What is the point of beer styles? Historically, beer styles were just names of the city of origin for the style, like Pilsner, Vienna lager, Dortmunder Export, etc. Or they were the beers eventual destination, like India pale ale, Baltic Porter, or Russian imperial stout. More often than not, the meaning of the name changes over time. India pale ale is better known as IPA; regardless of where it is being shipped to. The stout porter, which was originally known as a stronger porter (in both alcohol and flavor), eventually just started to be called stout. Today, the primary differing factor between stout and porter is simply the addition of roasted barley, giving a stout a more pronounced roast character over the typically sweeter or more chocolatey flavors of porter.
Today in the American craft beer world beer styles have become even more confusing. I once heard someone argue that a particular double IPA tasted more like a double pale ale. The odd thing is, despite the fact that neither the Brewer’s Association or the Beer Judge Certification Program recognizes double pale ale as a style, I still knew what they meant. The often rumored origin of India pale ale was that it was an extra strength pale ale; with the added alcohol and hops used to withstand a voyage to India from England. While I think it’s perfectly fair to argue that an extra strength pale ale is the same as a double pale ale is the same as an IPA; IPA nowadays is predominately recognized by its intense hop aroma and flavor (I’d argue that bitterness doesn’t matter, with Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA being an example of a non-bitter IPA). (more…)