Beer judging is tricky. Judges are often supposed to reward a beer not based on how much they “like” it, but instead on how well it fits within its style. In some ways, these restrictions only make sense: You can’t say Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is the world’s best Pilsner because, duh, it’s not a Pilsner. But at the same time, some of the best beers have earned their legendary status by giving drinkers something a bit different or unexpected. For these reasons, beer style guidelines continually evolve as well, and earlier this week, the Brewers Association announced the updates to their Beer Style Guidelines for 2016.
Related: 5 Woefully Underrated Beer Styles
This year’s guidelines include seven new additions, some which have become increasingly necessary and some you may have never heard of.
Pumpkin beers, Saisons and Goses have all been popular styles over the past few years, and each one now has a new category that has been teased out from other iterations of the style. Pumpkin/Squash Beer has been separated from Pumpkin Spice Beers. For pumpkin beer drinkers, it’s a sensible move: The style can include so many different flavors and sweetness levels, discriminating between spiced and unspiced versions is one of the easiest ways to break the broad style down. Saisons have a similar identity issue, with the style ending up as a bit of a catch all for beers made with certain yeast strains. The BA has added Specialty Saison, giving Saison makers a broader category to place their unique beers into outside of the traditional Classic French & Belgian-Style Saison versions. Finally, few beers have been as trendy as Gose recently. Contemporary Gose acknowledges the new, mostly American takes on these salty-sour beers as opposed to the original Leipzig-Style Goses of yore.
On the more far-out side of things, the BA also added three unique foreign beer styles – Breslau-Style Pale Schöps and Breslau-Style Dark Schöps; Finnish-Style Sahti; and Swedish-Style Gotlandsdricke – that you can probably impress your friends with by simply pronouncing properly. All three of these beers stem from traditional European styles: Schöps (Shups) are wheat-based beers, where as Sahti (Sa-h-tee) and Gotlandsdricke (Got-lands-dreek-a) are notable for including juniper. European-Style Dark Lager was the last new category added, meant to separate these lagers “from their Munich Dunkel Lager cousins.”
Meanwhile, a number of categories underwent “significant reworks” including the daddy of them all American-Style India Pale Ale. So what’s different with the ubiquitous IPA? Several things. One notable change: “Red/light brown” was removed from the color description leaving a proper American IPA as simply “gold to copper.” But most interestingly, the hop aroma characteristics were changed to include “onion-garlic-catty” – a flavor found in some of the hottest hops being used right now.
Of course, as a drinker, not much has changed. You’re not going to give up your favorite IPA because you suddenly realized it’s a little too red. But these changes are another reminder of just how much beer continues to evolve.