Beer Style Origins & History

Beer is one of the oldest and most widely consumed alcoholic beverages in the world, with a history that dates back over 5,000 years. Over time, different cultures and regions have developed their own unique styles of beer, with distinct flavors, ingredients, and brewing techniques.

One of the earliest known beer styles includes Egyptian beer, which was made with barley bread and flavored with dates and other fruits, and Sumerian beer, which was brewed using emmer wheat and flavored with herbs and spices.

In medieval Europe, beer was a staple drink, consumed by peasants and nobles alike. Ales and lagers became popular styles, with ales brewed at warmer temperatures and lagers brewed at colder temperatures. 

In the 19th century, advances in brewing technology led to the development of new beer styles, such as the German pilsner, which is still one of the most popular beer styles in the world today. 

In the early 20th century, the rise of industrialization and mass production led to the standardization of beer styles, with large breweries producing the same types of beer for mass consumption. 


German-Style Altbier

Altbier is a beer style that has a rich history dating back to the Middle Ages. It originated in the western region of Germany, particularly in the city of Düsseldorf, where it is still popular today. The term “alt” is German for “old,” and the name refers to the traditional brewing techniques used to create this style of beer.

Altbier is an ale, which means that it is fermented at warmer temperatures using a strain of yeast that floats to the top of the brewing vessel. This contrasts with lagers, which are fermented at cooler temperatures using a yeast that sinks to the bottom of the vessel. Altbier is typically a copper or brown color, with a balanced taste that is neither too sweet nor too bitter.

The exact origins of Altbier are somewhat unclear, but it is believed to have developed in the late Middle Ages. At that time, brewing was a popular activity throughout Europe, and there were many regional variations in brewing techniques and ingredients. In Düsseldorf, brewers used a combination of traditional German brewing methods and techniques borrowed from the neighboring Rhineland region to create their unique style of beer.

Over time, Altbier became a popular beer style in Düsseldorf and other nearby cities. It was particularly popular among laborers and tradespeople who worked in the city’s bustling industrial and manufacturing sectors. The beer was relatively easy to produce and transport, and its balanced flavor profile made it a refreshing drink for workers who spent long hours in the city’s factories and workshops.

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, Altbier faced competition from other beer styles, particularly lagers. Lagers were easier to produce on a large scale, and they had a lighter, crisper flavor that appealed to many consumers. However, Altbier continued to be popular in Düsseldorf and other parts of Germany, and it maintained its reputation as a high-quality, traditional beer.

Today, Altbier remains a beloved beer style in Germany and beyond. In Düsseldorf, several breweries continue to produce traditional Altbier using the same brewing methods and ingredients that have been used for centuries. The beer is also exported to other parts of the world, where it is enjoyed by beer lovers who appreciate its rich history and balanced flavor.

Overall, Altbier is an important part of Germany’s brewing heritage, and it continues to be an important beer style today. Its longevity is a testament to the skill and dedication of the brewers who have kept this traditional beer style alive for hundreds of years.

Amber or Red Beer

American-Style Amber Lager

Amber or red beers have a rich history that spans centuries and continents. The origins of these beers can be traced back to medieval Europe, where brewers began experimenting with different malts and hops to create unique brews. Over time, these beers evolved into the amber and red beers we know today, each with its own distinctive flavor and character.

One of the earliest examples of amber or red beer is the Altbier of Germany. Altbier, which means “old beer,” originated in the city of Dusseldorf in the 1600s. It was brewed using a blend of malts, including Munich malt, and hops that gave the beer a distinctive amber color and a rich, malty flavor. The beer was fermented at cool temperatures using ale yeast, which gave it a smooth, clean finish.

Another early example of amber or red beer is the Scottish ale. Scottish ales were brewed using a blend of malted barley, which was kilned over peat fires, giving the beer a distinctive smoky flavor. The beers were brewed in a range of strengths, from light session ales to strong, full-bodied brews.

In the United States, amber and red beers gained popularity during the craft beer boom of the 1980s and 1990s. Many American breweries began experimenting with different malts and hops to create unique beers with a range of flavors and colors. One of the most popular styles of amber beer in the U.S. is the American amber ale, which is brewed using a blend of caramel malts and American hops, giving the beer a rich, malty flavor with a hint of citrus.

Today, amber and red beers are brewed around the world, with each region putting its own spin on the style. In Belgium, for example, the Flanders red ale is brewed using a blend of specialty malts and fermented with wild yeast and bacteria, giving the beer a tart, fruity flavor. In Ireland, the Irish red ale is brewed using a blend of malts, including roasted barley, giving the beer a rich, toasted flavor with a hint of caramel.

Amber and red beers continue to be popular among beer drinkers around the world, thanks to their rich flavor and unique character. Whether you prefer a smooth, malty amber ale or a bold, hoppy red IPA, there is a style of amber or red beer that is sure to please your palate.

Barley Wine

British Style Barley Wine

Barley wine is a type of strong beer that originated in England in the late 18th century. It is a beer with high alcohol content, usually above 8% ABV, which is comparable to that of wine, hence the name “barley wine.” The history of barley wine is a long and complex one, with many different variations and styles over the centuries.

The first known mention of barley wine comes from a 1781 article in the London Chronicle, which described a strong beer brewed by George Hodgson at his Bow Brewery in East London. This beer was known as “October beer” or “November beer,” and it was aged for several months before being served. Hodgson’s beer became popular with sailors and was exported to India and other British colonies, where it became known as “India Pale Ale.”

In the early 19th century, the term “barley wine” began to be used to describe strong beers that were aged and had a wine-like character. These beers were typically made with a high percentage of malted barley, which gave them their characteristic sweetness and rich, full-bodied flavor. Some early examples of barley wine included Bass No. 1, which was first brewed in 1849, and Allsopp’s Arctic Ale, which was brewed in 1852 for an ill-fated Arctic expedition.

During the 20th century, barley wine went through a period of decline, as many brewers focused on lighter, more sessionable beers. However, in the 1970s and 1980s, a new generation of craft brewers began experimenting with barley wine, and it experienced a resurgence in popularity. Many of these new barley wines were brewed in the American style, which tended to be more hoppy and assertive than traditional English barley wines.

Today, barley wine is a popular style among craft beer enthusiasts, with many breweries producing their own unique versions of the beer. Some of the most famous examples include Sierra Nevada’s Bigfoot, Anchor Brewing’s Old Foghorn, and North Coast Brewing’s Old Stock Ale. Barley wine is typically enjoyed in small quantities, often as a sipping beer or as a dessert beer, due to its high alcohol content and rich, complex flavor profile.

In conclusion, barley wine has a rich and fascinating history that spans more than two centuries. From its origins as a strong beer brewed for sailors to its modern incarnation as a favorite among craft beer fans, barley wine has evolved and changed over the years, but it has remained a beloved and unique style of beer that offers a complex and satisfying drinking experience.