Don’t know your IPA from your elbow? Don’t worry, our introductory guide to all things brewed will have you picking your next pint with confidence...
Beer essentially divides into two categories - ales, which are heavier and more bitter and lagers, which are paler, lighter and fizzier.
Bitter by name, not so bitter by nature
There are several bitter styles, but the primary difference between the varieties of this particularly British brew is strength, and all tend to share a classic copper colour with caramelly malt character, balanced by a strong presence of earthy hops. The name originally came about to differentiate these hoppy, sharp beers from the milder style that was increasingly popular in the 19th century.
Never doubt a stout
Stouts and porters are often confused, but there are very subtle differences, and for a beginner we think it’s worth getting to know your stouts first. Stouts tend to be a bit stronger in both flavour and alcohol content, with a more pronounced roasted bitterness. Both stouts and porters contain most of the same ingredients though – like the blackened-roasted grains, which give them their signature dark colour and result in the often chocolatey coffee flavours they’re famous for. The most well-known of the stouts is Guinness, which has a creamy foam on top, but there are plenty of other varieties to sample.
IPA – the India pale ale
Don’t be deceived by its genteel sounding name: this is a bitter, full-bodied ale that is also relatively high in alcohol. Deep golden to medium amber in colour, the English hops give the beer a characteristic earthy, floral flavour. Not to be confused with American pale ales, which are much tamer but hop-dominated and often very citrussy.
Humble & mild
The brown or mild ale term used to indicate how fresh the beer was, but now it’s a style in its own right. Milds/browns are low in alcohol, but deceptively dark in colour, and are packed with flavour. Very fruity, expect toasted caramel, nut and even liquorice flavours, often with a malty raisin or chocolate undertone. Northern English varieties tend to be a bit stronger than their Southern counterparts – Newcastle Brown is the perfect example.
Flavoured beers have become so popular they are now the fastest-growing area of the UK beer market. From 2011-2012 the sales of flavoured beers rose an astonishing 80%, and that growth has only continued over the last couple of years. Our market has traditionally been dominated by continental beers, particularly the berry-flavoured Belgian beers, but now many British-brewed tipples are joining the trend with apples, strawberries, spirits and even spices adding flavour. The Co-operative Fairtrade Bumble Bee Honey Ale is an award-winning beer brewed using hops from Worcestershire and Fairtrade honey from Chile. Best served chilled, it’s an easy drinker for beginners to the world of flavoured beers.
The beer jargon-buster
Do labels scare you off? Let the Co-op de-mystify the mystery for you.
This means the beer is naturally carbonated, and a little extra sugar is added before bottling to keep the yeast fermenting and producing bubbly carbon dioxide – this is the closest thing to take-home real ale you can drink without having your own cask in the house! Try another award-winning Co-operative beer, our Truly Irresistible Gold Miner Bottle Ale, for a delicious example. Made with 100% First Gold Hops and malted Co-operative grown barley in Herefordshire, this is the perfect example of a beer created with a traditional brewing style, using locally sourced ingredients.
Hops are added after fermentation, which means none of their associated bitterness is released. They’ll simply add a grassy or floral finish to the drink, depending on the type of hops used.
International Bitterness Units - a measurement of bitterness (yes, it’s a thing!).
The rise of craft brewery is taking Britain by storm at the moment. There’s no specific definition, but it tends to imply a smaller production.
Means ‘from the tap’ so it’s a beer served from a cask or keg rather than a bottle or can.
Just like many other products we sell at the Co-op, we’re pleased to be able to offer our beer fans a Fairtrade alternative – the first ever nationally listed bottled beer that is both organic, vegetarian and Fairtrade – meaning it meets the international standards for socially responsible production and trade. The Co-operative Fairtrade Organic Premium Ale is made with a single variety of hops grown in the Teme valley, organic malt from Warminster, malting and Fairtrade Demerara sugar. Light but with a good hop bitterness, this beer finishes on a gentle floral note.