Whether you’re a craft beer newbie or nerd, with the rate at which the industry is progressing, it can often be difficult to get your head around all the exciting & sometimes downright crazy brews on offer.

So, if you’re feeling a little out of your depth, here is a basic breakdown of what to look for.

icon-grain Ingredients in brewing

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    Grain

    Generally, malted barley is most commonly used, however it is not out of place for the wheat, oat & rye to be used in conjunction. When this is the case, wheat can often make up as much as 50% of the grain used, while oat & rye are usually no more than 20%

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    Hops

    Essentially a flower, originally used in brewing as a preservative, they are highly bitter & tangy to taste. There are many varieties of hops, with varying aroma, flavor & bitterness. There is a trend for modern craft breweries to use mainly US hop varieties, as they attribute a vibrant fruity aroma & bitterness, popular in most pale ales, while more traditional brewers use German, Belgian, Czech & English varieties, with more subtle, floral notes.

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    Yeast

    Without these millions of cells, fermentation would not occur & beer would be a non-alcoholic, sweet water-type beverage. The yeast cells eat the sugars in the brew, with the byproduct being both carbonation & alcohol. Perhaps the greatest & simplest distinction between beer styles is as a result of the yeast used & the way fermentation occurs. Ales are top fermenting beers, while lagers are bottom-fermenting beers. However, it is important to note that this is more a description, as there are hundreds of other sub styles, which are somewhat difficult to strictly define.

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    Other

    While it isn’t exactly the norm, its not unreasonable for many other ingredients to be used in brewing, often to enhance nuances that may already be present. Honey, chocolate, coffee, fruit & spices are the usual suspects.

icon-beer Tasting beer

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    Appearance

    Colour can be attributed to the type of grain used, with lightly roasted malts attributing anything from pale yellow all the way through to deep copper, while more heavily roasted malts, result in shades of brown & black.

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    Aroma

    Usually where those hops come to the fore. Look for floral, fruity, grassy, earthy, spicy, resiny & herbaceous notes, each in varying degrees. Yeast may also make an appearance (see below).

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    Palate

    This is where it all comes together

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    Grain

    Usually the fist thing to grab your attention in the mouth, look for: bready, doughy, honey, grainy, nutty, caramel, toffee, toasted, roasted, chocolate, coffee & smoke in varying degrees.

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    Hops

    Generally come through toward the finish given their bitterness, see above for what to look for.

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    Yeast

    Often pretty unassuming & clean, however depending on the type of beer, can be fruity, spicy, earthy or tart in varying degrees.

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    Other

    Carbonation does vary, generally the more effervescent the lighter on the palate it will seem, while darker, richer beers tend to come across thicker due to low carbonation.