With today’s craze of New England IPA’s, Gose’s and Imperial Stouts, I started thinking about the dozens and dozens of other beer styles out there that don't get the love they deserve. And while there is no right or wrong list, in my opinion here are the top 5 underappreciated beer styles brewed in the United States today.
While the pilsner is one of the more commonly recognized lagers in production today, it’s by far one of the most underappreciated styles. Last year, Pilsner sales increased 76% from the previous year. But with big names like Miller Lite labeling their offering as a pilsner (although that statement is highly debateable), the style can be misconstrued as a beer that tastes like, well, Miller Lite. Nuh-uh. Not the truly good Czech and German Pilsners. And while those two have slightly different characteristics, they both have a very clear appearance with malty sweetness upfront and a mild bitter hop finish. It’s subtle, very crisp, and not at all skunked. Give it another chance. I promise it’s better than Miller Lite.
I forget the name of the first rauchbier I ever tried, but remember knowing two things -- that it tasted like a campfire fueled by hot garbage, and that I never wanted another sip ever again. That was before I eventually realized (after I tried a few more) that a good rauchbier was quite smoky, but not so much that it destroyed your palate entirely. There was more balance to it with a slight hop bitterness. And when paired with smoked meats and cheeses (something I highly recommend), this style becomes the ultimate nighttime barbecue beer. Not to mention, this beer uses a super ancient method of drying grains (over an open flame instead of in a kiln) that dates back to the first century B.C. For these reasons, I believe that a well-made rauchbier definitely makes the list for the most underappreciated beer styles.
I might catch some crap for this one, but in my opinion, the Amber Ale is another style that is widely recognized, and often overlooked. Why? Maybe because it appears to be middle of the road in just about every category. Moderate bitterness, moderate sweetness, moderate ABV, moderate SRM, etc. But why should that exclude it from being just as appreciated as the New England IPA or the Imperial Stout? If a beer is brewed right, it’s a good beer, and should be appreciated as such. With the Amber, you get a very balanced beer with some sweet toastiness and a crisp, sometimes pronounced hop finish. The toastiness often comes back to the palate after the hop rush. Despite its moderate ABV, it’s very smooth, and you could easily drink two or or three in a sitting. Here at Box Brew Kits, we like the style so much we actually came up with our own recipe for the Amber Ale. And with the continuation of hoppier and hoppier beers being produced, the Hoppy Amber Ale has become a popular iteration of this style. Since there are now more Imperial IPAs in production than Amber Ales, this definitely solidifies its place on this list.
Unlike the Amber, the gruit has yet to become a mainstream beer style, with only 212 entries in Beer Advocate compared to 5651 for the Amber. Personally, the taste of a gruit has always been a mystery to me. It’s super easy for it to end up tasting like something Tom Bombadil would fix up for you in the Old Forest (props to those of you fellow nerds who giggled at the reference). But damn, when they’re done right, they taste fantastic in such a unique way. Depending on the types of herbs and spices used, the beer can take on a variety of different flavors and aromas, most commonly those of light sourness, gin-like juniper, lemon and a hint of vegetation. This style is definitely not going to be loved by most, but with such rich tradition (going back thousands of years to a time before hop production), should be tried by all.
This one might be my favorite in the list, and not just because it’s boozy as hell. The complexity and intensity of a Scotch Ale/Wee Heavy can be overwhelming, making it a beer that many tend to shy away from. It’s on the darker side, but less forgiving than a stout or porter might be, making it a beer that needs to make balanced in order to be great. That being said, the Scotch Ale is quite possibly one of the best beers to sip slowly and enjoy on a cold winter night. Sweet, almost syrupy maltiness dominates with hints of peat, tobacco and even dark bread. With most of the beers being in the high single digits in ABV (and some even edging towards 12%), some alcohol shows, but should be covered by the maltiness. The last time I tried to brew one at home, I forgot this fact and ended up naming the beer “Unclehol Albert” due to its extreme alcohol bite. We’re looking to give this style another go at Box Brew Kits during the colder months. So during this upcoming winter, find one, sip one, and pretend you’re in the Scottish Isles.
Also, I might have been too harsh on the IPA’s. Just for the record, I absolutely love them, but they don’t need any additional love right now. Do you think I was dead on with this list or completely off? Tell me! In the comments on Facebook, join the discussion as to what you think are the most underappreciated beer styles out there today.