Understanding Craft Beer Flavors

Understanding Craft Beer FlavorsUnderstanding Craft Beer Flavors

First things first: What exactly is craft beer? Craft beers are made by smaller breweries, often called microbreweries. According to the Brewers Association, a craft brewery is one that produces less than six million barrels a year. Additionally, in order to be considered a craft brewery, no more than 25% of the company can be owned by a commercial alcohol manufacturer and it must employ a certified brewer. 

Since craft breweries are smaller and release a more limited run of their beers, they end to focus much more heavily on the flavor profile of the type of beer being crafted. It truly is a world of quality over quantity. 

There are over 100 distinct types of beer in total, but the majority fit into 5 main flavor categories: Crispy, hoppy, malty, roasted, and fruity.


In the world of craft beer, crispness refers to the refreshingness of the high carbonation as well as tying into the light and sometimes fruity aspects of their flavor, Crisp beers can also be dry as the lightness and carbonation make them almost winelike. 

These beers tend to have a somewhat lower alcohol level than some of the more robust flavor categories as well as a low level of Internal Bitterness Units or IBUs. A beer’s IBU is determined by measuring the percentage of isohumulone, a compound in hops, in the beer in parts per million.

Crisp beers are not only light on the palate, but also to the eye. Beers that fit into this category range from straw-colored to the lightest shades of amber.  

Due to crisp beers’ light, refreshing nature, they can be used to cleanse the palate and therefore make excellent pairings with spicy dishes as well as more simplistically flavored dishes that focus on one dominant note such as seafood, sushi, roast chicken, and green salads.

There are three subgroups of crispy beer accent flavors within the category: Fruit, malt, and hop.  

Crisp beers with notes of fruit often include flavors of green apple, pear, or berries, though these flavors in fact come from the yeast and not the fruits themselves. Types of beer that fit into this subgroup include both American and English blond ales, Bohemian and German-style pilsners, cream ales, wheat ales, and kölschs.

Beers in this category with a malt accent tend to present with a breadlike flavor that resembles freshly baked biscuits. This is due to the absence of stronger fruit and spice notes found in many ales and a diminished hoppiness compared to many pilsners. Crisp and malty beers include German-style Maibock, Oktoberfest or Märzen, Helles bock, American amber ale, and a slew of lagers such as pale, amber, Vienna, and Helles.

The final subgroup in the crispy category of craft beers is home to hop-heavy beers. This group of beers generally uses Noble hops from Germany and the surrounding areas as these hops tend to impart a sharper dry finish with herbal, floral, and spice notes throughout the aroma. Beers in this category include pilsners, imperial pilsners, Kellerbier or Zwickelbier, Indian pale lagers and other hoppy lagers.


Hoppy flavors are what bring bitterness to beer which balances out the sweetness of the malt. The specific hop flavors vary based on the strain and region in which it is grown, but they generally involve earthy, herbaceous, floral, citrus, and spicy notes. 

Beers in this category tend to range from an almost golden shade of yellow to deep amber color and a medium to full body. Hoppy beers will have high IBUs and can present with a wide range of alcohol contents.

Hoppy beers pair best with other bold flavors such as fried foods, rich meats, and flavorful aged cheeses. Fried foods, burgers, deli sandwiches, and general pub fair work well with this style. 

Hop flavored craft beers can be split into three subcategories: Earthy, herbal, and malty. 

The most hop-heavy of these three are the earthy beers that tend to have a drier and lighter presence of malt leaving room for the grassy, hay-like, and even woody flavors of the hops to shine. Beers in this category include English pale ales, ordinary bitter beers, and English and Belgian India pale ales or IPAs. 

With slightly more of a malt presence, hoppy and herbal beers have a bold hop-filled flavor that often bears notes of citrus, tropical fruits, and resin. The usual styles for this category are distinctly American and include the American stylings of pale ales, fresh hop ales, as well as American IPAs, and imperial IPAs. 

The more malt-heavy subgroup relies on the balance between the bitter top of hops and malt’s deep luxurious sweetness. While the balance still favors the hoppiness, there is a fruity or even caramel sweetness that rounds out the flavor profile. This category carries more American styles including the California common, American amber ale, American imperial red ale, and American barleywine.


Malt is known for its sweetness and deeply complex flavors including caramel, toffee, nuts, dried fruits, and even breadlike notes. Many malt flavors complement the bitterness of hops and blend well with darker roasted notes. 

This category is home to a number of dark beers with a color range spanning from copper to nearly black depending on the type of grain used for the malt. Despite their darker appearance, malty beers can still present anywhere from a light to a full body and a low to high alcohol content.

Malty beers pair well with similarly complex flavors with deep complex notes and roasted sweetness like cured meats, poultry, game, seared pork, root veggies, blue cheese, and pizza. 

The world of malt beers is split between toasted, roasted, nutty beers and sweeter fruity, caramel, toffee beers.  

Malt beers that lean toward the toasted and roasted nut flavors generally have something of a crisp quality to them. The heaviest of these end up presenting with flavors of fig and raisin. Beers with this subset of malt character include dark lagers, Dunkel lagers, English mild and English brown ales, Dunkles Bock, doppelbock, Düsseldorf alt, Eisbock, and Schwarzbier. 

The fruity and toffee-style beers in the malty category present with a solid foundation of roasted malts that bring out the decadent caramel, toffee, and fruity notes. Some beers that represent this flavor group include Scottish ale, Scotch ale, Irish red ales, English strong ales, English barleywine, Belgian pale ales, wheatwine,  best bitter, extra special bitter, and Biére de Garde.


The darkest range of craft beers is the realm of roasted flavors. They can be on the lighter side of medium, though most favor a full body. Some can be bitter, but most lean into the deeper notes that complement the roasted malts' rich chocolate and coffee notes. 

Roasted beers span the range of alcohol content, but their color range is limited from a deep coppery red to a black so deep and thick it is opaque. These dark beers tend to pair best with bold savory flavors like grilled and blackened pork, barbeque, game, poultry, seafood, raw shellfish, and the decadently sweet flavors of your favorite rich dessert.

This category of craft beers splits between soft and silky roasted beers and dark and dry ones.

The soft and silky variety leans heavily into the richness of the malt flavors to showcase the roasted qualities that present as chocolate, hazelnut, and coffee notes. Through all that richness, there can be a light bitterness that cuts through the decadence. Beers of this style include the American, English, and imperial brown ales, brown, robust, and imperial porters, American, Belgian, imperial, dry, sweet, English oatmeal, and foreign export stouts, and Schwarzbier. 

On the dark and dry side, get ready for the bitterness. These beers take on the tarry, burnt grain, espresso, and dark chocolate notes of the most darkly roasted malts. There are even a number of dark fruit notes that emerge thanks to the lighter mouthfeel like cherry, raspberry, plum, and prune. Some of the types of beers that fit this category include American brown and black ales, American, imperial, and Irish dry stouts, robust porters, and black IPAs.


There are a fair number of other flavor note types that end up lumped into this category including those featuring spice flavors and some funky tart beers. Because of this, the category hosts a wide variety of flavors bound together by their boldness and lack of bitterness. 

Unlike the fruity crispy flavors, these robustly fruity beers are often made with added whole fruit, juice, or puree. Because of the variety of ingredients and flavors, these beers cover the full range from high to low alcohol content, body, and color spanning from the gold of wheat beers to dark brown and even reddish tones if enough fruit is used. 

These beers can be sweet, semi-dry, or dry and pair well with a wide range of seafood and other bold flavors including, fish, lobster, crab, mussels, poultry, cured meats, sausages, spiced meats, pizza, cheeses, desserts, and even salads. 

While the flavors in the category can range widely, they are generally able to be grouped into those that are bright, dark, delicate, earthy and vinous.

Bright fruity beers exhibit the qualities of lighter fruits like apples, oranges, peaches, pears, bananas, apricots, and lemon. In addition to these fruity notes, bright beers are also known to present with spice notes like vanilla, clove, coriander, and pepper with even some hints of bubblegum. Beers of this style include Belgian blond, strong blond, golden strong, and strong pale ales, gruit ale, Hefeweizen, Kristalweizen, Witbier, tripel, and saison. 

Fruity beers with a dark quality lean into flavors of fig, prune, raisin, plum, cherry, raspberry, and strawberry with rose, nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, and pepper spice notes. This group includes beers such as Belgian dark and strong dark ales, dubbels, Dunkelweizen, Weizenbock, and quadruples.

The delicate category sees a milder acidity, lighter bodies and paler malts. These characteristics make for a softer tartness that is crisp and refreshing with bright citrus notes. Such beers are often extremely dry and includ gose, faro, and Berliner Weissbier. 

Fruity beers with a more earthy quality are generally quite sour and are often aged in oak barrels similar to whisky aging, which imparts rustic qualities including earthy, farmy, barnyardy, horsey, and leathery notes. Alongside these qualities, fruity earthy beers also have mild notes of peaches, apricots, grapes, and strawberries. Beers in this group include the traditional unbelnded lambic, wild ale, saison, Gueuze lambic, and the American Brett beer. 

The final group in the fruity category is vinous. These beers are the most winelike with a tangible acidity and strongly fruity aromas including cherry, black currant, and raspberry as well as sweet caramel, toffee, and vanilla flavors as a result of oak barrel aging. This style of beer includes Flanders red ale and oud bruin, traditional fruit lambic, and wild ale. 

Now that you’ve mastered the major flavor groupings, you’re ready to go out and hone your tastebuds to find your favorite beer or discover a new brewing company that hosts a variety of craft beers for you to explore and enjoy. 

Contact us today to spice up your next product with that little extra kick of flavor!

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