Aroma: Quite aromatic, with fruity, spicy, and hoppy characteristics evident. The esters can be fairly high (moderate to high), and are often reminiscent of citrus fruits such as oranges or lemons. The hops are low to moderate and are often spicy, floral, earthy, or fruity. Stronger versions can have a soft, spicy alcohol note (low intensity). Spicy notes are typically peppery rather than clove-like, and can be up to moderately-strong (typically yeast-derived). Subtle, complementary herb or spice additions are allowable, but should not dominate. The malt character is typically slightly grainy in character and low in intensity. Darker and stronger versions will have more noticeable malt, with darker versions taking characteristics associated with grains of that color (toasty, biscuity, caramelly, chocolate, etc.). In versions where sourness is present instead of bitterness, some of the sour character can be detected (low to moderate).

Appearance: Pale versions are often a distinctive pale orange but may be pale golden to amber in color (gold to amber-gold is most common). Darker versions may run from copper to dark brown. Long-lasting, dense, rocky white to ivory head resulting in characteristic “Belgian lace” on the glass as it fades. Clarity is poor to good, though haze is not unexpected in this type of unfiltered beer. Effervescent.

Flavor: Medium-low to medium-high fruity and spicy flavors, supported by a low to medium soft malt character, often with some grainy flavors. Bitterness is typically moderate to high, although sourness can be present in place of bitterness (both should not be strong flavors at the same time). Attenuation is extremely high, which gives a characteristic dry finish essential to the style; a Saison should never finish sweet. The fruity character is frequently citrusy (orange or lemon), and the spices are typically peppery. Allow for a range of balance in the fruity-spicy characteristics; this is often driven by the yeast selection. Hop flavor is low to moderate, and generally spicy or earthy in character. The balance is towards the fruity, spicy, hoppy character, with any bitterness or sourness not overwhelming these flavors. Darker versions will have more malt character, with a range of flavors derived from darker malts (toasty, bready, biscuity, chocolate, etc.) that support the fruity-spicy character of the beer (roasted flavors are not typical). Stronger versions will have more malt flavor in general, as well as a light alcohol impression. Herbs and spices are completely optional, but if present should be used in moderation and not detract from the yeast character. The finish is very dry and the aftertaste is typically bitter and spicy. The hop bitterness can be restrained, although it can seem accentuated due to the high attenuation levels.

Mouthfeel: Light to medium body. Alcohol sensation varies with strength, from none in table version to light in standard versions, to moderate in super versions. However, any warming character should be fairly low. Very high carbonation with an effervescent quality. There is enough prickly acidity on the tongue to balance the very dry finish. In versions with sourness, a low to moderate tart character can add a refreshing bite, but not be puckering (optional). Overall Impression: A pale, refreshing, highly-attenuated, moderately-bitter, moderate-strength Belgian ale with a very dry finish. Typically highly carbonated, and using non-barley cereal grains and optional spices for complexity, as complements the expressive yeast character that is fruity, spicy, and not overly phenolic. Less common variations include both lower-alcohol and higher-alcohol products, as well as darker versions with additional malt character.

Comments: Variations exist in strength and color, but they all have similar characteristics and balance, in particularly the refreshing, highly-attenuated, dry character with high carbonation. There is no correlation between strength and color. The balance can change somewhat with strength and color variations, but the family resemblance to the original artisanal ale should be evident. Pale versions are likely to be more bitter and have more hop character, while darker versions tend to have more malt character and sweetness, yielding a more balanced presentations. Stronger versions often will have more malt flavor, richness, and body simply due to their higher gravity. Although they tend to be very well-attenuated, they may not be perceived to be as dry as standard-strength saisons due to their strength. The Saison yeast character is a must, although maltier and richer versions will tend to mask this character more. Often called Farmhouse ales in the US, but this term is not common in Europe where they are simply part of a larger grouping of artisanal ales.

History: A provision ale originally brewed in Wallonia, the French-speaking part of Belgium, for consumption during the active farming season. Originally a lower-alcohol product so as to not debilitate field workers, but tavern-strength products also existed. Higher-strength and different-colored products appeared after WWII. The best known modern saison, Saison Dupont, was first produced in the 1920s. Originally a rustic, artisanal ale made with local farm-produced ingredients, it is now brewed mostly in larger breweries yet retains the image of its humble origins.

Characteristic Ingredients: Not typically spiced, with the yeast, hops and grain providing the character; but spices are allowed if they provide a complementary character. Continental base malts are typical, but the grist frequently contains other grains such as wheat, oats, rye, or spelt. Adjuncts such as sugar and honey can also serve to add complexity and dry out the beer. Darker versions will typically use richer, darker malts, but not typically roasted types. Saazer-type, Styrian or East Kent Golding hops are commonly used. A wide range of herbs or spices can add complexity and uniqueness, but should always meld well with the yeast and hop character. Brettanomyces is not typical for this style.

Style Comparison: Saisons with Brett should be entered as American Wild Ales. Entry Instructions: The entrant must specify the strength (table, standard, super) and the color (pale, dark).

Vital Statistics:

OG: 1.048 – 1.065 (standard)

IBUs: 20 – 35 FG: 1.002 – 1.008 (standard)

SRM: 5 – 14 (pale)

ABV: 3.5 – 5.0% (table) 15 – 22 (dark) 5.0 – 7.0% (standard) 7.0 – 9.5% (super)

Commercial Examples: Saison Dupont Vieille Provision; Fantôme Saison D’Erezée - Printemps; Saison de Pipaix; Saison Regal; Saison Voisin; Lefebvre Saison 1900; Ellezelloise Saison 2000; Saison Silly; Southampton Saison; New Belgium Saison; Pizza Port SPF 45; Lost Abbey Red Barn Ale; Ommegang Hennepin

Aroma: The added fruit should be the dominant aroma. A low to moderately sour character blends with aromas described as barnyard, earthy, goaty, hay, horsey, and horse blanket (and thus should be recognizable as a lambic). The fruit aroma commonly blends with the other aromas. An enteric, smoky, cigar-like, or cheesy aroma is unfavorable. No hop aroma.

Appearance: The variety of fruit generally determines the color, although lighter-colored fruit may have little effect on the color. The color intensity may fade with age. Clarity is often good, although some fruit will not drop bright. A thick rocky, mousse-like head, sometimes a shade of fruit, is generally long-lasting (carbonation-dependent). Carbonation is typically high, but must be specified.

Flavor: The added fruit should be evident. Low to moderately sour flavor, often with an acidic bite in the finish. The classic barnyard characteristics may be low to high. When young, the beer will present its full fruity taste. As it ages, the lambic taste will become dominant at the expense of the fruit character—thus fruit lambics are not intended for long aging. The finish is commonly dry and tart, but a low, complementary sweetness may be present; higher sweetness levels are not traditional but can be included for personal preference (sweetness level must be specified). A mild vanilla and/or oak flavor is occasionally noticeable. An enteric, smoky or cigar-like character is undesirable. Hop bitterness is generally absent; acidity provides the balance. No hop flavor.

Mouthfeel: Light to medium-light body. In spite of the low finishing gravity, the many mouth-filling flavors prevent the beer from tasting like water. Has a low to high tart, puckering quality without being sharply astringent. Some versions have a light warming character. Carbonation can vary from sparkling to nearly still (must be specified).

Overall Impression: A complex, fruity, pleasantly sour, wild wheat ale fermented by a variety of Belgian microbiota, and showcasing the fruit contributions blended with the wild character.

Comments: Fruit-based lambics are often produced like gueuze by mixing one, two, and three-year old lambic. “Young” lambic contains fermentable sugars while old lambic has the characteristic “wild” taste of the Senne River valley. Fruit is commonly added halfway through aging and the yeast and bacteria will ferment all sugars from the fruit. Fruit may also be added to unblended lambic. The most traditional styles of fruit lambics include kriek (cherries), framboise (raspberries) and druivenlambik (muscat grapes). IBUs are approximate since aged hops are used; Belgians use hops for anti-bacterial properties more than bittering in lambics.

History: Spontaneously fermented wild ales from the area in and around Brussels (the Senne Valley) stem from a farmhouse brewing and blending tradition several centuries old. The number of producers is constantly dwindling and some are untraditionally sweetening their products (post-fermentation) with sugar or sweet fruit to make them more palatable to a wider audience. Fruit was traditionally added to lambic or gueuze, either by the blender or publican, to increase the variety of beers available in local cafes.

Characteristic Ingredients: Unmalted wheat (30-40%), Pilsner malt and aged (surannes) hops (3 years) are used. The aged hops are used more for preservative effects than bitterness, and makes actual bitterness levels difficult to estimate. Traditional products use 10-30% fruit (25%, if cherry). Fruits traditionally used include tart cherries (with pits), raspberries or Muscat grapes. More recent examples include peaches, apricots or merlot grapes. Tart or acidic fruit is traditionally used as its purpose is not to sweeten the beer but to add a new dimension. Traditionally these beers are spontaneously fermented with naturally occurring yeast and bacteria in predominately oaken barrels. The barrels used are old and have little oak character, so don’t expect a fresh or forward oak character – more neutral is typical. Home-brewed and craft-brewed versions are more typically made with pure cultures of yeast commonly including Saccharomyces, Brettanomyces, Pediococcus and Lactobacillus in an attempt to recreate the effects of the dominant microbiota of Brussels and the surrounding countryside of the Senne River valley. Cultures taken from bottles are sometimes used but there is no simple way of knowing what organisms are still viable.

Style Comparison: A lambic with fruit, not just a fruit beer; the wild lambic character must be evident. Entry Instructions: The type of fruit used must be specified. The brewer must declare a carbonation level (low, medium, high) and a sweetness level (low/none, medium, high).

Vital Statistics:

OG: 1.040 – 1.060

IBUs: 0 – 10

FG: 1.000 – 1.010

SRM: 3 – 7 (varies w/ fruit)

ABV: 5 – 7%

Commercial Examples: Boon Framboise Marriage Parfait, Boon Kriek Mariage Parfait, Boon Oude Kriek, Cantillon Fou’ Foune, Cantillon Kriek, Cantillon Lou Pepe Kriek, Cantillon Lou Pepe Framboise, Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus, Cantillon St. Lamvinus, Cantillon Vigneronne, De Cam Oude Kriek, Drie Fonteinen Kriek, Girardin Kriek, Hanssens Oude Kriek, Oud Beersel Kriek, Mort Subite Kriek

Aroma: Mild roasted grain aromas, generally with a coffee-like character. A light malty sweetness can suggest a coffee-andcream impression. Fruitiness should be low to medium-high. Diacetyl medium-low to none. Hop aroma medium-low to none, earthy or floral. A light grainy-nutty oatmeal aroma is optional.

Appearance: Medium brown to black in color. Thick, creamy, persistent tan- to brown-colored head. Can be opaque (if not, it should be clear).

Flavor: Similar to the aroma, with a mild roasted coffee to coffee-and-cream flavor, and low to moderately-high fruitiness. Oats and dark roasted grains provide some flavor complexity; the oats can add a nutty, grainy or earthy flavor. Dark grains can combine with malt sweetness to give the impression of milk chocolate or coffee with cream. Medium hop bitterness with the balance toward malt. Medium-sweet to medium-dry finish. Diacetyl medium-low to none. Hop flavor medium-low to none, typically earthy or floral.

Mouthfeel: Medium-full to full body, with a smooth, silky, velvety, sometimes an almost oily slickness from the oatmeal. Creamy. Medium to medium-high carbonation.

Overall Impression: A very dark, full-bodied, roasty, malty ale with a complementary oatmeal flavor. The sweetness, balance, and oatmeal impression can vary considerably.

Comments: Generally between Sweet and Irish Stouts in sweetness. Variations exist, from fairly sweet to quite dry, as well as English and American versions (American versions tend to be more hoppy, less sweet, and less fruity). The level of bitterness also varies, as does the oatmeal impression. Light use of oatmeal may give a certain silkiness of body and richness of flavor, while heavy use of oatmeal can be fairly intense in flavor with an almost oily mouthfeel, dryish finish, and slight grainy astringency. When judging, allow for differences in interpretation.

History: An English variant of nourishing or invalid stouts of the late 1800s using oatmeal in the grist, similar to the development of sweet stout that used lactose. Most popular in England between the World Wars, was revived in the craft beer era for export, which helped lead to its adoption as a popular modern American craft beer style.

Characteristic Ingredients: Pale, caramel and dark roasted malts (often chocolate) and grains. Oatmeal (5-20%) used to enhance fullness of body and complexity of flavor. Hops primarily for bittering. Can use brewing sugars or syrups. English ale yeast.

Style Comparison: Most are like a cross between an Extra Stout and a Sweet Stout with oatmeal added. Several variations exist, with the sweeter versions more like a Sweet Stout with oatmeal instead of lactose, and the drier versions more like a more nutty, flavorful Extra Stout. Both tend to emphasize the body and mouthfeel.

Vital Statistics:

OG: 1.045 – 1.065

IBUs: 25 – 40

FG: 1.010 – 1.018

SRM: 22 – 40

ABV: 4.2 – 5.9%

Commercial Examples: Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout, Young's Oatmeal Stout, McAuslan Oatmeal Stout, Maclay’s Oat Malt Stout, Broughton Kinmount Willie Oatmeal Stout, Anderson Valley Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout, Tröegs Oatmeal Stout, New Holland The Poet, Goose Island Oatmeal Stout, Wolaver’s Oatmeal Stout

Aroma: Complex fruity-sour profile with supporting malt that often gives a wine-like impression. Fruitiness is high, and reminiscent of black cherries, oranges, plums or red currants. There are often low to medium-low vanilla and/or chocolate notes. Spicy phenols can be present in low amounts for complexity. The sour aroma ranges from balanced to intense. Prominent vinegary acetic character is inappropriate. No hop aroma. Diacetyl is perceived only in very minor quantities, if at all, as a complementary aroma.

Appearance: Deep red, burgundy to reddish-brown in color. Good clarity. White to very pale tan head. Average to good head retention.

Flavor: Intense fruitiness commonly includes plum, orange, black cherry or red currant flavors. A mild vanilla and/or chocolate character is often present. Spicy phenols can be present in low amounts for complexity. Sour flavor ranges from complementary to intense, and can have an acidic bite. Malty flavors range from complementary to prominent, and often have a soft toasty-rich quality. Generally as the sour character increases, the malt character blends to more of a background flavor (and vice versa). No hop flavor. Restrained hop bitterness. An acidic, tannic bitterness is often present in low to moderate amounts, and adds an aged red wine-like character with a long, dry finish. Prominent vinegary acetic character is inappropriate. Diacetyl is perceived only in very minor quantities, if at all, as a complementary flavor. Balanced to the malt side, but dominated by the fruity, sour, wine-like impression.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied. Low to medium carbonation. Low to medium astringency, like a well-aged red wine, often with a prickly acidity. Deceivingly light and crisp on the palate although a somewhat sweet finish is not uncommon.

Overall Impression: A complex, sour, fruity, red wine-like Belgian-style ale with interesting supportive malt flavors and a mélange of fruit complexity. The dry finish and tannin completes the mental image of a fine red wine.

Comments: Long aging and blending of young and well-aged beer often occurs, adding to the smoothness and complexity, though the aged product is sometimes released as a connoisseur’s beer. Known as the Burgundy of Belgium, it is more wine-like than any other beer style. The reddish color is a product of the malt although an extended, less-than-rolling portion of the boil may help add an attractive Burgundy hue. Aging will also darken the beer. The Flanders red is more acetic (but never vinegarlike) and the fruity flavors more reminiscent of a red wine than an Oud Bruin. Can have an apparent attenuation of up to 98%.

History: An indigenous beer of West Flanders, typified by the products of the Rodenbach brewery, established in 1820 in West Flanders but reflective of earlier brewing traditions. The beer is aged for up to two years, often in huge oaken barrels which contain the resident bacteria necessary to sour the beer. It was once common in Belgium and England to blend old beer with young to balance the sourness and acidity found in aged beer. While blending of batches for consistency is now common among larger breweries, this type of blending is a fading art.

Characteristic Ingredients: A base of Vienna and/or Munich malts, light to medium cara-malts, and a small amount of Special B are used with up to 20% maize. Low alpha acid continental hops are commonly used (avoid high alpha or distinctive American hops). Saccharomyces, Lactobacillus and Brettanomyces (and acetobacter) contribute to the fermentation and eventual flavor.

Style Comparison: Less malty-rich than an Oud Bruin, often with more of a fruity-tart profile.

Vital Statistics:

OG: 1.048 – 1.057

IBUs: 10 – 25

FG: 1.002 – 1.012

SRM: 10 – 16

ABV: 4.6 – 6.5%

Commercial Examples: Rodenbach Grand Cru, Rodenbach Klassiek, Bellegems Bruin, Duchesse de Bourgogne, Petrus Oud Bruin, Southampton Flanders Red Ale

Aroma: Hop aroma moderately-high to moderately-low, typically with a floral, earthy, resiny, and/or fruity character. Medium to medium-high malt aroma, often with a low to moderate caramel component. Medium-low to medium-high fruity esters. Generally no diacetyl, although very low levels are allowed.

Appearance: Light amber to deep copper color. Good to brilliant clarity. Low to moderate white to off-white head. A low head is acceptable when carbonation is also low.

Flavor: Medium to medium-high bitterness with supporting malt flavors evident. The malt profile is typically bready, biscuity, nutty, or lightly toasty, and normally has a moderately low to moderate caramel or toffee flavor. Hop flavor moderate to moderately high, typically with a floral, earthy, resiny, and/or fruity character. Hop bitterness and flavor should be noticeable, but should not totally dominate malt flavors. Moderately-low to high fruity esters. Optionally may have low amounts of alcohol. Medium-dry to dry finish. Generally no diacetyl, although very low levels are allowed.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light to medium-full body. Low to moderate carbonation, although bottled versions will be higher. Stronger versions may have a slight alcohol warmth but this character should not be too high. Overall Impression: An average-strength to moderately-strong English bitter ale. The balance may be fairly even between malt and hops to somewhat bitter. Drinkability is a critical component of the style. A rather broad style that allows for considerable interpretation by the brewer.

Comments: Fuller’s ESB has been moved to the English Strong Ale category since it has a very large, complex malt profile not found in other examples, and often causes judges to incorrectly evaluate beers of this style. In England today, “ESB” is a Fullers trademark, and no one thinks of it as a generic class of beer; in America, the name has been co-opted to describe a malty, bitter, reddish, standard-strength (for the US) English-type ale, and is a popular craft beer style. This may cause some judges to think of US brewpub ESBs as representative of this style. Judges should take note of this move, and understand that the malt character of that specific beer is not typical for this style.

History: The family of English bitters grew out of English pale ales as a draught product in the late 1800s. The use of crystal malts in bitters became more widespread after WWI. Traditionally served very fresh under no pressure (gravity or hand pump only) at cellar temperatures (i.e., “real ale”). Most bottled or kegged versions of UK-produced bitters are often higher-alcohol and more highly carbonated versions of cask products produced for export, and have a different character and balance than their draught counterparts in Britain (often being sweeter and less hoppy than the cask versions). These guidelines reflect the “real ale” version of the style, not the export formulations of commercial products.

Several regional variations of bitter exist, ranging from darker, sweeter versions served with nearly no head to brighter, hoppier, paler versions with large foam stands, and everything in between. 

Strong bitters can be seen as a higher-gravity version of best bitters (although not necessarily “more premium” since best bitters are traditionally the brewer’s finest product). English pale ales are generally considered a premium, export-strength pale, bitter beer that roughly approximates a strong bitter, although reformulated for bottling (including increasing carbonation levels). While modern English pale ale is considered a bottled bitter, historically the styles were different.

Characteristic Ingredients: Pale ale, amber, and/or crystal malts, may use a touch of black malt for color adjustment. May use sugar adjuncts, corn or wheat. English finishing hops are most traditional, but any hops are fair game; if American hops are used, a light touch is required. Characterful English yeast. Burton versions use medium to high sulfate water, which can increase the perception of dryness and add a minerally or sulfury aroma and flavor.

Style Comparison: More evident malt and hop flavors than in a special or best bitter, as well as more alcohol. Stronger versions may overlap somewhat with English strong ales, although strong bitters will tend to be paler and more bitter. More malt flavor (particularly caramel) and esters than an American Pale Ale, with different finishing hop character.

Vital Statistics:

OG: 1.048 – 1.060

IBUs: 30 – 50

FG: 1.010 – 1.016

SRM: 8 – 18

ABV: 4.6 – 6.2%

Commercial Examples: Shepherd Neame Bishop's Finger, Young’s Ram Rod, Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery Pale Ale, Bass Ale, Whitbread Pale Ale, Shepherd Neame Spitfire

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