Monday, March 2, 2009

2009 Brewers Association Style Guidelines Released

The Brewer's Association has released their 2009 style guidelines, which can be downloaded in .pdf here. Charlie Papazian's Beer Examiner article is here.

These guidelines are designed to assist brewers and brewing competitions (including the Oscars and the Emmys of the Beer World: the Great American Beer Festival and the World Beer Cup) in classifying and judging commercial beers, while also providing a sort of "State of the Union" concerning what styles are currently produced, which historical styles are being resurrected by craft brewers, and which are fading from production.

This year they added two new styles, bringing the total to 141. The two new styles are:
  • American-Belgo Style Dark Ales - These dark beers portray the unique characters imparted by yeasts typically used in fruity and big Belgian-style ales.
  • Session Beer - Ease of drinkability is a character in the overall balance of these beers. Beers in this category must not exceed 4.1% alcohol by weight (5.1% alcohol by volume).
I am actually quite happy with these two new styles. The American-Belgo styles the BA has added over the last couple years reflect the growing acceptance (and commercial success) of innovative American brewers who take the Belgian baselines and run with them. Russian River's Salvation Dark Ale, and other breweries like Lost Abbey, Jolly Pumpkin, New Belgium, Ommegang, Unibroue, and even relative newcomers to the Belgian game like Brooklyn Brewing come to mind. Nonetheless, the Belgian breweries (at least the non-Trappist ones) have never shied from creativity, and recent bottles have shown an similar effect happening in Belgium. For example, Houblon Chouffe was first brewed in 2006, and is a Belgian IPA-Tripel...

Similarly, session beers are becoming a marketable style of their own. For example, Full Sail Brewing makes a beer called Session Lager, which is supposed to be an all-pilsner-malt pre-prohibition lager like your grandaddy used to drink. Interestingly, at 5.1% ABA it is on the far maximum of the style... "Lawnmower Beer" (so called because either you want one after mowing the lawn, or because they're low enough alcohol that you can drink them safely while mowing the law. Jury's out on that one.) has been a term in beer circles for a long time, and breweries are cashing in on the term. The best example I can think of is Saint Arnold Brewing's Fancy Lawnmower Beer. However, the original spirit of the term 'session' simply meant a beer you could drink a lot of for hours at a time and not pass-out and wake up half-dead. So this should include a wide variety of Cream Ales, Blondes, American and Mexican light lagers, and pretty much all the British Milds and Bitters. Does this category really define a 'separate' style?

There is also an interesting crossover to TTB labeling regulations here. As written about earlier, the TTB requires a Type/Class designation for all malt beverages. Generally these are: "Malt Beverage containing greater than 0.5% Alcohol by Volume". So most beer styles receive a type designation that has absolutely nothing to do with the actual style itself. I suggested that perhaps the TTB could look to things like the BA Beer Style Guidelines to refine these a bit and prevent larger breweries from watering down styles honed by smaller craft breweries, but that the costs of enforcement and potential stifling of new styles, creating a sort of onerous similarity to French wine appellation tasting panels, would outweigh any benefits. Still, it is interesting to compare the differences in how the industry defines the styles and the government.

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The Twentyfirst Amendment Meets the 21st Century by Russell Hews Everett is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. The opinions expressed on this page are purely my own, and should not be taken to constitute legal representation or advice.