3 Most Difficult Types of Beers to Brew
Beer brewing, while easy to learn, is relatively difficult to master. However, there are a few types of beer that are more challenging to brew than others.
The three most difficult types of beer to brew include light beer, high-gravity beer, and sours. Light beers have subtle flavors, allowing brewing imperfections to easily shine through. High-gravity brews make it hard for yeast to thrive with such a high ABV. Sours require spontaneous fermentation.
In this article, I’ll walk you through the three most difficult types of beers and some of the challenges that homebrewers face when trying to brew them. Read on to learn more.
Light beers, such as light lagers or ales, pilsners, or Helles, are the most challenging to brew due to their subtle flavor profile. Mistakes during the brewing process are highlighted in the final product, usually in the taste, but may also appear in aroma and appearance.
Lagers, light and dark, are notoriously difficult to brew due to their temperature sensitivity and flavor nuances. With light lagers, however, there is no room for mistakes, as any errors are highly noticeable in the final product. In hoppy beers, the strong hops flavor overpowers flaws, making it easier to hide them; in light beers, there are limited places to disguise mistakes.
When brewing lagers, you must pay considerable attention to yeast, temperatures, and the water profile. Some of the required techniques are advanced for most homebrewers, even self-proclaimed professionals.
To learn more about the different types of lagers, check out this YouTube video:
A pilsner is a lager — but not all lagers are pilsners. These light lagers are difficult to brew. In fact, most homebrewers agree that if you can brew a delicious, quality pilsner, then you can brew practically any beer.
When making a pilsner, you can’t hide any imperfections. Therefore, creating the perfect pilsner means you’ve essentially mastered an advanced course in brewing techniques. If your technique is even slightly off, it’s going to show in the final product because any deviation from the required parameters is noticeable.
Also known as “big beers,” high-gravity beers are intense, flavorful brews with a higher ABV than regular beer. I’m talking imperial IPAs, stouts, scotch ales, and barrel-aged beers.
|High-Gravity Beers and Their ABVs|
|World Wide Stout||10-15%|
|Untold Volumes of Belligerent Indecision||14%|
|Barrel Aged DS-2||15%|
Brewing high-gravity beers is challenging because the process is difficult on yeast. Yeast struggle with the higher gravity and alcohol content, so brewers typically opt for an alcohol-resistant strain. Not only that, but they must accommodate the yeast, building or investing in massive yeast starters for full attenuation.
Even commercial breweries recognize the risks associated with brewing high-gravity beers. If something goes wrong, such as stuck fermentation, they have to dump thousands of gallons of brew, which means thousands of dollars in lost revenue. But in the grand scheme of things, high risk usually means a big reward.
Making your own stout requires advanced home brewing techniques. The high ABV, specialty dark grains, and fermentation process make it particularly challenging.
The end result is a dark, complex, balanced beer with a bold, rich body. It has a roasted-like flavor with fruity esters and notes of coffee and chocolate.
It’s not only tricky to successfully ferment a stout, but it’s equally — if not more — difficult to achieve the ideal flavor profile.
Scotch Ale / Wee Heavy
The scotch ale, also known as “wee heavy,” is a strong, high-gravity beer with a complex range and an intense flavor. These dark, malt-dominant beers have a low hops profile with caramelization notes, rich malts, and a touch of sweetness. The caramelization comes from a long kettle boil to caramelize the wort.
For beginners, it’s tough to achieve the ideal balance of flavors in a scotch ale.
Perhaps the most challenging beer to homebrew is a sour. Sours include lambics, Flanders, and American wild ales, among others.
Making sour beers requires meticulous attention during the fermentation process. Brewers must ensure the growth of lactic acid bacteria and non-saccharomyces yeast. This is incredibly difficult, as saccharomyces yeast typically outcompetes non-saccharomyces, resulting in a failed sour brew.
This Belgian-style sour requires boiling pale malt wort and unmalted wheat. Once the wort is ready, brewers expose it to wild yeast and bacteria. The result is a dry, wine-like, tart beer.
These beers are very different from traditional hops beers. Hops used in the brewing of lambics are old, European hops with low alpha acid, and IBUs stay under 10 to prevent the impedance of bacteria needed for the sour flavor. There are no detectable hops in a lambic — they’re relatively flat beers.
Due to the unusual brewing techniques, like using unmalted wheat, aged hops, and the exposure to wild yeast and bacteria, it’s a complicated process for homebrewers to master without controlled conditions.
To learn more about homebrewing and whether it’s worth it, check out this video on YouTube:
American Wild Ale
American wild ales are similar to lambics, though they’re brewed in the United States. They use yeast, bacteria, and saccharomyces for fermentation. Most of the American wild ales have a funky floral, fruity, or spicy flavor followed by a biting sourness.
Wild ales, like lambics, require spontaneous fermentation. Again, this is nearly impossible to achieve in a homebrew without controlled or predictable conditions.
Though there are some types of beers that are more difficult to brew than others, they’re not impossible to make at home. In fact, the equipment, tools, and technique often play a more significant role in the finished product versus the style of beer itself.
By mastering principles and techniques and by maintaining the proper parameters, any home brewer can make a good light lager, pilsner, stout, or sour — it just takes a while. The most difficult aspect is maintaining consistency, but practice makes perfect, so keep at it.