Types of Hybrid Beers - dummies

By Marty Nachel, Steve Ettlinger

Some beer styles don’t fit perfectly into the ale and lager categories because brewers mix the ingredients and processes of both categories into one beer. For example, a brewer may use an ale yeast but a lager fermentation temperature.

Where do hybrids, like the following, fit into the beer family tree? Think of an exotic, mysterious, well-traveled uncle: a bit off the chart, not to everyone’s liking, but with a definite appeal for some of us.

  • Altbier: Altbier is a German Ale (a rare bird, indeed). Alt means old, referring to the fact that the beer is fermented the old way — with top-fermenting ale yeast strains. Modern Altbiers are fermented warm like ales but aged cold like lagers. The typical Altbier is malty with an assertive palate and a fair amount of hop bitterness, though the hop blend (because it’s complex) tends to differ from one brewery to the next. Dusseldorf, Germany, is considered the center of Altbier production.

  • California Common Beer (formerly known as Steam Beer): Like its Steam predecessor, this beer features a medium body, a toasty and malty palate, and a fairly aggressive hop presence in aroma, flavor, and bitterness. The California Common Beer is warm-fermented with lager yeast.

  • Cream Ale: Cream Ale is a light-bodied, thoroughly American invention. As American brewers continued to produce light-bodied ales, they tried making them with longer and colder fermentations, as was being done with lager beer (these ales weren’t spared the introduction of adjunct grains, either). The resulting beer is similar to American lagers and is often noted for its obvious corny aroma and flavor, along with a mild, perfumy-sweet grain palate. Cream Ale is pale in color and highly carbonated.

  • Kölsch (roughly pronounced kelsh): Being named after the city of Köln (Cologne), Germany, indicates that the beer was brewed in the traditional style of that city. Kölsch is brewed as an ale with top-fermenting yeast strains but undergoes a cold fermentation process. It’s noticeably pale and hazy, partly due to the addition of wheat, but mostly the result of being unfiltered. Kölsch is clean on the palate with a slight lactic (milky) sourness, relatively thin-bodied, and not very strong. Its medium hop bitterness has a drying effect. Overall, Kölsch is a refreshing, summery type of beer.