In the world of craft brewing, innovation continues to push the industry forward and give beer enthusiasts new reasons to belly up to the taproom bar. This year—thanks to additions to the Brewers Association’s Beer Style Guidelines for 2021—brewers and craft beer drinkers have four more beer styles to try. Here’s what you need to know about Kentucky Common Beer, New Zealand-Style Pale Ale, New Zealand-Style India Pale Ale and Belgian-Style Session Ale. These four styles will be part of the 2021 Great American Beer Festival competition.
Kentucky Common Beer
Nearly lost to the annals of beer history, this regional style was popular in and around Louisville, Kentucky from the Civil War until Prohibition. It first began being brewed in the 1850s and is one of only three beer styles that originated in the United States. Today, Falls City Beer in Louisville continues the tradition, brewing its Kentucky Common with corn, barley and rye. It carries a low ABV of 4% and is low on the bitter scale, too. These characteristics absolutely reflect the style guidelines found in the Brewer Association’s latest release: medium to deep amber color; notes of corn, caramel, toffee, and/or bread; low to medium hop, low to medium bitterness; and a dry finish with high carbonation. It was thought to have a tartness to it, but to be true to the recipe’s roots, modern versions should have very low tartness.
New Zealand-Style Pale Ale
The beauty of this addition (and its sister IPA below) is the attention New Zealand’s brew culture is getting as a result. In the past, even though they were using Kiwi-grown hops, New Zealand brewers of pale ales had to enter competitions under the general category of American Pale Ale. Now, those pales ales have their own category, and hops that have been growing in the Tasman district for more than a century are getting exported internationally for other breweries to experiment with their recipes. Besides the hops, the difference between a New Zealand-Style Pale Ale and an American Style-Pale Ale lies largely in the perceived hop aroma and flavor: New Zealand styles are distinctive for their tropical fruit, passionfruit and/or stone fruit notes. American versions also have those attributes, but the range is wider. Furthermore, New Zealand-Style Pale Ales tend to have lower bitterness. Appalachian Mountain Brewery in Boone, North Carolina, brews its Dry County Pale Ale with hops from New Zealand although it carries a tad more bitterness than this new category is likely to see.
New Zealand-Style India Pale Ale
Like the pale ale above, the newly embraced New Zealand-Style India Pale Ale must be brewed with native hops. The malt flavor intensity skews lower than American-Style IPAs and the ABV hovers around 6%—often lower than American versions—and as New Zealand grocer New World compares, “New Zealand IPAs tend towards more tropical fruit such as passionfruit and lychee and can appear sweeter and more approachable than their aggressive American cousins.” The rest of the characteristics between the two are similar.
Belgian-Style Session Ale
It’s all in the name: you could drink this ale All. Day. Long. It’s easy on the palate with light malt aroma and flavor, low bitterness, and modest alcohol by volume. Think 2.1% ABV at its lowest. As described in the new guidelines, the beers in this category recognize the traditions of Belgian brewing, “but do not hew to any other classic or ‘other’ Belgian-style categories.” The lower alcohol content is one of the defining factors. Pennsylvania’s Manayunk Brewing Co. brews its Belgian-Style Session Ale from time to time. Allagash Brewing Co. in Portland, Maine, cans its River Trip, a Belgian-Style Session Ale known for its hop-forward grapefruit and stone fruit flavors.