Beer School 101

“Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza.” Dave Barry

Since this is my first beer article, I figured it would make sense to start by introducing myself. My name is Chris Osburn; I’m a freelance writer based out of Rochester, NY. So far in my career I have been lucky enough to write mostly about two topics that are very near and dear to my heart: beer and sports. I’ve been a beer columnist for Rochester’s Democrat and Chronicle newspaper as well as a freelance sports writer.

I’ve already covered some amazing topics in my short time as a beer writer. I had a chance to interview Guinness Brewmaster Fergal Murray and Brooklyn Brewmaster Garret Oliver, as well as sample a lot of different styles and flavors of beer. I’ve tried my hand at home-brewing, and somehow my first attempt at a brown ale turned out more like a toxic smokey porter. Sadly, the hints of plastic and soap caused vertigo in some of the people who had the displeasure of sampling it. Still, I’m not going to give up (I have 36 bottles left over if anyone wants any).

I’ve been a sports fan my whole life, but I’ve only been studying and enjoying beer for a few years. I consider myself to be a student of beer because you can’t learn all there is to know about beer by reading a few books or visiting your local dive. Such a complex writing topic requires “painstaking” research (extensive beer sampling), travel (visiting many bars, breweries, and beer festivals), and experimenting (home-brewing).

I’ve been writing about beer for a little over two years now and I still feel like I’m camping near the bottom of Beer Mountain. I’m sure many people don’t want to admit it, but we know a lot less about beer than we let on. When I started my beer journey, I thought I knew a lot more than I really did. I thought I was the cat’s pajamas because I could name a handful of craft breweries and throw out a few brewing terms. I really didn’t know all that much. I had an idea about the beer brewing process, but I couldn’t have explained it in great detail. I’ve learned a lot, but I still have a lot left to discover.

I knew terms like hops, malt, grains, and wort. But I couldn’t really carry on a long conversation about the brewing process unless I wanted to sound like I was talking out of my butt. I had no clue there was a difference between bottom fermented beer and top fermented beer. I plan on covering the whole brewing process in future articles as well as detailing every beer style.

Beer styles that we are unaccustomed to can be extremely scary. A lot of us would rather just pick up a six pack of some random domestic brew rather than buy a craft brew and risk not liking it. The fear of the unknown is extremely powerful. It’s easier to say you don’t like something than to actually try it. I know not everyone is like this, but I’ll be happy if even one nay-sayer decides to give a strange sounding beer a try after reading this article.

There are a lot of confusing beer styles out there. Fear not, I am here to help. According to The Brewmaster’s Table by Brooklyn Brewmaster Garret Oliver; there are forty beer styles and flavors.

Here’s his “cheat sheet” in alphabetical order:

– Abbey
– Alt Bier
– Amber
– Barley Wine
– Biere De Garde
– Bitter
– Bock

– Brown Ale
– Doppelbock
– Dortmunder
– Dubbel
– Dunkel
– Framboise
– Gueuze
– Hefeweizen

– Helles
– Imperial Stout
– Kolsch

Wow, we’re only half done…

– Kriek
– Lambic
– Marzen
– Mild
– Oktoberfest
– Old Ale
– Oud Bruin

– Pale Ale
– Pilsner
– Porter
– Rauchbier
– Saison
– Schwarzbier
– Scotch Ale
– Stout
– Trappist (see Abbey)

– Tripel
– Vienna Style
– Weisse
– Witbier

There are a lot more beer styles and flavors than you thought, huh? I was surprised as well. Maybe even those of you who knew a great deal about beer learned a little. I know I did while doing research for this article.

Through the months, I’ll be doing my best to give more of a background and history of every beer style along with samples and descriptions of each. Many of these styles have extremely long and interesting histories and let you in on those facts as well. If you haven’t already, please, put down your yellow, fizzy, water-beer and join me in world of IPA, Stout, and Hefeweizen. Trust me; you’ll be happy you did.< Cheers! “Osburn on Tap” appears monthly in THE FATHER LIFE. For questions, comments, or if you have a story idea for Chris, contact him at

Photo credit: Hervé de Brabandère

Originally published February 2008

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