), and as of 2008, has “officially” recognized 23 classic styles of beer, and 80, yes 80, sub-styles which fall under the 23 classic styles. I say “officially” because as of the time of this writing, 80 is the number that the BJCP has acknowledged as significant enough to be deemed worthy of appearing on its list.  The reality is, though, there are quite a few well established sub-styles of beer being brewed today which haven’t yet been canonized by the BJCP (just in case 80 wasn’t enough to keep track of).

Style VS Sub-Style

You probably noticed I’m throwing around the terms “style” and “sub-style” without having given much explanation as to what the difference is with respect to beer.  To be sure, the use of this predominately BJCP nomenclature is purely conventional and is used as an organizational tool for the purpose of categorizing beer.  For example, according to the BJCP Style Guide, India Pale Ale (IPA) is a “beer style”, and American IPA is a “sub-style” of IPA.  In fact there are actually three sub-styles of beer which fall under the style of IPA: American, English and Imperial IPAs. Notice that these sub-styles don’t only refer to a specific country like the U.S. or England, but also to the qualitative nature of a beer as with the Imperial IPA which is basically a stronger version of an IPA (American or English) in alcohol content and usually in hop and malt character as well.  To make a quick comparison, you might think of the Hot Dog as being a “style” of American Food, and Chicago, New York, and Chili Dogs as being “sub-styles” of the Hot Dog.  Hungry yet?

On the whole, the BJCP tends to take a mixed approach in defining beer styles by either country of origin like the “American Ale” style category which contains only beers originating from the U.S., or by common sensory characteristics shared by a group of beers such as “Sour Ale” which includes sour beers from multiple countries.  True, this method of grouping beers may sound a bit inconsistent, but there is one simple little trick you can use to categorize almost every one of the 80 “classic” beer sub-styles that appear on the BJCP’s list.

80 Sub-Styles of Beer on the Wall: The Big Picture

Even though 80 sounds like a pretty daunting number of beers to familiarize yourself with, there are basically only three main types of beer under which pretty much all of the 80 sub-styles fall: ale, lager or hybrid.  For simplicity’s sake, ales and lagers are distinguished by the two different species of yeast used to ferment the beer: Saccharomyces cerevisiae (ale yeast) and Saccharomyces pastorianus (lager yeast). Generally, ale yeasts ferment at warmer temperatures producing beers that are often described as more flavorful and sometimes fruity (estery), whereas lager yeasts ferment at cooler temperatures commonly producing cleaner, crisper beers.

Ok, so the difference between lagers and ales has to do with the two different yeast strains used to ferment said beers, namely ale yeast and lager yeast.  Easy enough. So does that mean “Hybrid” beers are a hybrid or a mix between the ale and lager yeast strains?  No.  Hybrid beers, at least according to the BJCP, are not distinguished by different kinds of yeasts, but rather the process of how those yeasts are used during fermentation. This is simpler than you might think. Remember a couple sentences back when I said that ale yeasts are typically fermented at warmer temperatures, and lager yeasts are fermented at cooler temperatures?  Well a hybrid beer does the opposite of this and ferments ale yeasts at cooler temperatures and lager yeasts at warmer temperatures, yielding lagers with ale-like characteristics and ales with lager-like characteristics.  Yep, it’s that simple.  But just in case you’re like me and appreciate pictures to help explain things, here’s a color-coded diagram that illustrates just what we’ve been talking about (click to enlarge):A Simple Illustration of Beer Styles and Sub-Styles

This has been your crash course in the algebra of beer styles.  If you feel you’ve got a somewhat better understanding of beer styles and sub-styles, then I’ve done my job.  But again, this was just the algebra of beer styles and I’ve intentionally left a lot of meat on the bone.  But for now just relax, enjoy your summer break while kicking back with your favorite sub-style of beer, and when we come back, we’ll dive into the a calculus of beer styles.  By the time we’re done, I’m confident you’ll be able to deconstruct every piece of some of the most convoluted varieties of beer on the shelves today, not to mention the hypothetical ones like “Kentucky Bourbon Barrel-Aged Double Decoction Trappist Imperial Gueuze dry hopped with Woodruff and blended with Russian River’s Supplication.”

And just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, we’ll pull the rug out.


Like this blarticle? Well, thanks- you’re far too kind.  Want to read more beer inspired thoughts?  Come back any time, subscribe to our RSS feed or follow us on Twitter at

Or feel free to drop me a line at:

Hi, I’m Dan: Beer Editor for Beer Syndicate, Beer and Drinking Blogger, Gold Medal-Winning Homebrewer, Beer Reviewer, AHA Member, Beer Judge, Shameless Beer Promoter, and Beer Traveler.  Interests? Beer.

Daniel J. Leonard

Page 2 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén